Forests overlooked in industrialisation drive: Scientist Prof Mandivamba Rukuni

Sifelani Tsiko-Agric, Environment & Innovations Editor

Wise use of forests could contribute substantially to the country’s push to end poverty and drive industrialisation — a major vehicle to grow the country into a middle-income economy by 2030, a renowned agricultural economist says.

Professor Mandivamba Rukuni, a veteran academic with extensive experience in facilitating land policy-making in Africa, told participants at the first international symposium on forestry held recently that forests must not be overlooked as allies in the fight against poverty and in the country’s industrialisation drive.

“The potential of the country’s forest resources is yet to be fully understood and tapped,” he said. 

“Foresters, you are one of the most honest and straightforward people who give information as it is, but you do not tell people about the value of the wise use of forests in driving industrialisation.

“For example, honey has more than 20 uses and yet we use it to spread on a slice of bread. Maize has more than 15 uses and yet we use it for the stomach.

“Foresters should explore ways to develop, manage and sustainably add value to forestry resources in support of Zimbabwe and Africa’s industrialisation.”

The international symposium was held under the theme: “Forest Restoration for Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation.”

It was hosted by the Forestry Commission at a time of ongoing national, regional and global efforts to restore forest landscapes and promote the utilisation of forests in combating the effects of climate change and improvement of livelihoods.

Prof Rukuni said the sustainable management of forests and their use were key to combating climate change, and to contributing to the prosperity and well-being of current and future generations.

According to an International Union of Forest Research Organisations assessment released by the UN in 2019, around 4.06 billion hectares of forests remain in the world today.

In many tropical nations, forests contribute 20-25 percent of income for the poor, about the same amount as agriculture.

Forests and other trees also provide essential safety nets that help people manage climatic and economic risks.

In many forest and wildlife-rich countries in Africa, for example, timber and tourism are big contributors to the national economy apart from a wide range of forest products.

Among other things, Prof Rukuni highlighted the political economy theory or the premise of most African countries being stuck in the middle-income trap.

“Out of the 55 African nations, there is no single African country that has attained industrialisation,” he said. “South Africa and a few others we think are industrialised, are still stuck in the middle-income trap.

“You cannot industrialise with single-digit growth. For African countries to industrialise, they must have double-digits growth for years. For now, most African countries are stuck in the middle income trap.”

Prof Rukuni said single-digit growth rates would transform the economy and the rate of unemployment would not come down, while inequality would worsen.

“With economies stuck in the middle income trap, poverty and unemployment will persist and as gaps in income widen, the chances of attaining industrialisation that will address the needs of the majority of the population will become slim.”

Prof Rukuni said getting out of this middle income trap was the single most important problem that needed to be addressed to move towards industrialisation.

Zimbabwe and other African countries have committed to restore 31 million hectares of degraded and deforested land, under a new push to make 100 million hectares productive again by 2030.

Zimbabwe is one of the most mega-biodiverse countries in the world and harnessing natural resources can effectively contribute to economic growth and industrialisation.

Commercial exploitation of Zimbabwe’s indigenous forests and woodlands is a significant source of income, foreign exchange, and employment at the national level.

This also extends to a diverse range of non-timber forest products, including oils, gum, waxes, edible and non-edible.

However, the value of huge stocks of forestry and non-forestry products that are traded in the informal sector such as mazhanje, marula, masau, baobab, natural honey, natural herbs and oils and a whole range of other plant and animal products is not known, yet it is quite significant in terms of volumes traded on the market.

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