Illegal logging in Sao Hill Forest wiped out


SANCTIONS slapped by the Tanzania Forest Services (TFS) Agency on unscrupulous businessmen who have been harvesting logs at the biggest government-owned, Sao Hill Forests in Mufindi District, Iringa Region, have significantly eradicated the illegal business.

The TFS’s Director for Planning and Resource Utilisation, Mr Mohammed Kilongo, has said the Forest Agency, effectively last year, has scrapped-off the malpractice of issuing timber harvest permits to persons and to the so called "special groups’’ but are not running sawmills.

The Agency has said "special needs’’ is not a legal criteria to have a permit to harvest logs and that experience has shown that, issuance of permits to the groups had became another source of illegal business.

Special groups which were getting allocation of logs, included youths, women, disabled and religious organisations. In an exclusive interview, Mr Kilongo has conceded reports from the Forest Department at the Mufindi District Council, that the dishonest traders took advantage of random issuance of permits from Sao Hill Forest to acquire permits and sold them to genuine timber millers at an exorbitant price of 13.5m/- per a government permit to harvest 200 cubic meters of logs from the state-owned Forest. TFS’s regulations and procedures stipulate that permits to harvest logs will be confined to owners and operators of sawmill.

However, the practice of permit issuance without verification of ownership of the mills caused a loophole for unscrupulous traders to run black market business of permits issued by Sao Hill Forest. Endowed with 60,030 square meters of planted soft trees, Sao Hill Forest, is the biggest of 23l planted forests in Tanzania and it’s the biggest source of income to the Mufundi District Council, contributing an average of 200 millions, monthly, to the coffers of the Council, followed by the tea-plantations based in one of the richest District Councils in the country.

The TFS’s Director said allocation of logs to harvesters is based on the size of sawmill plant, technology used by the plant, timber market and number of persons employed by the sawmill, calling on small investors who are currently using timber sews called "Dingdong” to replace them in a year period because their financial recovery rate is low.

Last year, TFS carried an intensive exercise to register and verify technical capacities of sawmills in all its eight harvested forest plantations with the aim of curbing the black market of permits and ensuring that genuine millers were allocated enough logs for their industries. In the aftermath of the TFS’s last year exercise, the illegal price of permits at Sao Hill has sharply declined from 15,000,000 per permit in 2015 to Tsh. 1.5 million at Sao Hill Forest, since all the millers were allocated 800 cubic meters of logs, this year to fall logs from the forest coupled with a facility to formally request for more, Forest Officers at Mafinga have revealed.

Some unscrupulous businessmen could obtain up to 100 permits from the management of the Forest by using fake names, irrespective of whether they owned mills to process the logs at the state-owned forests and sell them to genuine owners of sawmills, the Forest Officers based at Mafinga said. "A saw miller who has bought a harvest permit from the black-market will still have to purchase the logs at the forest, making the total cost Tsh. 27,329,000, instead of paying the genuine cost of Tsh. 60,000 for the same” the TFS’s Director elaborated.

The Forest officers said the price of timber in the District has also declined from Tsh. 480,000 per cubic meter in 2015 to the current Tsh. 350,000, this year, due to a falling demand in timber for construction of houses triggered by tight liquidity in the country and control on permits to harvest logs in the forest. Evaluation of forest resources, conducted by the Ministry of Resource and Tourism between 2010 and 2013, indicated that total planted forests in Tanzania owned by private and public sectors is 572,000 hectares’.

Tanzania has a deficit of Tsh. 19.5 million for various purposes including energy, fire-woods, electric –pylons and timber for construction. Over the past five years, the Tanzania Chambers of Commerce and Industries (TCCI) in Mufindi District has been engaging various stakeholders in timber business to have transparency in issuing permits to harvest logs and adherence to proper measurement in selling timber.

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