Timber plantations require 25yrs to recover
MUTARE — The country’s ailing timber sector needs 25 years to regain its lost status, an expert has said.
Timber Producers Federation (TPF) chief executive officer, Johnson Mhungu, told the Financial Gazette’s Companies & Markets that the timber sector had regressed 25 years in the last decade and needed a similar number of years to correct the damage.
“Our timber has a 25 year rotation framework before a new circle is introduced. It’s unfortunate that this has not been respected and in the process, the sector has regressed back by 25 years.
“Apparently, this anomaly cannot be corrected in one year. It needs the same amount of time to revert back to its normal cycle,” said Mhungu.
He attributed the challenges affecting the country’s timber industry, once a top export earner, to uncontrolled cutting of timber, veld fires and illegal settlements within plantations.
“The sector has been subjected to haphazard cutting down of timber plantations. We are supposed to plant every year as we fell but we didn’t respect that. This was worsened by veld fires and illegal settlements that further affected timber plantations.
“Most of the areas that were affected by veld fires have not been replanted up to date while illegal settlers cleared the plantations for farming purposes leading to a lot of areas which are not planted,” he said.
TPF comprises of all the major timber players in the country. It gathers all timber related data and gives recommendations in order to help firms direct and steer future focus of the industry.
Statistics from TPF chief executive’s 2015 report indicated that 7 919 hectares of timber plantations have been illegally occupied by a total of 1 535 settlers.
Mhungu said that between 2008/9, a total of 18 000 hectares were lost due to veld fires.
Under normal circumstances, timber is first felled at 11 years to make pulpwood paper and at 15 years for furniture purposes before it is completely felled at 25 years.
However, Mhungu said this had not been the case, as the sector had been marred by premature cutting down of woodlots, which had depleted the country’s timber plantations.
By last year, the country’s national timber hectarage took a drastic decline, leading to company closures.
The biggest casualty was the Mutare Board and Paper Mills.
The chief executive’s 2015 report stated that the industry employed 3 833 people as of last year, down from 10 209 in 2009.
Mhungu said this had triggered a large number of unregistered timber companies probably established by former employees.
He said efforts were being made to make sure that the sprouting millers were accounted for and recorded in their data base for planning purposes.
“There have been a lot of unregistered millers that are not accounted for. We don’t know how much they are contributing to the nation and we want to enforce measures to make sure they do and that they are captured in our statistics,” he said.
Mhungu said the unregistered millers have capacity to boost pinewood production, which is hovering below 45 percent. – Kenneth Matimaire