Forestry Commission, Sculptors Cross Swords Over Indigenous Tree Poaching

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By Manicaland Correspondent

VUMBA – The Forestry Commission has expressed concern over high level cases of wood poaching carried out by wood sculptors in Manicaland province, particularly in tourist resort areas such as Vumba and the Eastern Highlands.

The Manicaland Provincial Forestry Commission Extension Manager, Philip Tomu, said the wood sculptors were wrecking havoc by wantonly cutting down indigenous trees to make wooden sculptures for sale, especially to foreign tourists visiting the area and the export market.

Traditional leaders added their voice to the increase amid fears that if the rate of cutting down indigenous trees was not controlled, it will impact negatively on the local environment.

Indigenous trees most targeted by sculptors are; Bechemia, Pod and Mahogany species.

“We are fast losing indigenous trees to wood sculptors. We need to protect our forests,” said Tomu.

He also warned people against cutting firewood to produce charcoal saying the practice was on the increase due to serious power shortages being experienced in the country.

“Our law does not allow the cutting down of trees to make charcoal. Whoever is doing this practice will be contravening the provision of the Forest Act Chapter 19 which regulates the forests. Those caught will be liable to a $700 fine or two years in prison,” he warned.

He encouraged local authorities and land owners to take effective measures to conserve healthy ecosystems in their respective areas.

Meanwhile, sculptors interviewed said they were cutting down the indigenous trees as a way of trying to eke out an honest living through the use of natural resources.

“There is nothing we can do because there is no employment. We have families to fend for and we are using natural resources. Government is not supporting art activities in the country and how do they expect us to survive,” said Clever Matimba, 45, a local sculptor in Vumba.

Another wood sculptor, Derreck Bwawo, 40, said the Forestry Commission should partner sculptors in their afforestation programmes.

“You cannot totally put a ban on our operations. It’s totally unacceptable because we survive on art. The Forestry Commission should come with programmes to help save the indigenous trees by engaging us so that we come up with a long lasting solution,” said Bwawo.

Most sculptors said they were exporting their works to Asian markets and also benefiting from few tourists visiting the country.