By Bulawayo Correspondent
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa Thursday made a rare admission government’s land reform programme, undertaken since 2000, destroyed forests and timber plantations which were a key source of foreign currency for the troubled country.
The national leader was responding to questions from the floor during the Zim Trade Annual Exporters conference held in Bulawayo.
“We used to be net exporter of timber. Somehow, we lost vigilance in that regard. Most of our timber estates have been vandalised,” Mnangagwa said.
The President had been asked to comment on the sustainability of the country’s timber industry following the chaotic episodes.
Mnangagwa said his government has since crafted policies to resuscitate the lucrative sector.
“We have now instituted policies to resuscitate them (estates) but it takes quite some time to be back to the levels we were before the devastation occurred,” he said.
“We have taken cognisance of the need to protect the existing timber forests by creating a policy to promote the growing of timber directly supported by government.
“So, we believe the journey might be long but we will achieve our goals so that Zimbabwe can be a net exporter of timber. We have got excellent timber in the country.”
Zimbabwe’s leading timber producing companies were plunged into serious viability challenges when the Zanu PF led government allowed hordes of villagers in the countryside to invade tracts of timber forests under the guise of correcting inverse land imbalances brought about by nearly a century of colonisation.
Apart from destroying valuable timber for agricultural purposes, some of the settlers have been accused of illegally harvesting timber from the plantations using mobile bush mills.
According to an estate manager at Border Timbers’ Charter estate, about 2,500 hectares of land has been illegally taken over by villagers who have shared among themselves acres of land.
Government has insisted on various fora that no future land compromises would reverse the land reform, let alone restore the pre-2000 land ownership patterns.
Since the land reform process, Zimbabwe has struggled for economic stability with the country hurtling through enduring periods of economic strain.