THE tale of illegal settlers in different timber plantations in Manicaland is now becoming a tired story, a story that has been told so many times yet a lasting solution remains elusive.
While we do not doubt the need for land for every citizen as well as respect that as a human right, we remain cognisant of the dire need to preserve our commercial forest plantations as a key player in the economy of this nation.
The importance of restoring sanity in timber plantations vis-a-vis economic revival efforts cannot be over emphasised more so with the Transitional Stabilisation Programme agenda upon us.
The Transitional Stabilisation Programme expounds issues relating to application of credible and sustainable policy interventions, underpinned by strengthening the rule of law and respect for property rights.
It clearly spells out that with respect to environmental management, the Transitional Stabilisation Programme targets protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainable management of forests, fighting the veld fire scourge, combating desertification, halting and reversing land degradation and loss of bio-diversity.
The commercial timber plantations are made up of exotic timber species which can only grow well under high rainfall, cool temperatures and high altitudes.
Apart from the direct economic gains that we derive from these timber plantations, commercial forest plantations act as water catchment areas and are sources to some of the major rivers in the entire Manicaland province.
Some of the rivers that get their water from the forests are Mutare, Pungwe, Honde, Odzi, Rusitu, Tanganda, Mhakwe and Changazi.
These forests have sufficiently provided Zimbabwe and Southern Africa with most of its timber needs since their establishment in the 1960s.
But all this is under a huge threat from, among other factors, illegal settlers.
Elsewhere in this newspaper we carry a story on a pronouncement by Minister of State for Manicaland Affairs Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba on the soon-to-be rolled ‘Operation Dzoka Kwawakabva’.
Progressive citizens will naturally take sides with the Minister of State given the glaring need to preserve our forest plantations and protect them from illegal settlers.
Over the years, we have witnessed some uncontrolled veld fires ravaging timber plantations in different parts of Manicaland and this has come at a cost not only for the operators in the industry but for the economy of the country in general.
We sincerely hope that the time for warning illegal settlers has come and gone.
This is the time to take decisive action against illegal settlers and ensure that future generations also benefit from the natural endowments in the eastern highlands that include our beautiful timber plantations.
The fact that the timber plantation area in the country has been declining every year from about 120 000 hectares in the early years of this decade to just under 70 000 hectares in 2018 is not something we can smile at.
We all know that the major reasons for the decline include low replanting rate, forest fires and illegal activities in the forests.
Given that forest fires and illegal activities that include illegal mining are mainly fuelled by illegal settlers in plantations, we see no need we can continue tolerating the existence of illegal settlers in timber estates.
Currently the country consumes about 150 000 cubic metres of timber per year and this demand is estimated to increase as the country moves closer to achieving Vision 2030 hence one of the progressive measures that can be taken to meet that demand is to do away with illegal settlers in plantations.
To that end, we fully rally behind Government in its intention to roll out ‘Operation Dzoka Kwawakabva’ with the hope that players in the timber industry will also play their part in making sure all available land is utilised to the benefit of the economy.