Firewood consumption jeopardizing Mapfungautsi Forest

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…residents blame ZETDC for increasing electricity prices

Isheunesu Tirivangani

Mapfungautsi Forest, which is one of the popular, and largest Forest in Gokwe South, Midlands part of Zimbabwe is witnessing an escalation of deforestation due to the consumption of firewood by newly settled residents in Gokwe.

Mapfungautsi Forest falls under the category of woodlands, forests on state lands, and protected areas. It is the third largest Forest and was gazetted in 1954 with a total hectarage of 82100 hectares. The forest is now infested with illegal settlers, and about 11000 hectares have been cleared for settlement purposes. This is a challenge to the intended conservation purpose which is the protection of the watershed for lutope, Ngondoma, Mbumbuzi, and Sengwa rivers which feeds into the Zambezi River.

Gokwe District Forestry Commission Forester Titus Muleya told this reporter that the increase in the demand for firewood has become a major concern with Mapfungautsi Forest bearing the brunt as trees are being cut without replacement.

“There is high consumption of firewood in the newly constructed residential areas where some dealers are making a lot of money through smuggling our important trees from the Forest and selling them illegally. We urged people not to practice deforestation since many indigenous trees are being destroyed without replacing them. There are Acts that we are currently implementing to protect the trees, and also police will be in place to nab people destroying the forest.

“The Community Service Act is one of the acts that we have put in place in order to protect the trees from being destroyed by the unscrupulous dealers who are penetrating and destroying Mapfungautsi Forest,” he said.

One youth who pleaded for anonymity told this reporter that the economic situation in the country is driving people to engage in desperate measures so that they can place food on the table and feed their families.

“We are forced to venture into the business of selling firewood illegally because of the hardships of life in the country. Therefore, it is an opportunity for us to earn a living, and carter for our families “nekuti mukoma vangu ukagara unouraya mhuri nenzara, kunze akuna mabasa saka tinoita zviripo panguva iyoyo (because the situation is difficult, our families might end up suffering if we do not sell the firewood).

“We plead with the authorities from the Forestry Commission to lower the prices of licenses because they are too expensive. So that it will be cheaper for us to do proper things with legal papers and better ways. We will not cease to play the hide, and seek game until we come to an agreement on how we can also benefit as a community. We have suffered enough,” he said.

Research done by this publication revealed that the majority of the residents in Gokwe cite electricity costs as the major driver for firewood consumption hence the increase in the cutting down of trees in Mapfungautsi forest. Furthermore, some new residential areas are yet to be wired with electricity and this too drives people to cut down trees for firewood on a daily basis. Claris Chinyemba a resident of Mapfungautsi extension said due to the expensive costs of electricity residents supplement the little they buy with firewood.

“Gokwe as a growing town is facing some electricity challenges, especially to those who are in newly constructed areas of Njelele, Red roof, and Mapfungautsi extension. ZETDC is giving about Kwh300 per house, and it is very unfortunate that people are saving the electricity by using other alternative ways of energy resorting to the use of firewood which is cheaper than gas,” said Chinyemba.

Tinashe Zuse an Environmentalist at the Forest Commission said there is a need to educate the community about the importance of preserving forests, especially with regard to Mapfungautsi which has become a victim due to deforestation.

“There are a lot of advantages that we get from these trees to mention medicines from the Musasa, Mopani and other trees to mention a few, we also get food, oxygen and shade, therefore once cut down people might face difficulties now and even in the future. The community has to also protect the trees since everyone benefits from them one way or the other.

“The Forest is also important as it is the only remnant of vast Miombo woodland which covered the Mapfungautsi and Charama Plateaus and contains some tree species of commercial value such as teak and mukwa. The rivers that emanate from the forest also supply over 10000 people downstream with water for various socio-economic activities such as market gardening,” explained Zuse.

Tatenda Mahefu from the Forestry Commission said, ”there are some solutions to curb these problems like the use of solar panels, planting of more trees, and creation of gem projects to encourage people to look after the forest. Also, the Zimbabwean Electricity Supply Authority is encouraged to assist people in every way they can as to avoid unnecessary cutting down of trees.”

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