Zim stokes up fight against illicit charcoal trade

Source: Zim stokes up fight against illicit charcoal trade | Herald (Opinion)

Sifelani Tsiko

Agric & Innovations Editor

Zimbabwe has ramped up efforts to tackle illicit trade in fuel wood and
charcoal through a nationwide campaign to contain deforestation which is
undermining efforts towards sustainable development.

Forestry Commission spokesperson Violet Makoto told The Herald recently
that about 1 043 bags of charcoal were confiscated from illegal dealers of
the commodity in Muzarabani district, north of the country, in a blitz
spearheaded by her organisation and other key agencies.

During the operation, she said eight tickets were issued valued at US$1
950, while only US$200 was yet to be paid by the offenders.

“In Muzarabani district alone, we have so far seized 1 043 bags of
charcoal,” said Makoto.

“In other parts of the country, the blitz started on Sunday with a
multi-task agency team operating in Midlands and Matabeleland North
provinces.

“The amount of charcoal seized will increase as we widen our operation to
cover the major hotspots in the country.”

Two charcoal dealers from Harare were fined a total of US$1 300 after they
were caught with a truckload of charcoal while other three villagers
caught in the process of making charcoal in Chiwenga ward were fined $50
each.

Two other villagers who were found in possession of charcoal were fined
US$100 each and had their charcoal confiscated.

“Muzarabani district has always been on our radar as a charcoal production
hotspot,” said Makoto.

“Locals are taking advantage of the area’s proximity to Mozambique and
therefore lie that they are getting the product from the neighbouring
country.

“The district has dense mopane woodlands that have been protecting fragile
Kalahari sands and continued decimation of the forest resources can have
devastating effects on the whole environment of the area.”

The Forestry Commission, said Makoto, was now putting in place a permanent
patrol team in the district to control this illegal activity. Peak winter
energy demands and the rolling out of power cuts in most parts of the
country is driving up the deforestation of large tracts of forests as wood
and charcoal become the main source of heating and cooking for the
majority of the poor.

The illegal dealers sell a bag of charcoal for US$10 through syndicates
and open markets in various parts of the country.

To stop the illicit trade in charcoal and fuel wood, the country has
launched a nationwide blitz spearheaded by the Forestry Commission with
support from the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality
Industry, Environmental Management Agency, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife
Management Authority (Zimparks), the police, local authorities and the
Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement.

Zimbabwe loses about 60 million trees — some 330 000 hectares of forests
annually, according to the Forestry Commission.

Reliance on charcoal or firewood is highest in Africa and Asia, according
to a 2018 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, with some
African cities almost entirely dependent on charcoal for cooking.

In Kinshasa, the capital of DR Congo, 90 percent of residents rely mainly
on it, the report said.

Africa’s illegal charcoal trade is decimating fragile forest cover,
raising huge environmental concerns over its sustainability.

Experts say charcoal making is increasing the loss of indigenous forests
as well as land degradation.

In 2020, more than 30 people were arrested and fined for trading in
charcoal with 1,9 tonnes of charcoal confiscated.

Apart from charcoal from major hotspots in the country, some huge
quantities are also illegally imported from Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi
— some of the major charcoal producing countries in southern Africa.

The major hotspots for fuel wood and charcoal production in Zimbabwe,
include Muzarabani district in Mashonaland Central close to the border
with Mozambique, Midlands, Mashonaland West and Matabeleland North
provinces.

The Forestry Commission is still lobbying for tighter laws to curb the
practice, proposing a mandatory jail term, instead of fines, which were
not deterrent enough.

At present, anyone caught selling firewood and charcoal can receive a
Level 7 fine for $59 or a year in jail.

The fines were reviewed upwards recently by the Government, but
environmentalists still say these are not deterrent enough.

“We want a mandatory jail term rather than payment of fines,” said a
Harare–based environmentalist.

“Charcoal production is being done in areas with fragile soils and the
bulk of indigenous trees. The trees are being wiped out and at this rate,
these areas face the real threats of becoming deserts.

“We need to act and also open other energy options for the majority of the
poor. Setting out punitive laws is good but the country has to make other
sustainable energy options cheaper and accessible as well.”

The cutting of trees to sustain an illicit charcoal trade is so widespread
in central, southern and eastern Africa amid fears that desertification is
fast taking root.

A UN report estimated that the value of the charcoal export trade from
Somalia to the Middle East and elsewhere — though banned — was worth over
US$360 million per year.

Some 8,2 million trees were felled for charcoal between 2011 and 2017,
according to UN figures.

Environmentalists warned that if no action is taken to stem the
unsustainable nature of the charcoal trade, desertification and land
degradation will intensify, impacting negatively on the livelihoods of the
poor.

Thermal, hydroelectric, fuel and gas power remain too expensive for many
people in Africa.

Many families still run charcoal stoves to keep electricity bills down
while many say solar energy technologies still remain expensive despite
efforts to reduce duty and taxes.

“The fight against illicit charcoal making is complicated,” said Makoto.

“Some people destroyed their charcoal packs before we confiscated them in
Muzarabani. Some hide the charcoal while our teams move to other places.

“Many people also reportedly ran away when they saw our vehicles. Some
charcoal dealers even fled into Mozambique with truckloads of charcoal.

“They study our movements and use mobile lines registered in Mozambique to
communicate with other syndicates. They evade arrest as we are
over-stretched and the areas on the border have no network coverage.”

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