Load shedding: Harare’s forests under siege

Features Zimbabwe

Fatima Karuweni

Forests in and around Zimbabwe’s capital Harare are under serious threat from wood merchants who cut trees for firewood to sell to residents.

Firewood is in high demand in Harare due to the incessant load shedding the southern African country is facing, and wood traders are making good business.

Uncontrolled cutting down of trees for firewood has left areas around Harare treeless. The area that stretches from Glen View 7 to Cresta Breeders along Beatrice road south of Harare, has been affected the most. There, wood poachers have reduced a once thriving forest into a wasteland. Other areas that have suffered from the wood cutter’s axe are Beatrice, Chitungwiza and Goromonzi, which surround Harare. 

The current load shedding has increased the demand for firewood which is cheaper than gas, with five sticks of firewood costing RTGS$5.00 enough to cook meals for two days depending on the type of meal.

The cost of gas is around RTGS$15.00 per kilogramme, which is enough to prepare a modest breakfast and lunch for not more than two days. This is beyond the reach of many families in Zimbabwe whose monthly average income is RTGS$300.00.

The current load shedding situation has turned firewood vending into a seemingly lucrative business venture.

Mellisa Shumba, a firewood vendor, says she is aware of the harm she is doing to the environment, but due to the need to fend for her family, she has no option. 

“I am a mother of two and the only thing that brings food to my table is selling fire wood, business is good,” Shumba told ZTN.

Deforestation in Harare is also causing the siltation of Mukuvisi river which passes through some parts of Harare and feeds into Manyame river that flows into Lake Chivero, Harare’s main source of drinking water. Most areas along Mukuvisi have lost vegetation and this has increased soil erosion which is affecting Lake Chivero’s catchment area.

The Forestry Commission, whose mandate is to manage the country’s forest resources, is concerned about the rate of deforestation.

In an interview with ZTN, Forestry Commission information and communications manager, Ms Violet Makoto bemoaned the indiscriminate cutting down of trees in Harare, and said this poses a danger to the environment. 

“The cutting down of trees in Harare and surrounding areas is threatening the environment. “We are greatly concerned with this. We will continue with our patrols to make sure that we arrest people who are contributing to deforestation,” Makoto said. 

As wood poachers continue to lay siege on Harare’s forests, the Forestry Commission has started engaging partners to fight the menace.

“We are working with Environment Africa and the Sustainable Afforestation Association of Zimbabwe to address the challenge of deforestation and we are advising communities to desist from cutting trees,” Makoto added.