Iconic Mopane tree faces an existential threat in the Lowveld

…as illegal firewood, charcoal market stretches to Harare

EnviroPress Correspondent

Authorities in Chiredzi are struggling to put an end to the decimation of Mopane woodlands as the demand for firewood and charcoal grows partly due to insufficient access to alternative sources of energy.

Occasional raids organised jointly by teams from the Environmental Management Agency (Ema), Forestry Commission and Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) on illegal loggers and firewood merchants has so far failed to deter the offenders.

Piles of Mopane firewood are sold openly on the roadsides and in the high density residential suburbs where residents have very limited or no other sources of income.

Besides being host to the famous Mopane worm which is food to many people, the tree species produces pods that are nutritious to livestock, and is the most reliable source of feed for village cattle in a semi-arid district where pastures are often not very good.

One firewood merchant said she had clients from Harare and Masvingo city who occasionally come and ferry the firewood for processing into charcoal.

“I have been in this business for two years and it is my only means of survival. Mopane produces high levels of heat and the wood lasts longer on the heath. Those that make charcoal out of it say there is a good market in Harare and Masvingo. They say the charcoal lasts very long on the braai stand,” she said.

A few days later, EnviroPress managed to snap some pictures of Mopani charcoal being sold for US$5 a bucket at the informal Chitima market in Masvingo.

Chiredzi District Development Coordinator (DDC) Lovemore Chisema said there was an organized syndicate dealing in firewood and charcoal thereby threatening the survival of the species that is very resilient in semi-arid places like Chiredzi district.

“There is a serious reduction of Mopane trees as people are now commercialising the sale of charcoal and firewood. Mopane tree is on demand from big cities like Harare. “Syndicates are involved and they include those who chop the wood to produce charcoal and those who ferry the wood to Harare and Masvingo for sale.

“I have since engaged the new Forestry Commission officer so that we can create awareness and conduct some raids to reduce the rate of deforestation. Chiredzi North is the worst affected area and the syndicate is growing but we will very soon put an end to it,” said Chisema.

Chiredzi District Forest Commission officer, David Mandongwe even said there were people in government departments who were under investigation for suspected involvement with syndicates that are decimating Mopane trees.

“The situation has gone out of hand and we are doing investigations on some government departments implicated in the syndicates. We have scaled up awareness campaigns and raids. So far, we have managed to arrest three people and we recovered huge heaps of wood.

“We did not manage to confiscate all that we found because we are experiencing a challenge of lack of vehicles,” said Mandongwe.

A few years ago, Chiredzi Rural District Council (RDC) engaged the Joint Operations Command (JOC) to enforce an operation to stop the sale of firewood and charcoal but it seems little results were achieved.