Timber Millers Cooperatives Union has conceded to have engaged in irresponsible harvesting exercises that led to the depletion of Viphya plantation.
The union has since pledged to embark on sustainable ways of managing the forest, withdraw court cases against government, and settle a K196 million debt it owes government.
Speaking during a tree planting exercise the union organised yesterday at the plantation where Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Bright Msaka was present, the union’s president Paul
Nthambazale admitted that they were to blame for Viphya’s depletion.
He said the union has not been replanting, weeding or pruning trees but solely focused on destroying the forest, including protected areas such as river banks.
Nthambazale also confessed that the union has also been defaulting taxes and has had a bad relationship with forest officials and other concessionaires.
“The agreement we signed with government stressed on replanting and sustainable ways of managing the forest. It is shameful that the union has failed on a number of things.
“We have not been replanting. We have not been weeding, pruning or making fire breaks. We have not been paying government. We have been harvesting in protected areas but we have also failed to build
partnerships with other concessionaires,” he said.
Nthambazale pledged that the union will ensure that it plants trees to restore the forest by re-afforesting 80 hectares of which 62.8 hectares has already been planted with 82 000 seedlings.
He also pledged to help in tracing other defaulters who owe government over K600 million and also fight encroachment and other illegal activities in the forest.
On his part, Msaka said while the millers were fighting government in court, the trees were suffering. He said the solution in recovering the plantation is not in the courts.
“It is time to make peace with the union so as to move forward. We need to bury the past and the depletion has to be a learning point.
This is a big day in the history of the plantation and I am urging you to live by your words. Plant more trees and embark on sustainable way of managing the forest but also fight illegal activities,” he said.
For years, the union has been battling with government and other concessionaires in the plantation after it depleted its 10 000 hectares within a short period without replanting. n