Mafungautsi forest endangered

Source: Mafungautsi forest endangered | The Financial Gazette July 7, 2016

By Stephen Tsoroti

THE quest for the elusive dollar among poverty stricken villagers living close to Mafungautsi forest, is putting the country’s teak and mahogany tree species at risk of being wiped out.
Listed since 1954 as a protected forest by the then country’s Natural Resources Board, very few teak and mahogany species remain in the reserve that forms part of the watershed for the Sengwa-Mbumbusi, Lutope, and Ngomadoma river system.
These rivers flow into Sanyati then the Zambezi river, along which Kariba Dam, an important tourist destination and generator of hydroelectric power for both Zimbabwe and Zambia, is constructed.
Mafungautsi State Forest lies in Gokwe South District, Midlands Province.
It is the third largest of the indigenous State forests in Zimbabwe and is unique in that, except for the small area occupied by small scale commercial farms on the southern-eastern part of the forest, it is entirely surrounded by communal areas.
When it was first demarcated as a State forest in 1953, the forest was 101 000 hactares in size.
In 1972, the northern part of the forest was reclassified as a communal area and some parts of the Southern part were gazetted, leaving the forest occupied by small scale commercial farms on the southern-eastern part, leaving the forest with a total of 82,100 hactares.
“The forests are disappearing from the region,” said Christopher Magadza.
The trees are sold illegally to Chinese buyers, who transport the loot to Asia for furniture manufacturing.
“The cutting down of trees in the forest is illegal in international law,” said Magadza, chairperson of a biosphere research unit of the United Nations Education Scientific Cultural Organisation. “We cannot lose this forestry reserve for meagre dollars.”
When the Financial Gazette visited the area, there was evidence that hundreds of people are now settled in the protected forest.
The settlers are said to be indiscriminately cutting down trees for sale and clearance for farming. Poaching of wildlife is said to be rife.
What has compounded the problem is the inability of the Forestry Commission, which manages the forest, to drive out the invaders. The police are said to have refused to apprehend the intruders citing political interference.
The Commission is responsible for enforcing regulations and has the power to make arrests.
Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, who stated that gazetted forestry land should be out of bounds to villagers and timber companies, was not aware of the invasion.
She said invasion of forests by villagers posed a serious threat to protected, indigenous trees.
Muchinguri said the country’s laws should be followed and ordered the invasions to stop.
According to Forestry Commission’s operations manager, Stephen Zingwena, the Forest Reserve was gazetted for ecological reasons.
“The main reason is that this is where tributaries that feed into Sanyati River originate from. Moreover, underlying geology in Mafungautsi consists of Karoo basalt and Kalahari sand which is not good for crop production,” said Zingwena.
“The Forestry Commission, a central government body, is legally responsible for managing the gazetted forest.
Tree-cutting, hunting and deliberate burning are all prohibited within the forest reserve,” he said.
Before 1940, most of Gokwe was sparsely populated, because of the threat of disease from tsetse fly.
However, some people migrated into Gokwe after the elimination of the tsetse fly, while a significant number were forcibly moved from areas designated for European settlement in the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1995, the Forestry Commission introduced co-management arrangements with the rural communities near Mafungautsi Forest. These arrangements made provision for natural-resource sharing within the gazetted forest.
When the fast track land reform programme was introduced in 2000, some local people led the settlement of Zanda Plateau in the forest, saying they were reclaiming land that was taken away from their ancestors by colonialists.
As soon as they went into the forest, there were several reports of poaching of wildlife as well as rampant tree cutting, who cleared land to make way for their homesteads, fields and gardens.
The new settlers settled on designated resource collection areas for two of the Rural Management Committee (RMC) areas close to Zanda namely Chemusonde and Kupfuma Ishungu.
Discussions with local community members revealed that about 75 families had settled in the forest and other community members were angry about this development; they had taken care of the forest their management efforts were about to be wasted.
The Chemusonde and KupfumaIshungu RMCs completely stopped functioning as the new settlers occupied areas where they used to harvest resources.
Deforestation has always been an endemic problem in Zimbabwe.
Current figures suggest that the rate of deforestation may be as high as 1,5 percent per year or three times the estimated average over the period 1999-2010.
Twenty-one million hectares of Zimbabwe is covered by woodlands and forests.
Gazetted forests constitute 800 258 hectares, with the Zimbabwe National Parks estates having five million hectares, a total of 13 percent of the country’s land area.

COMMENTS

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    Grabmore 6 years ago

    What you see has happened to this one forest is identical to what happened in chrome mining, iron, nickel, tobacco farming, diamond mining, tea, coffee, private game reserves, foreign multinationals .. etc etc etc. Exactly the same modis operandi and it is called “looting.” Shame shame