via Forestry firms urged to co-exist with villagers – NewsDay Zimbabwe. 21 June 2014 by Obey Manayiti
Every year, there are reports of veld fires destroying hundreds of timber plantations in Manicaland, while on the other hand illegal gold panners have besieged forestry plantations in parts of Chimanimani.
Some villagers in Chimanimani are also running endless battles with Allied Timbers as the timber producing company accuses them of illegally settling on its land.
Addressing stakeholders during a meeting on Forests Sustainably Managed for Communities, Environment and Shocked Resilience (Forest Forces) , Manicaland provincial administrator Fungai Mbetsa said it was important for players in the forestry sector to be responsive to the community needs to avoid conflict.
“We cannot talk of harmony when you have not addressed the community’s concerns. We will continue having these projects without success if you fail to live well with the people surrounding you,” Mbetsa said.
“Every year, there are court cases against your neighbours on invasion, but that is not the solution. This is why I am asking whether the Forest Forces programme has anything to do with this conflict. Before we call them illegal settlers or gold panners, there is need for engagement so that you here their side as well.”
He said surrounding communities might not be happy of not directly benefiting from the plantations and urged forestry players to establish ways in which the community might benefit through programmes such as Campfire.
Chimanimani district administrator Wilson Bore weighed in saying: “Our policies are running parallel in the case of the land reform and the Forestry Act. They should be harmonised and make the companies and the communities appreciate each other. The issue of engagement is very important to stop these problems.”
Others participants called on forestry companies to set up a community share ownership trust so that villagers can directly and indirectly benefit from the sector.
Plantation forests are approximately 168 000 hectares comprising pines, eucalyptus and wattle.
Bore said the area planted under exotic timber in Zimbabwe had been declining since 10 years ago due to reduced planting, fire outbreaks, illegal conversion of forest land among other adverse factors.
Abedinigo Mafuri, from Forestry Commission, said the Forest Forces was being implemented in eight districts in Zimbabwe and targeted to improve food security of vulnerable rural communities through participatory sustainable management.
He lamented the low priority accorded to forestry sector as well as the inadequate funding to the sector.