The excessive harvesting of timber destined for foreign markets in the Zambezi Region has created enormous distrust amongst environmentalists and residents of the region.
Although the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry maintains that the rate at which logging in the area is taking place is sustainable, those against it claim that the timber harvesting has severely affected the wilderness area with grazing, walking paths, and wildlife habitats being destroyed due to the rate at which trees are being cut.
The agriculture ministry recently revealed that 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.
Namibia, together with Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, and Zambia are home to the Pterocarpus trees which are native to southern Africa and popular amongst harvesters for the high prices it fetches on the international timber markets.
Namibia’s problem, however, is that its neighbouring countries such as Angola and Zambia have suspended the harvesting of timber harvesting and the species is classified as a protected tree in South Africa which means it cannot be harvested. This has forced harvesters to flock to Namibia for the lucrative tree species.
When Zambia banned the export of timber in May 2017, it led to trucks (mainly from Namibia) carrying untreated wood from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) bound for export via Walvis Bay being impounded.
This has created a logistical nightmare and a diplomatic conflict between Namibia and Zambia.
More than 200 Namibian trucks were impounded and drivers were detained (costing transporters close to N$100 million).
For over five months goods bound for inland transportation from Walvis Bay to the rest of southern Africa have been piling up due to a shortage of available transporter trucks.
Many of the trucks impounded have all the relevant export documentation and were allowed to enter Zambia, but were later detained while in transit and hence travelling beyond the 100 kilometre concession zone, even though the timber being carried was harvested outside Zambia.
As per the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime exotic hardwood is the single-most smuggled commodity in the world. There is a high demand for the raw wood; untreated wood and round logs of these exotic species in Asian markets, most notably China and Vietnam.
Most villagers in the Zambezi Region eke a living from selling timber, many are now suffering because they have to compete with harvesters who use modern machinery to cut timber at quick intervals.
Government’s decision to allow harvesters to wantonly plunder the trees to generate revenue has created another kind of storm among residents, and the debate has since highlighted the delicate balance the agriculture ministry faces in managing public lands.
Director Joseph Hailwa said the ministry is aware that there are timber harvesters who are harvesting illegally in the Zambezi and Kavango regions respectively, adding that complaints about those who are committing irregularities has been noted by the ministry and action will be taken against the offenders.
Hailwa said illegal plundering of resources are not only confined to his department.
“Irregularities are taking place all over the country and beyond and it is up to us to take action against illegal timber harvesters. The ministry will apprehend those who harvest without the necessary approvals,” he warned.
Hailwa added: “All the timber harvesting which is taking place in the country are authorized by the ministry and most of the harvesters have Environmental Clearance Certificates which allows them to harvest forest products.”
“There are number of harvesters who were given a permit to harvest, even though there are others who will take advantage to harvest these timbers illegally”, he stressed.
Hailwa who doubles up as Head of Forestry told The Patriot that there are number of issues that need to be addressed regarding the awarding of the permits.
“We need to evaluate whether there is any false play when it comes to issuing harvesting permits. There are a number of issues that we need to address regarding the provision of permits to see whether they were awarded procedurally.
However, if the permits were wrongly given, we have to correct it,” he said.
He encouraged local entrepreneurs to only buy timber product from sellers who have valid permits.
Hailwa cautioned the public to stop harvesting illegally, adding that they should report any perceived illegal harvesting acts to the relevant authorities.
He further urged permit holders to abide by the conditions attached to their permits, especially those related to the volumes that can be harvested in a certain timeframe.
To curb illicit timber trade and deforestation, and to promote value addition and beneficiation in Namibia, the Namibian government has previously introduced a moratorium on the harvesting of timber species. This moratorium was lifted and numbers spiked again.