Muzarabani forests are under serious threat from charcoal dealers who are enjoying brisk business by cutting down trees for firewood, which is in high demand due to electricity load shedding.

A wave of deforestation has struck Chiwenga, Kairezi and Maongaonga areas in Muzarabani as charcoal production syndicates are wantonly chopping down trees.

The current load shedding has increased demand for charcoal which is retailing at RTGS$30 per 20 litre bucket in some urban markets, raising fears indigenous tree species will become extinct if the trend is not stopped.

The rampant deforestation has caught the attention of the Forestry Commission and the police who have launched a blitz in which they are confiscating Harare bound truckloads of charcoal while sensitising residents on the operation.

“There has been a significant rise in illegal charcoal production so right now we are doing some operations trying to capture offenders in spreading fires so that we become a leader in the region in terms of utilisation of forestry resources,” said Muzarabani district forest extension officer Dickens Mupfigo.

Police urged traditional leaders to be at the forefront in preventing deforestation.

“As police we are establishing roadblocks in specific areas to stop the distribution of charcoal. We need everyone to participate. To traditional leaders you are capable of preventing the cutting of trees because you monitor people daily,” said Officer Commanding Guruve district Chief Superintendent Robert Torevasei.

Chief Kasekete noted that existing penalties are not harsh enough to deter firewood traders.

“There is need to liaise with relevant authorities so that a mandatory jail sentence is placed for those who destroy our environment to set an example. We have had countless meetings trying to raise awareness on effects of deforestation but they don’t seem to learn,” he said.

Zimbabwe loses about 330 000 hectares of forests annually to veld fires and wanton tree-cutting.

Forest and woodland resources have land cover of 45 percen down from 50 percent in 2014.

Chapter 19:05 Section 65 of the Forestry Act prohibits manufacturing of charcoal.

However, under Section 4 of the Communal Lands Forest Produce Act, inhabitants of communal lands are allowed to exploit forests for use but not for commercial gain.