Nkhotakota Forestry Department on Saturday made a surprise raid in Dwambazi Forest Reserve where they destroyed Indian hemp and other crops planted by encroachers.
Similar attempts to drive out the encroaching communities, particularly from traditional authorities Kanyenda and Kafuzira, have proven futile as encroachers continue breaking new ground.
The operation, jointly conducted with armed game rangers from African Parks which is managing Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve under a 20 year-long concession in a public private partnership arrangement, saw hundreds of hectares of Indian hemp, commonly called chamba, being destroyed while other crops such as beans, soya beans and maize were also slashed down.
In an interview after the exercise, district forestry officer George Ziphophe said he is not happy with the rate at which the forest is fast being turned into a hotspot for chamba cultivation.
He said the forest is being targeted for cultivation because of its fertile soils.
“There are a number of factors that compel these people to encroach into the forest. One such factor is fertility. The soils are very rich in mineral salts, hence, they do cultivate without fertiliser.
“Additionally, the moisture content is good such that they do farm in summer. But we cannot condone such illegal practice to prevail. We will take them head on,” he said.
According to a 2009 Nkhotakota District Social Profile, the 36 600 hectare forest reserve, which was gazetted in 1996, had 145 encroaching households that occupied about 283 hectares.
Dwambazi Forest Reserve is one of the largest water catchment areas where rivers such as Dwambazi, Mkoma, Khuyu, Luluzi, and Chiphumbulu. n