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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

WATCH: Zimbabwean climate migrants clash with timber industry

Over the past 10 years, widespread drought has forced thousands of Zimbabweans to leave behind their farms and ancestral land in search of greener pastures along the country’s eastern highlands, where higher rainfall makes agriculture viable.

Writing for Climate Change , Andrew Mambondiyani said that “these climate migrants have settled in an estimated 20 000 hectares of timber plantations, clashing with the wood industry and government”.

Although other African countries, including South Africa, have established policies to address climate migration, the Zimbabwean government has opted to evict the migrants from the plantations.

Calling them “illegal settlers” or “squatters”, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa said at a public event last July that timber poaching, illegal mining and settlements in the plantations continued to affect the timber industry.

Gift Sanyanga, a co-ordinator for Haarlem-Mutare City Link, a Dutch co-operation organisation that aids migrants, told Climate Change that the migrants had no real alternative but to leave their homes.

“Unless better adaptive and community resilience-building measures are in place in areas of origin, climate-induced migration is likely to remain a big issue,” Sanyanga said.

According to the Food Programme, over the past decade, Zimbabwe has been hit by severe recurring droughts with around half the country’s population facing severe hunger in 2019.

Climate-related displacement has been widespread in Africa during the past decade, according to the latest UN climate science report. Migrations to urban areas have increased, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, due to drought and household vulnerabilities.

In Zimbabwe, the eastern highlands, bordering Mozambique, has become a popular destination.

There, migrants cut and burn swathes of forest to plant crops, timber industry officials report.

Some are allegedly involved in illegal gold mining, tearing down tracts of standing timber in search of the elusive precious mineral.

Industry body the Timber Producers Federation (TPF) estimates that 20 000 hectares are affected.

While there are no independent estimates available, ground reports suggest that figure is realistic.

The TPF further claims the companies are losing millions of US dollars each year in export earnings. The value of timber exports stood at more than $20 million in 2021, the TPF reported.

During a public event in July this year, Mnangagwa called on political leaders, government departments and agencies to “decisively reverse deforestation” in the province by clearing “undesirable activities within our forestry plantations”.

Darlington Duwa, chief executive of the TPF, said the timber industry was “disheartened” as it had yet to witness the removal of illegally settled people.

“Rather than receding, the challenge seems to be worsening as reports indicate that there are new settlers that have moved on to plantations in recent weeks,” Duwa said.

“It is no exaggeration that unless the situation is addressed, the future of the timber industry in Manicaland province is bleak.”

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