BY TATENDA CHITAGU
ZIMBABWE’S hectarage under timber declined sharply from 120 000 to 70 000, about 41%, last year due to the harsh business environment, illegal settlers, miners, veld fires and the chaotic land reform programme, a situation that will lead to timber shortages in the near future, the Timber Producers Federation has said.
Speaking at an agriculture and forestry sector workshop in Harare, Timber Producers Federation chief executive, Darlington Duwa, said there is need for recapitalisation of the sector to avert domestic timber supply shortages.
The workshop was organised by the Climate Change Management Department in the Ministry of Lands and supported by the United Nations Development Programme.
“Plantations hectarage has declined from 120 000 hectares of commercial timber plantations to 70 000 last year. The general picture is that the area is declining. We do have a temporary unplanted area of 40 000 hectares,” he said.
“This is because of numerous challenges which have to do with the economy, shortages of diesel and working capital, among others, including the ease of doing business and veld fires that left large ripe trees burnt. A lot of areas have been damaged and this affected operations. As a result, companies downsized. There are also illegal settlers in our plantations.”
Zimbabwe Forestry Commission researcher Tatenda Gotore weighed in, saying there was also a shortage of improved tree species that could withstand changing climate.
“There is a steady decline in the supply of appropriate tree species. Shortage of suitable pine seed species is also hampering planting. The industry needs Pinus patula or Pinus maximinnoi/ tercunuminii, which are in short supply. The need for improved seed (varieties) is growing and we should look for other varieties because the timber industry is under 50% capacity utilisation, and they also cannot access low interest loans,” he said.
“Commercial plantation owners meet their own financing requirements. In recent years, it has become difficult to borrow due to high interest rates and perceived country risk. Thus, some companies have financed their operations through arrangements where payment is done in kind.”
Gotore said there are other policy barriers to the development of the timber industry, like lack of a national forest policy to guide forestry development, weak implementation of the
Forest Act as it relates to forest fires, prohibitive levies on the timber industry, lack of incentives on the “limping” industry as well as the unavailability of land for new commercial timber plantations.
He said if there are no interventions, the country would face timber shortages starting from 2025.