ZIMBABWE’S timber industry is under threat from war veterans and ZANU-PF supporters who have invaded plantations areas, causing fires in woodlands or illegally cutting down timber.
Despite the formation of a new inclusive government between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) early this year, fresh violence erupted on white-owned farms and plantations owned by timber processing companies in Zimbabwe.
The disruptions are allegedly staged at the instigation of powerful ZANU-PF politicians desperate to torpedo the country’s nine-week-old unity government.
An official from the Zimbabwe Timber Producers Federation (ZTPF) told the Sunday Standard on Friday that the land invaders are illegally harvesting timber and destroying trees through fires in timber plantations when clearing land for farming activities.
He said last year alone, the land invaders cost the nation over US$1, 5 million worth of timber through illegal harvests or fires.
“An unprecedented 252 fires occurred this year and in the inflammable
conditions they rapidly spread through the plantations, damaging and destroying 20 000 hectares.
“Due to fires resulting from arson attacks or land clearing activities by unauthorized settlers in the plantations, trees of all ages have been destroyed and consequently log shortages will occur for many years,” said the ZTPF official.
Darlington Duwa, director of Forestry Commission, one of the biggest timber processing companies in Zimbabwe, said, “The land invaders had caused serious damage to the plantations resulting in the company posting financial losses.
“Illegal settlers have really affected our operations. We are trying to liaise with the government to speed up drafting a land policy document which I think will protect us,” said Duwa.
In his birthday speech in February, Mugabe vowed the violent land seizures from white commercial farmers would continue despite the inauguration of the unity government.
He said there would be no letting up on the land redistribution despite concerns it was poisoning the political environment and worsening the economic collapse.
Meanwhile the global economic recession has affected the country’s timber industry which has seen the export price for top grade timber falling sharply from US$400 per cubic meter in February to US$100.