The Centre for Natural Resource Governance joins the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of Forests – a day set apart to celebrate and raise awareness on the importance of all types of forests. The International Day of Forests #IFD2022 is commemorated under the theme ‘Forests and Sustainable Production and Consumption’. According to the U.N. FAO, 40.4% or about 15,624,000 ha of Zimbabwe is forested, according to FAO. Of this 5.1% ( 801,000 ) is classified as primary forest, the most biodiverse and carbon-dense form of forest. Zimbabwe has a total of 836 478 hectares of natural forest which covers about 0.8% of the total surface area of the country while 108,000 ha are planted forest. These forests provide oxygen, food, water, and shelter to animals, as well as humans. Besides providing habitats for animals and livelihoods for humans, forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and mitigate climate change.
According to the United Nations, global forests are home to about 80 per cent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, with more than 60,000 tree species. However, 10 million hectares of forests are lost each year largely due to human activity. Between 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees are cut every year according to a report published by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). Forest sustainable management and resource use are critical to contributing to present and future generations’ prosperity and well-being. Forests are also important for poverty alleviation because they are sources of livelihood for millions of citizens across the globe. Despite these priceless environmental, economic, social, and health benefits, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate. The global forest resource assessment of 2015 showed Zimbabwe to be among the top 10 countries with the highest deforestation rate, losing about 300 000 ha of forests per year. Between 1990 and 2015, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimated that deforestation reduced Zimbabwe’s forests by 37%. In 2019, the Timber Producers Federation found that commercial forests have shrunk from 120,000 ha to 69 000ha. The Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate reported that the country is losing 330 000 ha (about 60 million trees) a year against an annual planting rate of about 8 million trees.
Natural forests continue to dwindle in Zimbabwe because excluded local entrepreneurs and communities sharing boundaries with gazetted forests resort to poaching timber for charcoal production and backyard timber factories. Forests are generally regarded as a common property resource and this classification bestows the responsibility of forest management on both the government and citizens. However, Zimbabwe’s Forest management laws favour profit-making at the expense of the ecological and social benefits of forests to local communities. This model has brought more poverty to local communities. Zimbabwe’s existing forest management laws and other sectorial dynamics like demography, infrastructure, agriculture, landscape planning and general macro-economic development are not supporting efforts to curb the depreciation of forests throughout the country. The laws exclude locals in managing and owning forests and forest resources, thereby making Zimbabwe’s vast forests a non-common property resource. The Communal Lands Forest Produce Act (Chapter 19:04) limits the rights of local communities to access any forest produce for subsistence. Lack of laws and incentives for locals to steward their forests forces the locals take ‘a look and see’ approach rather than safeguarding the forests as a community treasure.
CNRG calls for the following:
Government of Zimbabwe to reform forest management laws and provide for community management of the forests.
Government to designate forests as common property resources and incentivise local communities living closer to gazetted forests with livelihood programs which will help to conserve plantations.
Civil society organisations, development partners, Forestry Commission and Environmental Management Agency (EMA) to intensify environmental education and awareness programmes on forest protection.
The people of Zimbabwe to practice reforestation and restore previously degraded ecosystems to provide essential habitat for threatened species.