Government has indefinitely closed Mzimba-based Viphya Plantation, popularly known as Chikangawa Forest, to all loggers without concessions effective November 1 this year.
According to the Department of Environmental and Climate Change Affairs Spokesperson, Sangwani Phiri, the closure is aimed at stopping all the timber logging activities in the plantation which has faced massive depletion in recent years.
Phiri said any other person or group of people found logging in the country’s number one man-made forest will be forcibly evacuated and in case of any resistance arrest will be effected because “time is over”.
“The major reason is to bring sanity, to bring order to the management of the activities which are underway in the Viphya Plantation. We are heading towards the rainy season and there are a number of companies which have concessional agreements with government or Department of Forestry that they do the planting, establishment of firebreaks, pruning and all other activities associated with the agreement. So, we want to ensure that they be done without any hindrance or any kind of interference from whatever or from whoever,” Phiri said.
He said government has deployed Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers to ensure that every corner of the plantation is free from any loggers.
“We have had a number of challenges within the plantation, not forgetting an ongoing challenge of fire outbreak. So, if we can take out all other illegal residents or loggers that will help us quite a lot,” he said.
Phiri said the government also plans to demarcate the plantation into different plots which will later be advertised to interested loggers.
The plots that are up for grabs are those currently in the hands of some companies that are failing to take care of their share of the plantation in terms of replanting, establishment of firebreaks, pruning let alone paying government what they are supposed to pay in rates.
Government has been struggling to get its dues out of the plantation and at one time the unpaid fees reached K640 million.
The matter of unpaid fees is currently in the hands of the Attorney General (AG) Kalekeni Kaphale and Phiri said some companies have been paying.
Some of the companies that are legally in agreement with government include Raiply, Total Land Care and AKL Timbers but are facing problems of illegal loggers and arsonists.
The illegal loggers in most of the country’s forests forced the government to deploy the MDF soldiers into some major forests such as Dzalanyama, Viphya and Mulanje Mountain and, according to the government officials, the move is helping.