THE rapid production and consumption of wood as a major renewable energy source in Zimbabwe has stimulated serious socio-economic and environmental concerns and responsibilities. The profitability of wood as a burning fuel, and as a useful industrial raw material has thus far overtaken environmental reason, threatening ecology, fuelling pollution, and destroying forest health and biodiversity.
A new certification scheme by the Standards Association of Zimbabwe plans to stop all that, or at least achieve some difficult balance on sustainability, economics, renewable energy use and biological diversity.
The new national standard, ZW 923:2012 for sustainable plantation forest management to be launched later this year, certifies quality and regulates environmental impacts from the local timber industry.
SAZ chairman of the Technical Committee on Forest Management Systems Dr Donald Mlambo said the standard supports and strengthens the framework of policy and regulation that delivers improved economic, social, environmental and cultural outcomes from well-managed forests.
"This certification standard has been designed primarily for use in the certification of plantation forests in Zimbabwe by independent certification bodies to demonstrate that forests are sustainably managed," he was recently quoted as saying in a new environment publication, the iGreen Magazine.
"The standard will be utilised by plantation forest managers who are seeking independent, third party certification of their plantation forest management in response to market demands."
More needs to be done
With wood energy constituting over 50 percent in the national energy mix, there is still a lot of work to be done in trying to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and land degradation, now a major world concern.
The United Nations calls this programme REDD+, and has attained global importance, as a key aspect in the fight for limiting emissions growth and keeping the earth's temperatures to within manageable levels.
Among other things, REDD+ also explores and promotes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries.
But in applying REDD several areas remain grey. One such sticky issue rests on the fate of forest dependent communities, those that frequently use woodfuel, generate income and jobs from it, particularly in rural areas.
In these cases, Government can partner communities in advancing the sustainable management of forests without, or with minimum disruption of community lifestyles. But that's not what has happening.
In Zimbabwe, conflicts arising from unsanctioned forests clearing are not uncommon. Vast tracts of forest have been lost to reckless clearing for agriculture activities and by tobacco farmers for curing, which is usually met with force by the law.
The Forestry Commission estimates that over 55 percent of all forest loss in the country comes from agriculture, 20 percent from land clearing for developmental purposes and 15 percent for industrial use, fuel- wood energy and brick moulding.
Veld fires are doing their bit as well, destroying over a million hectares of forest in the last two years constituting about 5 percent of all deforestation.
Poor harvesting practices by timber companies and wood poaching for artifacts contributes another 5 percent. The deforestation problem is so serious that at the current rate, the Forestry Commission predicts Zimbabwe has less than 52 years of forest cover left.
New hope for improved forest health
In some way, that's what the SAZ's planned certification scheme tries to achieve sustainable management of forests. This is also the growing global trend in national mitigatory actions, the development of country-specific strategies and policies in reducing emissions from deforestation and land degradation. For those participating in the SAZ scheme, there are numerous environmental, financial and social benefits for implementing the new standard.
Other financial benefits for the local timber industry include higher prices for wood originating from a certified forest, access to certified markets and improved access to funding.
Dr Mlambo told the iGreen Magazine that the standard was developed through an inclusive and transparent process with balanced representation from industry participants and environmentalists.
The certification standard is also designed to reflect the requirements of two leading international forest schemes -- the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for the Enhancement of Forest Certification.
It is crucially important that pollution from agriculture and forests is controlled, as its drastic impacts already seen in the rapid and unsustainable changes in the world's weather and climate systems will return to haunt agriculture hardest.
The cycle is vicious, and forests, in their own right key actors in the climate change war providing oxygen in exchange for trapping runaway carbons from hyper industrial activity must be protected and managed sustainably.