Zimbabwe has a very high level of biodiversity, and the dominant forest ecosystems in the country can be loosely grouped into Flora Zambeziaca and Afromontane phyto-regions and exotic plantations found in the Eastern Highlands, Manicaland Province.
The Flora Zambeziaca phyto-region has five woodland types named according to the dominant species, miombo — musasa and munhondo trees, mopane, teak — mukusi in the deep Kalahari sands in the central and western part of the country and terminalia/combretum — mususu and mugobo.
About 53 percent of the country is covered by woodland forests and shrubs, and 43 percent of the forest land is designated as communal forest that provide a variety of valuable products that are key to the livelihoods of both rural and urban communities.
Forests face multiple challenges which result in their inability to provide ecosystem services, biodiversity loss all resulting in climate change and its impacts.
In the face of deforestation rate which has reached alarming levels of more than 330 000 hectares a year and is now rated as the highest in Southern Africa, there is need for a broader understanding of the legal instruments that govern the exploitation of forest resources in Zimbabwe.
According to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, section 73, under the Environmental Rights, every person is entitled to an environment sustainably managed through legislation and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation while promoting forest conservation for economic and social development.
This provision is supported by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Protocol on Forestry Article(2002) No. 15, which urges state parties are encouraged to take all necessary legislative, administrative and enforcement measures to address natural and human induced threats to forests.
There are two principal pieces of legislation that guide forest management and conservation in Zimbabwe; Forest Act 19:05 which covers state forests and private forest and also regulate and, control trade in forest produce and burning of vegetation; Communal Land Forest Produce Act 19:04 covers the communally “owned” forests, including A1 resettlement forest areas.
It regulates the exploitation of and protects forest produce within the communal land, and also encourages the establishment of plantations within such areas.
Apart from these two principal Acts, there are complementary legal instruments which are; Environmental Management Act, Traditional Leaders Act, Rural District Councils Act, Plant and Pest and Diseases Act and the Parks and Wildlife Act.
There are other statutory instruments that also control the use of forest produce which include Statutory Instrument 116 of 2012 which is the Forest (Control of Firewood, Timber and Forest Produce) Regulations, 2012 and Statutory instrument 112 of 2001 which is the Forest (Control of Timber) (Export of Unprocessed and Primarily Processed Indigenous Hardwood) Regulations, 2001 (to be discussed in detail in a later article).
Forests as a natural resource are subject to abuse if exploitation and utilisation are left to the devices of nature.
Regulation is intended to ensure sustainability of forest resources supply over many generations.