MUTARE – Timber exports have tumbled 23 percent to US$8,6 million last year from US$11,3 million in 2017 owing to the economic meltdown, the Timber Producers Federation (TPF) revealed.
In 2016 timber exports stood at US$21,1 million.
The alarming decline comes at a time the timber sector is marred by a myriad of challenges.
“Forex shortages are crippling the sector. Our inputs are imported and the non-release of forex is affecting production,” said TPF chief executive officer Darlington Duwa.
“The sector is affected by the current power cuts. Timber players are spending the entire production hours idle mostly in forests where we have sawmills. Even here in town, the processing plants and office work are affected. This is seriously affecting production and timber sales on the market,” added Duwa.
He added that harvesting of timber is further hampered by fuel unavailability considering that chainsaws and mode of transportation use diesel.
“Reduced spending power of people’s disposable income due to the rising prices translates to reduced demand for our products. This in a way results in market resistance to price increases. People would rather put their construction plans or the use of timber on hold until the economy improves,” said Duwa.
He added that the new procurement regulations are stifling progress. “It takes too long and our invoices are overtaken by events because we are quoting prices in local currency where prices are rising every day,” said Duwa.
The sector has also been affected by illegal occupants that destroyed timber plantations without replanting over the past decade.
According to statistics availed by TPF, area under illegal settlements jumped to 25,588 hectares in 2018 from 17,152 hectares in 2017.
Illegal settlers also rose to 1,561 families from 766 families during the same period under review.
“We seem to be breaking through because there has been a pronouncement by the President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) to the line Ministry of the resolution to remove illegal settlers and address the issue. The process has already started with the issuance of eviction orders. So we are anxiously awaiting the implementation.
The removal of these settlers will see plantation owners focusing their attention on growing tress. This will go down a long way with boosting their ability to supply the nation with its timber demands,” said Duwa.
The forestry experts further appealed to government to prioritise, either rehabilitating the Skyline road or establish another standard route which is passable by haulage trucks.