Tree harvesters up in arms

29 November 2018 | Environment

Kavango East farmers, who have been affected by a recent directive halting all logging with immediate effect, have hit back by asking whether the government prefers that the trees be destroyed by veld fires instead.

The group of farmers, who met with Kavango East governor Samuel Mbambo on Tuesday, said the forestry and environment ministries did not consult with those affected by their “irrational decision”.

“There is only one reason why such an irrational decision was taken and that is the people on the ground were not consulted. If they could have consulted us, they would have understood our situation. We are being victimised,” the disgruntled farmers said.

They said the eastern regions are affected by veld fires that destroy thousands of trees every year, adding that this was no different from them cutting down the trees, with the only difference being that they earn an income from logging.

“Every year we experience wildfires and trees burn down. The question is whether it is okay for trees to burn down or for us to cut them down legally with our logging permits and earn an income?” one farmer said.

Environment ministry spokesperson Romeo Muyunda said no activity listed in the Environmental Management Act would be allowed without an environmental clearance certificate (ECC).

“The ministry of environment and tourism is calling upon all organs of the state, including ministries, offices, agencies and traditional authorities that have authorised or permitted any listed activity, which may not be undertaken without an environmental clearance, to withdraw such authorisation or permit with immediate effect,” the ministry statement said.

The affected farmers feel this is “pure victimisation”.

They argue that the logging permits issued by the forestry directorate were legally obtained and they should, therefore, be allowed to continue.

“If the environment ministry thinks that the forestry ministry did not do its job by first seeking for an environmental certificate before it gave us the logging permits, then it is not our fault. You cannot change the rules of the game during the game,” the farmers said.

They also argued that the environment ministry had no basis for its claims that nature was being destroyed, as no report was brought forward for scrutiny. They alleged the ministry was making decisions based on social media posts, which are “baseless”.

Mbambo told the media that the move by the two ministries did not sit well with the affected farmers.

He said that was a sign that consultations are important, especially when it comes to making decisions that affects people's livelihoods.

The governor explained that there are financial, social, political and legal implications, adding that the farmers have invested heavily in their logging operations and therefore the issue should be urgently rectified.

The farmers are said to be drafting a letter that will be sent to the relevant ministries.

Last week Namibian Sun lifted the veil on how Chinese companies are benefiting massively from Namibian timber. Namibians have complained that there is no real beneficiation taking place, since the Chinese want the timber in raw form, thus undermining local manufacturing.

According to forestry officials, the farmer and logger decide on the price at which the tree is to be sold. Typically the price ranges between N$300 and N$450, depending on the distance the tree is found from a tar road. Sources claim that the trees are then sold at Walvis Bay to a Chinese buyer, who pays around N$12 000 per cubic metre for the timber.

This means that the local farmer gets between N$180 000 to N$270 000 for selling 600 trees. The Chinese 'investor' gets more than N$3 million for the trees.


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