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Communities to conserve forests for benefit of current and future generations

Communities to conserve forests for benefit of current and future generations

Story by Memory Chamisa

THE need for communities to sustainably manage natural resources and the wildlife economy dominated deliberations at the Non-Timber Forest Products Convention in Harare this Wednesday.

Various government departments, representatives of rural communities and the private sector converged in Harare this Wednesday for the Non-Timber Forestry Product Convention (NTFP) to map the way forward on sustainable harvesting and marketing of end products.

NTFP products which include wild fruits, grains, Mopani worms, honey production and crafts have historically been used to support rural livelihoods as social safety nets.

“These products are found in our forests and communities and making products from them has been something we have been doing all along but we hadn’t thought of making a profit out of them which is something we are now being assisted with,” said one of the beneficiaries.

Another added, “From a baobab tree you can get so many products but we also have been made aware of how that tree needs to continue giving us the bark that we strip to make mats and other products. They need to be given time to regenerate.”

“Value Addition is key in ensuring our products get the best markets locally and internationally. We have the marula plant which is processing several products from juices to oils but we also have to bear in mind that we need to keep the trees going for us to continue getting products from them,” reiterated another beneficiary.

In a speech read on his behalf, the Minister of Environment, Climate and Wildlife Honourable Mangaliso Ndhlovu applauded the initiative being undertaken to support communities in managing forest resources and developing environmentally sustainable livelihoods.

“I am reliably informed that NTFP products such as thatching grass, wild plant foods, mushrooms, honey and mopane worms have an estimated total subsistence value of $294.3 million/year. Stakeholders gathered here including governments, the private sector, rural communities, and other institutions must realize that building partnerships is important in dealing with the prevailing conservation and development challenges. There has also been considerable expansion in the uses of various non-timber forest products. While communities have commonly used mopane worms, mushrooms, and various plant materials for medicines, a lot of work has gone into researching other products and their uses that are economically viable for communities,” he said.

He added, “NTFPs of economic importance in Zimbabwe now include nuts which are produced from kernels of trees like marula, baobab, and manketi. The oils, mainly used in the cosmetic industry, show that there is great potential in the development and commercialization of NTFPs and this can be a stepping stone towards forest conservation, economic empowerment of vulnerable communities, and support a broader socio-economic development of the country I want to applaud institutions such as Resilience ANCHORS who are walking hand-in-hand with communities to conserve forests and wildlife for the benefit of the current and future generations. There is also a need to strengthen the research and development pillar as it applies to species recognized for their economic contributions to livelihoods and largescale trade. The domestication of some species of NTFPs has to be encouraged to augment the supplies from the natural forest ecosystem. The trees can be produced in the nurseries and planted on private land or assisted natural regeneration can be employed for secondary regenerating forests. A carefully planned domestication incorporated with extractive activities might help to check extractive economies, ensure long-term sustainability and improve benefits to local people. With adequate support and market linkages, NTFP value chains can improve.”

Some of the key stakeholders highlighted the importance of strengthening conditions for sustainable management of natural resources.

“The involvement of men and women in natural resource management and household livelihoods varies because of their empowerment. Last week we celebrated International Rural Women’s Day under the theme “Rural women confront the global cost-of-living crisis”. As such Non-Timber Forest Products, are helping women to earn a living while contributing to the preservation of the environment. USAID’s support for Resilience ANCHORS has resulted in close to 500 homes in which women were more empowered and were able to earn an income and improve their household resilience,” said one of the stakeholders.

Another added, “The NTFP value chain brings together different stakeholders including the private sector, government, civic society actors, financial institutions, and communities. As such, coordination is required to support the multi-sectoral nature and purposeful learning from platforms such as this NTFP Convention helps to fill knowledge gaps and learning that is important for improvements and new designs. Let us all pay attention to how indigenous knowledge and experiences can be incorporated into program design in ways that protect communities from exploitation, appropriation, and cultural erasure. The involvement of the private sector in this value chain facilitates investment that is required to grow.”

The Second Republic has been on a drive to establish rural economies, with notable achievements being the Mwenezi Mapfura Industrial Park which has seen locals benefiting from natural resources in their area.

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