MPs get mixed reports on logging

Namibia needs 'order, guidelines' to control timber harvesting.

14 August 2019 | Agriculture

The parliamentary standing committee on the management of natural resources will table its recommendations in parliament after concluding its investigation into commercial timber harvesting in the north-eastern parts of the country.

Eight of its 16 members visited the Zambezi, Kavango East and Kavango West areas last week to assess the impact of timber harvesting and exporting, and met with traditional chiefs and various ministries and farmers.

The chairperson of the committee, Sophia Swartz-Fischer, yesterday said more meetings would be held with stakeholders in Windhoek.

Thereafter, a public document will be drawn up and the two most affected ministries – the ministry of environment and tourism and the ministry of agriculture, water and forestry – will have to come up with a common understanding on the management of the country's small forest area.

“We need a plan for the future. We need order and guidelines. We know that deforestation leads to climate change. Namibia is a semi-desert country. Mother Nature will take revenge if we do not act quickly,” Swartz-Fischer said.

Swartz-Fischer said in Zambezi the committee was provided with a list of farmers who had been issued harvesting permits and environmental clearance certificates.

She said the committee visited the Katima Farm and the Liselo irrigation project in the Zambezi Region, where a de-bushing tender had been issued and harvesting licences issued.

Swartz-Fischer said Zambezi governor Lawrence Sampofu's office acknowledged that there had been uncontrolled harvesting without permits.

The Uukwangali traditional authority under Hompa Eugene Siwombe felt that the agriculture ministry should liaise with the traditional authority before issuing any timber harvesting licences so that the authority could first ascertain whether prospective loggers had a right to the natural resources in the communal area.

Hompa Alfons Kaundu of the Mbunza traditional authority told the committee of reported cases where up to three or four people used the same harvesting permit.

It is not clear whether any of these incidents were reported to the relevant authorities, but Swartz-Fischer said there seemed to be “no order” in this region as far as timber harvesting was concerned.

“Harvesting seems out of control,” Swartz-Fischer commented.

The Mbunza authority has similarly requested that the agriculture ministry only issue harvesting permits through the traditional offices that know the areas and can establish whistle-blowers on the ground.

Kavango East governor Samuel Mbambo felt that the timber harvesting issue in that region has been blown out of proportion by the media and other stakeholders.

Mbambo reportedly informed the committee that he had given permission to small-scale farmers to log trees in order to develop land for which they had secured 99-year leaseholds.

Swartz-Fischer said the Kavango East Farmers Union (Kerfu) indicated that farmers have in the meantime paid N$300 for environmental clearance certificates that have yet to be issued.

The environment ministry earlier this year said with the exception of two cases – Liselo and Katima Farm - all other commercial timber harvesting in the three northern regions was being done without the requisite clearance certificates.

According to report jointly drawn up by the environment and agriculture ministries in April, 390 timber harvesting licences in Kavango East and 42 in Kavango West had been issued without clearance certificates.

Agriculture minister Alpheus !Naruseb said later in parliament that a misunderstanding of the relevant laws had resulted in the illegal harvesting.

!Naruseb said his ministry was not clear whether the harvesting or the clearance certificates came first.

Since the suspension of harvesting licences in November last year, 231 new applications for harvesting permits have been received. All of them were rejected.

Despite the suspension of the harvesting permits, Swartz-Fischer said there still remained large stockpiles of timber on some farms. She said farmers had requested permission from the government to sell these at local auctions. Alternatively, they asked permission for exporting the timber.

CATHERINE SASMAN

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