WINDHOEK – The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry estimates that the approximate value of 75 000 tonnes of timber exported from Namibia during the first two months of 2019 is close to N$94 million. And despite this astronomic amount of the country’s raw timber being sent to other countries the agriculture ministry has admitted that there is still no programme in place to compel timber harvesters to plant trees to replace what they have harvested, thereby bringing into question the sustainability of the timber industry.
“Timber is sold at an average price of N$5 000 per cubic metre. One may therefore estimate that the approximate value of 75 000 tonnes may be N$93 750 000,” read a long-awaited response from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry. The ministry explained that the value of timber varies from species to species and from place to place. Most of the timber in Namibia is bought per cubic metre with one cubic being equal to approximately four tonnes of wood.
“Government … regulates the number of trees to be removed from a specific site. It also guides the land owners to ensure that forested areas are protected against over-grazing and forest fires to allow natural regeneration of forest resources to take place,” read the ministry’s response.
Following what seemed to be the relentless exportation of Namibian timber in recent times, which was evident from the large number of timber-transporting trucks daily on route to the port of Walvis Bay, the government banned the exportation of unprocessed timber. “All harvested timber must first be processed locally before being exported to other countries,” read the statement.
However, the same ministry acknowledged that unabated timber felling leads to deforestation and forest degradation, which has negative effects on the environment.
“It reduces forests’ roles as carbon sinks; hence efforts are intensified to reduce or stop timber harvesting in Namibia,” says the ministry, adding that currently timber harvesting has been suspended until further investigation to determine the sustainable timber harvest quantities to be allowed.
And while the ministry seems to be acting to prevent further deforestation, it has also quelled any fears of desertification in affected areas. “Desertification happens where there is indiscriminate harvesting or destruction of forest resources in a given area. Up to now only certain forest species of a specific size were being harvested, leaving other tree species, shrubs and grass intact, therefore there is currently no sign of desertification in the northern regions,” read the statement.
It has been reported that exports of Namibian timber to China increased from 22 truckloads in 2015 to 208 truckloads in the first two months in 2019. It was further reported that in total 3 200 tonnes of Namibian timber were exported to China in 2018. Minister of Industrialisation, Trade and SME Development Tjekero Tweya has in the past cautioned that a different approach should be taken regarding timber harvesting.
“I want to see a situation where we produce furniture for our domestic market – our schools, clinics. We have a tendency to export in raw forms and then we import at exorbitant prices in manifold charges. We have a duty to protect this nation now and forever. We should only allow these products to be exported once value has been created. Value creation in Namibia should go in tandem with capacity building of our people through skills and knowledge transfers,” said Tweya recently.
Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta had also lambasted agriculture ministry officials for dishing out permits to harvest timber in north-eastern Namibia without obtaining environmental clearance certificates from the applicants. Shifeta called on those looting endangered trees without following proper procedures to be charged for misconduct. His ranting followed reports that government received 231 applications to cut down close to 200 000 trees in north-eastern Namibia in five years.