Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Illegal settlers disrupt timber industry

Illegal settlers disrupt timber industry

Wednesday, 20 April 2011 20:33

Taurai Mangudhla

ILLEGAL settlers have disrupted the local timber industry as they have 
invaded more than 5 000 hectares of commercial forestry land in Manicaland, 
indiscriminately cutting down trees, and posing serious environmental 
degradation threats in the process, according to timber industry players.

The timber industry accuses local authorities responsible for allocating 
land under the controversial land reform programme as abetting the 
squatters, thereby sabotaging the sector’s revival.  They say forestry 
plantations are being used for resettlement despite the fact that they are 
protected from invasion by the same land reform policy.

“The situation is political because the governor and the Lands officer are 
responsible for land allocation. What I know is that if plantation 
management is not in good books with these political appointees you are 
likely to see your plantation being allocated to squatters,” said a senior 
plantation manager who requested anonymity.

This was contrary to the forest-based land reform policy framework, which 
recognises timber plantation as a viable land use option that should not be 
converted to other uses.

Industry sources in Manicaland say because of these takeovers, their 
companies are failing to secure foreign investment needed to revamp the 
ailing sector.

“Chinese investors who had shown interest in some plantations said they 
would only commit their resources to the tune of US$100 million once the 
unlawful occupants were removed,” Timber Producers Federation’s (TPF) 
chairman Franky Kufa said.  He said potential investors needed a secure 
operating environment before they could commit their finances.

Efforts to secure the much needed funding required to revive the ailing 
sector have been countered by continued plantation incursions.
The latest Timber Producers Federation’s (TPF) report indicated more than 5 
000 hectares had been illegally occupied by close to 600 families and 1 241 
settlers, most of whom were gold panners.

Kufa said the illegal settlements posed the greatest challenge to timber 
plantations in the form of opportunistic harvesting, land clearing for 
agriculture and uncontrolled fires.

Most of the unlawful occupants had already cut down trees to either grow 
potatoes, maize and other crops.

Allied Timbers Zimbabwe,  the Wattle Company and listed Border Timbers 
Limited are some of the major foresty companies that have been affected most by the chaotic invasions.

Environment and Natural Resources minister Francis Nhema said collective 
action was required to resolve problems arising from the invasions.

“Illegal setters are not sustainable to the industry and there is need for 
engagement between local leadership, government, timber growers and the 
illegal settlers to come up with a common ground” said Nhema.

Lands and Rural Resettlement minister Herbert Murerwa however, indicated the chaotic situation could not be immediately resolved as anticipated by timber growers, owing to policy complications.

Murerwa said government had the challenge to find alternative land for the 
illegal settlers as part of a rehabilitation process which is required by 


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