By HourlyHits Reporter
POLICE have rounded up people found with firewood and confiscated the firewood in several districts in Mashonaland West province.
At the moment, firewood is in great demand thanks to the load shedding – the local term for rolling blackouts – afflicting the country.
Early this year, the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) began load shedding due to a lack of water at the Kariba Hydro electric power station and technical faults at the Hwange Thermal power station, which together produce most of the country’s electricity.
In a blitz carried out jointly by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), the Forestry Commission, ZimParks and EMA, several firewood vendors have been arrested around the province.
Government spokesperson Nick Mangwana said the provincial blitz has seen the arrest of people found with firewood.
“They have so far covered six districts; Chegutu, Hurungwe, Makonde, Mhondoro/Ngezi, Sanyati and Zvimba. So far 44 confiscations. The Commission has issued out 10 tickets,” Mangwana said.
“The program was supported by various stakeholders including EMA, Parks, ZRP, Local Authorities and some members of the media.
“In Gadzema Township, two people selling firewood were arrested. Loads of firewood taken to Forestry Commission Provincial offices will be auctioned later.”
Last week, Forestry Commission Director Abednico Marufu announced that they had banned the selling of firewood forthwith.
“We want you to know that what has been happening along is wrong for the forest you, for us. We are saying let’s stop this business of cutting down trees. In rural areas it is not allowed to sell wood, whether you have a permit or not, we are putting a stop to this.
“The damage is too much. We will empower you with other projects such as agriculture and beekeeping. Anyone who will be found selling firewood from today will be arrested,” he said.
Deforestation has always been a problem for authorities, especially in new settlements with no electricity available. But the demand for cooking and heating alternatives has risen due to load shedding across the country.
The price of liquefied petroleum gas used to fuel stoves is upwards of US$2 per kg, beyond the reach of many households especially under a lockdown. Fuel generators that use gasoline or diesel are expensive alternatives; so are renewable energy sources such as solar energy, which requires costly imported solar panels.
That makes firewood the cheapest option for Zimbabweans, but an illegal alternative nonetheless.
During last year’s budget speech, Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said that between 100,000 and 320,000 hectares of forest were already being lost per year. According to a government environmental report, deforestation caused by increased demand for firewood in periurban areas has increased since 2011.
Phillip Tom, the Forestry Commission provincial forestry extension manager for Manicaland province, says forest cover is now at 30 to 35%, in part due to the cutting down of trees for firewood.
Deforestation affects ecosystems, causing soil erosion that results in silt filling rivers and disrupting water systems. The Forestry Commission administers the law around cutting down trees, which makes it an offense to cut, remove and collect any forest produce without authority and to move firewood without a timber movement permit issued by the commission. □