Indigenous Hwange Forests Threatened By Lucrative, Unregulated Charcoal Production

Charcoal production is placing food on the table and paying the bills, but it is not allowed at all and comes at a cost to a sustainable environment.

At almost midnight, Onismo Mwinde regularly wakes up to check on his makeshift ‘firewood furnace’ he built to burn Mopani trees. The three-metre long furnace, which consists of several Mopani tree logs, is located in the deep bushes of the Chilanga community far away from homesteads.

Mwinde makes sure that air circulation in the furnace is well controlled. He also keeps watch of any destructive veld fires that my break out. Meanwhile, the three-metre logs in the furnace will burn overnight to produce charcoal, a money-spinning product in underground trade.

He then packages the black charcoal into 50kgs bags as he plots the next phase of the business.

The country’s poor economic situation and crippling nationwide load shedding are becoming a lucrative business opportunity for Hwange rural folks who have ventured into unregulated charcoal making business, a move that is seriously damaging the environment.

The iconic Mopani trees are the main target for loggers, aiming to sell tons of charcoal monthly.

“My packaged charcoal is sold for US$2.50 to Hwange truckers who will resell the charcoal in Bulawayo or Harare for US$10,” Mwinde, charcoal producer says.

“For one to survive in this trade, having reliable runners or middlemen is key,” Mwinde adds.

“It’s a syndicate! I have my contact with the truckers who will resell the product. It is always the cat and mouse business with the Hwange Rural District Council authorities and police because they say what we are doing is illegal.”

Mwinde says the charcoal production business has made him and many other counterparts provide for their family since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Things have not been rosy, especially during the national induced lockdown. This is why we resorted to doing charcoal production with my family,” he says.

Charcoal production is outlawed in Zimbabwe, and according to the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe, the country is losing millions of trees to charcoal producers every year.

The iconic Mopani tree, which takes 35 years to grow fully, is carelessly cut and burnt within minutes, causing massive environmental damage.

According to the Forest Act Chapter 19:05 Section 65, the production of charcoal in Zimbabwe has never been sanctioned and remains banned.

In the Shangano communal area, which is 15 km west of Hwange town, villagers produce tons of charcoal. The Hwange Rural District Council is reportedly not bringing the offenders to book; rather, they confiscate the charcoal. The loggers are back to their illegal activities hoping that they are not caught again.

Mildred Shoko tells The Citizen Bulletin that she has lost tonnes of charcoal to the Hwange rural district council officials who confiscated the charcoal as a way of punishing her.

“I was lucky that they just took away my charcoal and did not make me pay a fine or arrest me,” says Shoko.

Source: The Citizen Bulletin

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