WINDHOEK- A total of 114 trees, mainly the African teak and Zambezi Teak were illegally harvested and 1 693 cubic metres of timber and 35 logs were found without permits during the 2017 period up to date.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry Percy Misika revealed this in an exclusive interview with New Era.
When asked why is illegal harvesting of timber so rampant in the Zambezi and Kavango regions, Misika attributed this to the high demand for timber worldwide.
Other factors he mentioned are the limited transport of Directorate of Forestry to conduct regular patrols and resources inspections. More so, he said, the suspension of timber harvesting in neighbouring countries namely Angola and Zambia, may be another contributing factor.
The species of Pterocarpus native to southern Africa, is found in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zaire, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.
However, these species are a protected tree in South Africa. Asked what are the major contributing factors that influence people to harvest timber illegally, he cited lack of management plans in commonage forested areas because permits for commercial timber are only issued in the forests with management plans.
The other factor he mentioned is the poor communities who cannot afford to pay for forestry permits.
High unemployment rate in the region that most people depend on natural resources such as timber for survival is another major challenge.
Misika said lenient penalties for violation of the Forest Act and related regulations and inadequate funds to cover patrols and pursuit of suspects also contribute to these illegal activities. He noted this practice is rampant in both communal and private farms due to poverty as community practice illegal harvesting to generate income.
“It is also at a low rate taking place in small scale farms (private farms),” he said.
Asked who the culprits mainly are and what action has been taken against them, he said it is the local people sometimes recruited to harvest for outsiders and sometimes foreigners themselves. As a precautionary measure, he said the ministry confiscate all illegal timbers found and issue fines to culprits. He said they are also educating culprits on procedures of utilising forest products as per forest policy and regulations. He added once illegal harvested timbers are confiscated, culprits are fined between N$300 and N$5000 or criminal cases opened against them.
Further, he said block permits were issued to forest management bodies of Katope as well as Ncumcara and Mbeyo community forests in Kavango West.
The forestry bodies include George Mukoya, Muduva Nyangana and Cuma community forests in Kavango East, and Kwandu community forest in Zambezi Region.
Other permits were issued to small scale farmers at Taratara, Shakambu, Karukuwisa, Samagayigayi and Naingopo villages in Kavango East, while others were issued for harvesting at Katima Liselo Green Scheme and Sachinga Livestock Breeding Scheme.
Asked what happens to the confiscated illegal timber, he said the timber from community forest (classified forest) is handed over to the forest management body of the community forest where the illegal harvesting took place.
He said this is done so such timber is disposed of through public auction while timber from the commonage area (unclassified forest) are impounded at forestry offices and other public places and then disposed of through public auctions after clearance by the court.
The auction is conducted by the Ministry of Works and Transport once Treasury approval is granted by Ministry of Finance. He noted the Directorate of Forestry staff continually participates in joint patrols with neighbouring countries such as Zambia and Angola, while community meetings are organised to sensitise and educate the public on sustainable use of forest resources.
Equally, he says, collaboration with other government law enforcement agencies is enhanced, while communities and other relevant stakeholders such as traditional authorities are involved in the sustainable management of forest resources.