The forestry sector plays a vital role in supporting the socio-economic growth of the country. Specifically, forest rents make up 4.1% of the country’s total GDP in 2016. Unfortunately, in the past decades, the country’s forest cover has been declining dramatically due mainly to over-exploitation and degradation of the indigenous forest. The ratio of forest area over total land area has seen a drastic decrease from 57% in 1990 to 36% in 2015. Between 1990 and 2010, Zimbabwe suffered loss of 1.48% of forest cover per year, totalling over 6.5 million ha [1].

 According to the Forestry Commission, the country is losing on average 330,000 hectares of forest land per year. This can be attributed to agricultural expansion and tobacco curing, over reliance on fuel wood energy, greater demand for human settlement, uncontrolled veld fires, and invasive alien species, among others [2]. At that rate of forest loss, it has been estimated that Zimbabwe could lose all its forests within 52 years [3].

The three major forest ecosystems in the country are the Baikiaea (25% of total forest cover), Miombo (30% of total forest cover), and Mopane (45% of total forest cover). Baikiaea is mainly located in western region; and Miombo dominates northern and eastern regions of the country. According to projections, forest cover of Baikiaea and Miombo ecosystems are both projected to decrease dramatically, to 18% and 10% by 2050 respectively. Meanwhile, Mopane forests are expected to expand to 70% by 2050 [1].


Over-reliance on wood energy and agriculture expansion have been the main drivers of tree cover loss. Fuelwood provides about 61% of the country’s total energy supply, and firewood is the main source of energy for heating and cooking, with an annual household consumption of 4.2 tons. By 2016, 85.5% of the urban population had access to electricity compared with only 15.5% of the rural population. Most people who do not have access to electricity use fuelwood.

The clearing of woodlands for cultivation of crops, particularly tobacco, has been a major threat to forests. According to Zimbabwe's Sixth National Report to the CBD [4], tobacco farming has caused about 15% of the deforestation because 90% of tobacco farmers depend on fuelwood for curing.

Another aspect of loss of forest cover in Zimbabwe is veld fires. The incidence of fires across the country has been above 1,500 fires since 2013, with the highest incidence of 2,705 recorded in 2017. The total area burnt increased by approximately 40% from 1,179,274 ha in 2013, to 1,653,822 ha 2014. Since 2014, there has been a gradual decrease of about 10% annually in total area burnt [4].

Climate change will potentially influence the plantation species composition of the forest ecosystems, extents of forest ecosystems, species volume and density, biodiversity characteristics, frequency and intensity of forest fires. Wildfires are one of the most dangerous natural hazards in the country, associated with more than 1 million hectares of loss in rangelands and forests per year [1].


Key policies and governance approach

Forestry management is governed by government policies and community level initiatives [5]. The legal instruments used to control deforestation are the Forest Act (Chapter 19:05) and the Communal Land Forest Produce Act (Chapter 19:04) [6]. The Forest Act (1999) deals with all issues related to the management and use of forest resources in the country, which also regulates the functions of the Forestry Commission. The Communal Lands Forest Produce Act (1987) deals explicitly with the rights and obligations of communities with respect to use of communal forest resources [1]. These instruments make it an “offence to cut, injure, remove, and collect any forest produce without a license and to move firewood from one place to another without a timber movement permit issued by the Forestry Commission” [6].

The Forestry Commission’s functions include regulation of the forestry sector, management of gazetted forests, forest research, forestry training and development and implementation of the forest policies [5]. A new National Forest Policy is under development “to manage, conserve and sustainably utilize forest resources, in order to enhance the contribution of the forest sector to development and social equity through active participation of all stakeholders for the benefit of present and future generations of the people of Zimbabwe” [1].

The Forestry Commission also makes use of Statutory Instrument 116 of 2012 which is the Forest (Control of Firewood, Timber and Forest Produce) Regulations of 2012. This Statutory Instrument controls the movement and trade in both wood and timber in the country and has special emphasis on encouraging the production of flue-cured tobacco on a sustainable basis [6].

To reduce the harmful impact of tobacco farming and other agricultural activities on forests, the government seeks through the Comprehensive Agricultural Policy Framework (2012 – 2032) to promote the planting of timber plantations for construction timber and firewood for domestic use and tobacco curing; encourage the use of more efficient tobacco curing facilities; assist in enforcing regulations in rural areas to reduce veld fires and maintain ecosystem diversity; and promote agro-forestry [4].

Additionally, mitigation and adaptation measures for the forestry sector are communicated in the Zimbabwe’s National Climate Change Response Strategy and the NDC [1].


Successes and remaining challenges

Forests in Zimbabwe will continue to face the risk of clearance if current socio-economic development activities are not harmonised with the country’s climate change mitigation policies, particularly policies to reduce carbon emissions and promote forest conservation [3]. Sustainable forest management continues to be challenged by the competing land uses of expanding urban settlements; agricultural production and mining activities [2].


Initiatives and Development Plans

The Government is implementing a five-year Global Environment Facility funded programme to support conservation initiatives in North Western Zimbabwe. The programme is known as the Hwange-Sanyati Biological Corridor and focuses on three key environmental components; Forestry, Wildlife and Landscape Management. The Forestry component supports improved forest management activities in two gazetted forests (Ngamo and Sikumi) in Hwange as well as a piloted sub project on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) activities as a tool for good forest stewardship in Zimbabwe [2].


[1], [2], [3], [4], [7]

  • Strengthen the institutional capacity of key institutions, notably the Forestry Commission. This entails increasing financial and material resource allocations as well as enhancing human capacity.
  • Harmonisation of the socio-economic development activities with the national policies and legislations that are aiming to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Use of other clean energy alternatives for curing tobacco instead of wood for the resettled tobacco farmers as tobacco production is increasing.
  • Implementation of reforestation and afforestation projects including the growing of eucalyptus plantations for tobacco curing.
  • Increased forested land and forest plantations will lead to improvements in soil stability, soil quality, groundwater quality, regulation of surface runoff, etc. thereby decreasing the sensitivity of all sectors that rely on these ecosystems.
  • Promote Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and community participation in the forestry sector and create a sense of collective responsibility for all forest types and ecosystems.
  • It is also important to ensure recognition and secure the rights of local communities and smallholders to access forests and trees.
  • Promote community-based forest management, including the avoidance of forest degradation and/or the rehabilitation of forest vegetation amongst other things trough assisted natural regeneration (including fencing techniques) as well as strengthening community governance systems for common-property forestry management, including a possible reform of tenure systems especially for plantation forestry.
  • Promote risk management on pest, diseases, invasive species, and wildfire through the deployment of surveillance drones and early warning systems.
  • Strengthen the policy environment to create a better enabling environment for integrated landscape and watershed management, particularly through better implementation of the land tenure reform policy, community governance structures, and cross-sectoral, landscape level natural resource management.