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Zimbabwe’s forests threatened by rising demand for coal

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BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI

Mazia Dube’s daily routine involves delivering tonnes of charcoal at one of Hwange’s busiest truck stops and he says his workload keeps increasing.

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Dube is hired by different people, who illegally obtain the charcoal from the forests in Hwange’s Madumabisa village, to drop the loads at the Truck Inn Stop in the Cinderella area from where it is loaded to Bulawayo bound haulage trucks.

The demand for charcoal among households in Zimbabwe’s urban areas has been rising sharply due to rolling power cuts as a result of depressed electricity generation and the country’s inability to import enough power to cover for the deficit.

“I make a profit of US$0.50 (£0.47) for every bag of charcoal I deliver at the truck stop,” Dube said. “A bag of charcoal costs US$7 (£6.62).”

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He said on a good day he can make as much as US$100 (£94.5) from the charcoal deliveries with the business reaching its peak during winter.

Experts say high electricity costs coupled with frequent power cuts in Zimbabwe has pushed the demand for firewood for cooking, lighting and heating.

This has accelerated the destruction of Zimbabwe’s fragile forests as the country loses about 60 million trees – some 33 000 hectares of forests – every year.

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Mthelisi Sebele, an ecologist with the Forestry Commission in Matabeleland North, said the illegal cutting down of trees for firewood and charcoal had resulted in an alarming loss of indigenous forests and land degradation, especially in districts such as Hwange.

The Forestry Commission is a government body mandated to protect state forests and it says the illegal charcoal industry has become a huge source of concern.

“Throughout the province, Hwange has become a hotspot, especially in areas such as Madumabisa Lubangwe and Matetsi up to Dete along the Nyantue River and Dinde,” Sebele said.

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“The problem has been proving difficult to control since it started from Hwange around Deka Drum and spread in other areas from 2000 to 2010.

“It has even spread to Victoria Falls and other areas controlled by the Zimbabwe Parks and

Wildlife Management Authority, rural district councils and the Environmental Management Agency.

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“Through our investigations we have established that there is high demand for charcoal, especially in Bulawayo, and Hwange is the supplier.”

Charcoal – favoured for burning hotter and longer than wood – is made from heating wood without oxygen.

The practice is taking root across swathes of the country, dominated by native forest hardwoods such as the mopane hardwood species, which takes over a decade to fully grow and adapt according to research.

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Last year, 158 people from Matabeleland North and Bulawayo were arrested and fined for trading in charcoal with over two tonnes of charcoal confiscated by the authorities.

Sebele said those arrested during the clampdown included people who poached wood for carvings, which is also big business in tourist areas such as Victoria Falls.

“In Hwange we confiscated 505 bags of charcoal and made 20 arrests, and in Dete we repossessed 690 bags and arrested 50 people,” he added.

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“In Lupane seven bags were also confiscated and 39 people got arrested for that offence while in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls a total of 69 people were arrested and 25 bags of charcoal were confiscated,”

“Our concern is that with the way the cutting down of trees is done it means that we will lose out as a country on farming, timber production, community livelihoods, climate change, soil proliferation and deficit of wood fibre production.”

The Forestry Commission is pushing for tighter laws to curb the practice and is proposing mandatory jail terms instead of fines, which are proving to be not deterrent enough.

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Currently anyone caught selling firewood and charcoal can be fined US $59 (£55.8) or sentenced to a year in jail.

Trymore Ndolo, a Victoria Falls Combined Residents Association member, feels the illegal cutting down of trees to make charcoal or for firewood is linked to growing poverty in communities.

“Here in ward 11 we have over 1000 people who have no access to electricity in their homes and some of them are poor and unemployed,” Ndolo said. “So sending them to jail or imposing a stiff fine is unjustified.

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“Authorities must actually set up a hub where people can sell the firewood at a very affordable price while on the other hand they work on making licensing accessible and easier because we protect trees.

“We should have answers to people’s daily needs.”

A new report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says over 2.4 billion people (one in three) globally depend on firewood for cooking.

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It says an estimated 12% of wild tree species is threatened by unsustainable logging “with declines in large-bodied species that have low natural rates of increase also linked to hunting pressure.”

“Seventy percent of the world’s poor are directly dependent on wild species,” IPBES noted in its July report.

“One in five people rely on wild plants, algae and fungi for their food and income; 2.4 billion rely on fuel wood for cooking and about 90% of the 120 million people working in capture fisheries are supported by small-scale fishing.

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“But the regular use of wild species is extremely important not only in the Global South, from the fish that we eat, to medicines, cosmetics, decoration and recreation, wild species’ use is much more prevalent than most people realise.”

In response to the emerging deforestation problem in Matebeleland North, the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust (VFWT), a not for profit organisation operating in the region, has distributed over 4000 eco-friendly rocket stoves to communities.

“We have distributed 4361 of those stoves in 11 wards in and around Victoria Falls,” VFWT’s community development coordinator Edith January told The Standard.

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“The aim is to reduce deforestation and reduce carbon emissions produced through burning wood and we aim to keep distributing more so that we protect the environment while being aware of the daily needs of those communities.”

Wood fuels represent significant economic value in many countries, accounting for approximately US$ 6 billion (£5.68 billion) for the whole of Africa, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.

More than $1 billion (£946 million) of this amount was made up by charcoal- The Independent 

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This article is reproduced here as part of the African Conservation Journalism Programme, funded in Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe by USAID’s VukaNow: Activity. Implemented by the international conservation organization Space for Giants, it aims to expand the reach of conservation and environmental journalism in Africa, and bring more African voices into the international conservation debate. Written articles from the Mozambican and Angolan cohorts are translated from Portuguese. Broadcast stories remain in the original language.

