Zimbabwe — The timber industry has lost millions of United States dollars worth of trees to veld fires that ravaged several plantations across the country during the past months.
Timber Council of Zimbabwe chairman and Allied Timbers Holdings group chief executive, Mr Joseph Kanyekanye said about 15 000 hectares of planted forest was lost to veld fires, with the majority of trees affected being those between three and nine years. He said that the situation was so dire that they have had to fight an average of five to 30 fires a day. “This is the worst fire season in the history of forestry in the country and it has also come with fatalities as we lost one life to the veld fires,” he said. It takes about 25 years to bring a tree to maturity when it could be harvested and processed into poles or sawn timber and other value-added timber products. Mr Kanyekanye said the three to nine-year-old timber were still immature and were a total write-off. The most affected companies included Allied Timbers, which owns about 60 percent of all the forest areas in the country. As a result of the veld fires Mr Kanyekanye said the industry had lost a lot of man hours in terms of production as more time was being committed to fighting the fires. He said that production during the past two months had nearly grounded to a halt from the 10 to 30 percent capacity that the industry was operating. He said that the situation was further worsened by the fact that at times fire simultaneously broke out at several estates resulting in foresters failing to come to each others rescue as they were also fighting fires at their respective estates. Mr Kanyekanye said the unfortunate issue about the veld fires was that they were caused by people preparing their fields and illegal settlers but only one arrest had been made despite the fact that the culprits were well known. In respect of Allied Timbers, Mr Kanyekanye said that none of their estates had been gazetted for land resettlement but were being affected by illegal settlers who were defying orders to vacate the estates. Mr Kanyekanye said they were having problems in that the illegal settlers were not heeding awareness campaigns to desist from starting fires between July 31 and October 31 as prescribed by law. In addition he said that it was unfortunate that perpetrators were getting lighter sentences at the courts with some of them getting fines of only $20 000 despite the fact that they would have caused damage running into millions of dollars. He, however, said that despite the loses, production in the industry was expected to double as all energy will be concentrated on massive harvesting of the older trees that survived the fire. As Allied Timbers, he said they were focusing on engaging in massive harvesting of burnt timber at their Muteo Estates along Harare/Masvingo road with all the harvested timber being processed into mining props for platinum mines in South Africa and other mines in Botswana. As a solution to the continuous outbreaks, Mr Kanyekanye said that there was need for Government to make special provision to remove settlers off the plantations and also engage other arms of Govern-ment such as the army to drive away the illegal settlers. He called for the adoption of a plantation policy that was crafted by the industry, which among other issues calls for settlement bordering estates to be at least five kilometres from the edge of the forest plantation.