The illegal cutting down of trees for the production of charcoal is putting a huge strain on Zimbabwe’s fragile forests, reported VicFallsLive.
Charcoal is produced by heating wood to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen and is used for cooking and heating.
The use of charcoal in Zimbabwe has been rising steadily over the last few years especially in towns and cities due to rolling power cuts.
Mazia Dube a Hwange resident, delivers charcoal at one of Hwange’s busiest truck stops, Truck Inn Stop in the Cinderella area from where it is loaded to Bulawayo bound haulage trucks.
Dube is hired by different people, who illegally obtain the charcoal from the forests in Hwange’s Madumabisa village to deliver the product at the truck stop.
He says on a good day he can make as much as US$100 from the charcoal deliveries with the business reaching its peak during winter.
Zimbabwe reportedly loses about 60 million trees – some 33 000 hectares of forests – every year.
Mthelisi Sebele, an ecologist with the Forestry Commission in Matabeleland North, said:
Throughout the province, Hwange has become a hotspot, especially in areas such as Madumabisa Lubangwe and Matetsi up to Dete along the Nyantue River and Dinde.
The problem has been proving difficult to control since it started from Hwange around Deka Drum and spread in other areas from 2000 to 2010.
It has even spread to Victoria Falls and other areas controlled by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, rural district councils and the Environmental Management Agency.
Sebele said in 2021, 158 people from Matabeleland North and Bulawayo were arrested and fined for trading in charcoal. He said:
In Hwange, we confiscated 505 bags of charcoal and made 20 arrests, and in Dete we repossessed 690 bags and arrested 50 people.
In Lupane seven bags were also confiscated and 39 people got arrested for that offence while in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls a total of 69 people were arrested and 25 bags of charcoal were confiscated.
Currently, anyone caught selling firewood and charcoal can be fined US$59 or sentenced to a year in jail.
But Trymore Ndolo, a Victoria Falls Combined Residents Association member, said instead of arresting people who are involved in the illegal trade of firewood, authorities should set up a hub where people can sell the firewood at a very affordable price. Said Ndolo:
Here in Ward 11, we have over 1000 people who have no access to electricity in their homes and some of them are poor and unemployed. So sending them to jail or imposing a stiff fine is unjustified.