Noah Pito in Hurungwe
Hurungwe Rural District Council in Mashonaland West has for the second time accused the Forestry Company of Zimbabwe (FCZ) of facilitating deforestation by unprocedurally issuing wood permits to tobacco companies working in the district. In an interview last week, council chief executive Mr Joram Moyo said the defiance by contract farmers of council regulations after securing the permits from the FCZ had seriously affected operations of the Kariba Redd Project — which had been benefiting rural communities through conservation of forests.
“It has become very difficult for us to stop deforestation.
“It is unfortunate that even the Kariba Redd Project, which has been a vital source of development for several communities under Chief Chundu, is now being jeopardised,” said Mr Moyo.
“Remember from the sale of carbon credits realised through conservation of forests, a lot of bee-keeping and gardening projects have been churned out to several villages while many roads and boreholes have been rehabilitated for these communities from those funds,” lamented Mr Moyo.
The Hurungwe RDC accuses the Forestry Company of Zimbabwe of acting in bad faith after discovering that the company had been receiving bulk payments from tobacco companies before issuing out thousands of wood permits for contract farmers in Hurungwe.
The matter was first discovered during the 2014 /15 tobacco season after council resource monitors arrested tobacco farmers for causing deforestation.
Armed with the permits, the farmers would proceed to any forest of their choice and cut down trees willy-nilly, claiming to have authority over the forests.
Late last year, the Hurungwe RDC convened a special full council meeting at Magunje Growth Point, where Forestry Company of Zimbabwe’s national operations manager Mr Stephen Zingwena, was grilled his organisation’s issuance of thousands of permits in Harare without verifying whether the end users had the forests to sustain their tobacco ventures.
The 26-member council demanded that all permits for Hurungwe farmers be issued at district level with council assisting the district forester in ascertaining if the individual farmers had woodlots or forests to sustain their ventures.
“You don’t have the forests in Harare so why do you issue the permits there when in fact we have a forester here in Hurungwe? What is his job then?” asked Council Chairman Mr Tichaona Mathew during last year’s heated meeting.
Mr Zingwena failed to make any justification in favour of his organisation after council told him that the FCZ was violating Section 3(1)(c) of Statutory Instrument 116 of 2012, Forest (Control of Firewood, Timber and Forest Produce, which reads: “No person who is a flue-or flame-cured tobacco farmer . . . shall use or transport firewood for flue- or flame-curing tobacco except under the terms of flue-or flame-curing firewood licence obtained in the district where he or she grows that tobacco.”
In a separate interview, Mr Mathew said his council had since taken the matter to the office of Minister of State for Provincial Affairs in Mashonaland West Province, Cde Faber Chidarikire, for a solution.
“It is surprising that after holding the 2015 special full council meeting with the national operations manager, the violations are still going on. We have since taken the matter to the governor’s office for a solution,” he said.
According to Mr Mathew although the FCZ is no longer issuing the permits at its head office in Harare, nothing has changed as it is issuing out the permits at its provincial offices in Chinhoyi instead of doing it at district level.
“This time the perpetrators have permits issued at the provincial offices in Mashonaland West,” he said.
Chiefs are among stakeholders condemning the practice.
According to Chief Chundu, some contract farmers in his area are so insolent that they cut down sacred trees despite him having addressed them against such acts on several occasions.
“These contract farmers are defying my orders; they even cut down sacred trees under which we make rain-making prayers, all in the name of growing tobacco. No wonder why we have devastating droughts. When the spirits go angry droughts and unusual happenings besiege us,” he warned.
Mashonaland Tobacco Company, Chidziva, Curvrid, Boost Africa, Northern Tobacco, Shasha Tobacco, Tribac, Zimbabwe Leaf Tobacco and Midriver are among the several companies currently operating in Hurungwe.