Timber impounded, no arrests made

All new applications for environmental clearance certificates were rejected in early April.

17 May 2019 | Agriculture

Police in Kavango West have impounded timber believed to have been harvested illegally, but no arrests have been made.

The regional police commander, Commissioner Josephat Abel, on Wednesday confirmed the confiscation of large amounts of timber but said investigations were needed before any arrests could be considered.

Asked why no arrests had been made, Abel said the Forestry Act had loopholes that did not allow “direct arrests”. “Every case is treated on merit. Once we have impounded timber, we have two options: either to fine or arrest,” Abel said.

He said the police relied on information from the public.

“Whoever has information must give us the information. We just need to know where illegal timber activities are taking place,” Abel said. The acting regional commander in Kavango East, Deputy Commissioner Andreas Sanjahi, said no arrests had been made in that region because the police had not found anyone with timber.

He said those found transporting timber had “legal documents” allowing them to do so.

“We did do some inspections and found some timber but there was no one there,” Sanjahi said.

The Zambezi regional commander, Commissioner Karl Theron, said as far as he knew all timber harvesting in the region had stopped.

Theron said he was only aware of timber being transported through the Venela border post from Zambia to Walvis Bay for export purposes.

“We will know if any illegal timber harvesting is still taking place. The members of the community are mobilised and will come to us if they see any illegal activities,” Theron said.

Theron said “some time back” 14 Namibian-registered trucks carrying timber from Zambia had been impounded by the Roads Authority for overloading.



Environment ministry

The ministry of environment and tourism said any remaining commercial harvesting of timber was being done without the requisite environmental clearance certificates.

A joint report compiled by the environment and agriculture ministries in April said the commercial harvesting of timber posed a “major threat” to the environment.

Another concern was that no local value addition was being done.

The species that are being illegally harvested and exported have been identified as wild syringa, teak, silver terminalia, African rosewood and kiaat. These are all valuable hardwood species which should not be allowed to leave Namibia without some sort of value addition, the report stated.

It said most harvested trees take years to regrow and admitted that the harvesting was unsustainable.



Licences

A total of 390 harvesting licences had been issued by the agriculture and forestry ministry in Kavango East, and 42 in Kavango West. None of the licence holders had applied for environmental clearance certificates.

After the suspension of the licences, the environment ministry received only 231 applications for environmental clearance, all of which were rejected.

The agriculture ministry was informed of this decision in early April.

Of the 231 applications, only 147 were accompanied by recommendations from the agriculture ministry.

If these had been issued, it would have meant the harvesting of 47 857 trees per year, and 195 551 over a five-year period.

If N$500 were to be paid per tree, it would mean an income of about N$24 million per year for local farmers.

The report said it was difficult to determine the value from exports, and did not venture an estimate.



No new harvesting cases

The report stated that since 31 March, inspection teams on the ground had not found new cases of harvesting.

It acknowledged that the teams could not access many of the more remote areas because of a shortage of manpower and vehicles.

CATHERINE SASMAN

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