THE sad story of ravaging veld fires that destroyed property and vegetation in the resort area of Nyanga district since last week makes sad reading.
It amounts to economic sabotage for anyone in their right mental state to start a fire they can hardly control in an area where there are timber plantations.
No doubt, the timber production industry is a key player in the economic turnaround efforts and it deserves to be protected not only for the current economic stabilisation efforts but also for the benefit of future generations.
For the record, at its peak, the industry employed more than 10 000 people while another 20 000 were employed in supporting industries such as furniture manufacturing.
These figures are meant to place into context the value of the timber industry to the livelihoods of Zimbabweans and yet at the same time veld fires have reportedly ravaged the forests countrywide with about 6 000 hectares being lost in a year.
It is not by accident that the timber industry is mainly located in Manicaland given the conducive climatic conditions such as the cool temperatures, steep slopes and high rainfall.
Therefore it is incumbent upon the people of Manicaland to preserve the plantations and ensure the nation gets most out of the forests.
Elsewhere in this newspaper we carry a story on the wrangles among mobile saw-millers operating in timber plantations in Nyanga that has since turned vicious after some of them ignited the fire that destroyed irrigation pipes, water tanks, potato seed storage shades as well as thousands of hectares of flora and fauna in an apparent act of sabotage.
In that piece, it is reported that property and vegetation was destroyed by raging veld fires that started last week in several villages surrounding Troutbeck Resort area in Nyanga district.
It is clear that the selfish interests of mobile saw-millers saw them destroying the timber plantations. It is against this background that we unequivocally call for thorough investigations into the matter and ensure that perpetrators face the full wrath of the law.
If we are serious about efforts to consolidate home grown solutions to our economic challenges, we surely cannot tolerate such wanton destruction of flora and fauna, more so given the value it has to national economic development.
This is the reason we supported Government’s intentions when it recently announced that they will soon roll out an operation to flush out those illegally settled in timber plantations in different parts of the province in a development that is expected to bolster operations of different timber processing companies.
We are aware that apart from issues relating to wrangles between timber saw-millers witnessed in Nyanga, illegal settlers have also contributed immensely to veld fires in other areas where timber is being produced.
We are all aware that 17 544 hectares of timber plantations had been occupied by the settlers, while illegal mining activities had disrupted timber production in Tarka Forest in Chimanimani.
Zimbabwe sits on 39 million hectares of land, of which only 200 000ha are suitable for commercial forests. This effectively means that the country needs to seriously protect the forests to avoid ending up importing timber.
We hope the issue of fires destroying our timber plantations, flora and fauna in general will be given the attention it deserves and lasting solutions would be found to protect the timber production industry.
We also sincerely hope that authorities will come down hard on perpetrators of veld fires and ensure we preserve our plantations.