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K2 billion lost in Viphya Plantations

Raiply Malawi Limited has disclosed that it has lost K2.1 billion due to encroachment and illegal timber milling on its 800 hectares in Viphya Plantations in Mzimba during the past six months.

Raiply Chief Executive Officer, Thomas Oomen, told journalists on Saturday during a visit to some of the 14 encroached forests in the plantation that 800 hectares have been depleted by illegal millers, translating to a K2.1 billion loss.

“After the demonstrations last week Wednesday by the Timber Millers Union (TMU), 11 people encroached on our Kalungulu Forest where they depleted 70 hectares in two days,” said Oomen while expressing pessimism for the future of the company with the continued encroachment into Raiply’s concession area of 20,000 hectares.

He also disclosed that the fight against illegal timber milling in the forest is difficult to win because some police and forestry officers and others are allegedly involved.

Oomen also said his only hope was now in the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) which has deployed a platoon to the concession area.

“I challenge you, only MDF can protect the forest in Malawi. I have used the police, wildlife and forestry enforcement team, our own team but no results. Only MDF is the most effective strategy to use to protect the forest. We thank government for deploying soldiers to the forest. On Monday, we confiscated two machines of a police officer. We are not trusting the police,” said Oomen.

He said his company has also lost trust in the Forestry office at Chikangawa.

He said: “We used to hand over confiscated equipment to Chikangawa Forestry Office. The officers would release the equipment to the owners. Government now told us to keep such equipment under our custody. Most equipment we confiscate is from Timber Millers Union members.”

Reacting to accusations made last week by TMU that Raiply encroached the union’s 2,000 hectares and that the company hired MDF soldiers, Oomen described the millers as people seeking public sympathy so that they continue plundering the forest illegally since they depleted their 10,000 hectares within nine months against the 15- year concession period they were given.

Oomen said neither Raiply nor any company or individual can hire MDF soldiers.

He also dismissed the union’s accusation that Raiply encroached 2,000 hactares, arguing the forest in question at the time did not belong to the union nor to Raiply but government and that his company bought the wood from government as it has done all the time.

Viphya Plantations Manager Custom Nyirenda dismissed TMU’s claims, saying they lacked substantiation and that the union failed to present their issues officially.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Sangwani Phiri, wondered in an interview why the union members still want to be in the forest when they already depleted their concession area and did not replant.

“What will they be doing in their concession area when there are no trees?” questioned Phiri.

TMU last week Tuesday staged a demonstration to protest against what they called ill-treatment of the millers. During the march, the millers also demanded back 2,000 hectares which they alleged was encroached by Raiply Malawi.

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