Forestry Commission is now getting overwhelmed on their mandate to control deforestation as more people resort to firewood following erratic power supplies in the wake of load shedding by national power utility ZESA.
Urban communities across Gweru in Zimbabwe’s Midlands province, are now relying on nearby farms and smallholder plots for firewood which they fetch illegally.
A snap survey conducted by this reporter revealed that an average of 20 scotchcarts of firewood land into Mkoba high density suburb each morning drawn from farms around Lower Gweru road and Matobo road.
The ZESA electricity schedule is continually being tightened such that some areas are meant to endure up to 18 hours without power each day. This has forced urban dwellers to resort to firewood as other alternatives such as gas and paraffin are no longer affordable.
Theresa Mlambo of Ascot, said the illegal fetching of firewood is driven by the quest to survive.
“We will not stop fetching firewood because our families need to eat. Where do you expect us to get energy when there is no Zesa electricity everyday during the day?
“We can’t afford gas or paraffin so the energy issue has become a matter of life and death. We are fending for our children for them to eat and survive,” she said.
Forestry Commission Midlands provincial forest manager, Roderick Nyahwai, said the situation of illegal firewood in Gweru is getting out of hand.
“Yes we have been conducting regular firewood raids but apparently it is getting out of hand. We are incapacitated due to lack of transport. We are supposed to confiscate all firewood fetched illegally but our vehicles are small.
“We actually need a UD truck so that we can raid effectively. We are actually appealing for government to give us more resources so that we can perform optimally”
Nyahwai said they have so far confiscated around 150 loads of firewood this winter. He said the fine for unlawful possession of firewood currently stands at $20 dollars and is however no longer deterrent in the wake of escalating prices of goods and services.
He said his organisation is compelled by the Forest Act and the Statutory Instrument 116 of 2012 to control forest produce.
“We are guided by the Forest Act as well as statutory instrument 116 of 2012 to control firewood, timber and any forest produce. Any person willing to trade forest products should obtain a licence from us.”
Meanwhile Chief Bunina of Lower Gweru bemoaned the rampant cutting down of trees in his community saying the area is fast being turned into a desert.
“Deforestation has become our biggest challenge and we seem to have no solution at all. At first it was the rural dwellers and we made by-laws to deter people from cutting down trees.
“Now we have those from town. They come with trucks at night and I have heard several such reports. Our local people here are using cowdung as an alternative.
Nyahwai said people should adopt wood saving technologies such as tsotso stove while in the long term they are working on introducing biogas energy to the urban dwellers.
“We are currently looking for partners to sponsor training programmes on the construction of biogas digesters which can be adopted in urban settings. Meanwhile people must adopt wood saving technology such as the tsotso stove.”
Women are mostly in charge of household energy needs and are largely responsible for gathering firewood and cooking.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), embrace the need for economic development that leaves no one behind and gives everyone a fair chance of leading a decent life.
SDG 7 acknowledges the importance of “affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. But energy is also essential for eradicating extreme poverty, eliminating avoidable child deaths, and achieving universal secondary education, more inclusive growth, gender equity and sustainable land-use