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In the community

UK based samaritan donates commode chair to Binga crocodile attack victim

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BY NOKUTHABA DLAMINI 

A UK-based Zimbabwean woman has donated a commode chair with a supportive armrest to a Binga man who survived a vicious attack by a crocodile after jumping into Mlibizi River while running away from a herd of elephants leading to his both legs and left arm to get amputated.

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Windas Sianene Muleya (43) from Chief Saba jumped into the jaws of the giant reptile while running away from a herd of five elephants that was encircling him during a fishing expedition in September last year. 

His legs and arm were first amputated at Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo before another amputation on both legs in neighbouring Zambia after doctors there said the initial procedures were botched.

His cousin Tendayi Zulu told VicFallsLive that  the family had incurred a lot of costs while seeking treatment for Sianene, both in Zimbabwe and Zambia, making them fail to purchase a user-friendly chair. 

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“The commode chair was recently donated by a lady called Veronica Sibanda who is based in the UK,” Zulu said. 

“She actually sent money and the chair was bought in Bulawayo before being  sent home by bus on the 15th of January 2023. 

“The lady also promised to buy books and meet the school fees bills.” 

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Muleya is the father of three minor children, one of whom the mother is deceased. 

In an earlier interview, Muleya said the government was yet to give him any assistance despite some officials showing an interest in his case when his story first hit the headlines.

He said his old-aged mother and brother are the ones who assist him with his routine hygienic check as he often soils himself. 

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Muleya narrated for the first time how the September 28 incident that altered his life forever unfolded.

He said he was fishing close to his homestead on the confluence of Mlibizi and Zambezi rivers when he suddenly saw a herd of five elephants charging towards him.

Seeing that there was nowhere to run to since he was on an island and the elephants were charging from the only route out of the area, he decided to jump into the river and the crocodile attacked him and he had to fight it off by gagging it until it let go of him. 

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He was immediately taken to Binga District Hospital where upon admission, he was transferred to Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo where a decision was made the following morning a decision to amputate his left leg and left arm.

After spending several weeks without healing, his family took to Zambia and the surgeon doctor at Livingstone Hospital informed them that the amputation was not properly done as the legs were not aligned prompting them to redo another surgery. 

After spending 17 days at the institution, Muleya was discharged and had to move in with his mother at her homestead together with his children. 

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Initially there was a wheelchair that was donated to him, but he could not push it because of the dust and sand soils in the homestead. 

Zulu said Muleya is still in need of handouts such as the clothes and toiletries for his minor children. 

For assistance, family can be reached on Zulu’s mobile number  +263 77 680 8607. 

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Inhlelo zeNkosi conduct poultry training for Mvuthu women

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BY BHEKIMPILO WEZA

Ihlelo Zenkosi has conducted a poultry training workshop at Kachecheti village under Chief Mvuthu which seeks to empower women in rural communities in Hwange district. 

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A group of women from Chidobe and Kachecheti Wards were trained last week on how they can keep Sussex Chickens, feed them and make a living out of that. 

Speaking before the training, program director Charles Weza said there was a need for women to be empowered so that they may be self dependent while also assisting their families. 

“This is a great opportunity for all you women,” Weza said at the launch.

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“It is time to rise up and shine. I had a vision of this saw this and God has helped me and this is why we have come up to here and our hope is to see it transform other generations after us so that our families can be transformed.” 

Calaab Ndazi Ncube from Turning Matabeleland Green, an organisation seeks to help communities to be self sufficient urged women to take up the opportunity. 

The two organisations partnered in the project. 

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” Lets leave Weza aside and see this vision alone,”

“We need to take this opportunity once and for all and mine is to give you hope, belief and skills.”

He further went on and quoted a bible verse when Apostle Paul saw a lightning strike on his way to kill Christians in Damascus. 

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“Don’t think that your presence here is a mistake, but God can do what he did with Apostle Paul,and his life was never the same after that encounter.” 

After the training, women were awarded with certificates for completing the one day training course and will each receive one hundred live Sussex chicks to start the project.

Village head  Joshua Ncube urged the community to lead by example as this was a project that could transform the Mvuthu’s jurisdiction. 

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Gwayi-Shangani dam further pushed to 2023 for completion

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BY STAFF REPORTER 

The government has once again shifted the deadline for completion of construction of Lake Gwayi Shangani in Mabale, Hwange District to end of the year.

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The project was first mooted in 1912 and successive governments failed to implement it as it missed several deadlines. 

Last year the government had said the project would be completed mid-year before shifting the deadline to end of the year. 

Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Minister Anxious Masuka visited the project site on Tuesday to have an appreciation of progress made so far, and said it will be completed ahead of the 2023/24 summer cropping season. 

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“We are working hard to see what works need to be done and resources required so that the project is completed ahead of the 2023-2024 cropping season,” said Masuka.

The dam wall is now 20 metres high, against a target of over 40 metres.

This makes 73 percent towards completion of the wall.

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“I am here to assess progress at Lake Gwayi Shangani and plan for 2023 as indicated by the President that this project must be completed this year. ” said Masuka.

The dam is at the confluence of Gwayi and Shangani rivers.

It is being constructed by the  Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zimra) through a Chinese contractor, China Water and Electric Corporation and will have a capacity of 650 million cubic metres.

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The dam project is part of a century-old National Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (NMZWP), 

It is touted as a permanent solution to Bulawayo water challenges.

The construction of Lake Gwayi-Shangani is the first phase of the project which also involves the laying of a 245 kilometers pipeline from the dam to Bulawayo.

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According to Zimra officials, there will be water offtake sites to various irrigation projects for communities along the pipeline.

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