The forestry sector of Zimbabwe is mainly located in the Eastern Highlands, where the climate is suitable for the growth of exotic tree species. These species include the Pinus, Eucalyptus and Acacias. About 95% of plantation forests are therefore located within this region in Manicaland.
It is with such a background that we find the unique Forest Industries Training Centre (FITC) and Zimbabwe College of Forestry (ZCF) located in the Eastern Highlands. FITC and ZCF are unique institutions in Zimbabwe if not in all of the SADC region. The two institutions specialise in forest industries training requirements offering Diplomas and Certificates in Forestry, Wood Technology, Sawdoctoring and short courses in any specific area related to the three areas of specialisation.
This specialisation in forest industries training creates unprecedented expertise and experience in the forest industries field. This is evidenced by the demand of graduates from the institution in Zimbabwe and abroad. FITC and ZCF graduates hold high position in timber companies in Zimbabwe, the SADC region and beyond.
ZCF has been in existence since 1946 and never looked back when it comes to training foresters. It started with a certificate course for forest rangers until today (2012) where it has expanded and now offers a Diploma in Forestry for forest supervisors and managers. To date (2012) more than 500 foresters have graduated with certificates and diplomas from the institution of which about 20% are females. Another 300 or so have left the institution with short course certificates in various disciplines which include chainsaw operations, supervisory skills, and forest fire management, among others.
On the other hand FITC was established in 1990 as a regional institution for training in Wood Technology, Sawdoctoring and related short courses. The Institution specialises in primary milling of logs in wood technology. The Sawdoctoring trade is quite unique and FITC is the only institution in Zimbabwe that offers training in this discipline. Since 1990 to date (2012) more than 300 wood technologists have left FITC with certificates and diplomas. In the Sawdoctoring field more than 50 doctors have been trained and certified.
As internationally recognised institutions, the two colleges thrive for continual improvement in an endeavour to meet the ever changing environment of the forest industry. One move in this direction is the semesterisation programme. In partnership with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the institutions have changed from the trimester system (three terms per year) to semesterisation (two terms per year). This was necessitated by the review of curricula carried in 2009 resulting in the introduction of new courses to keep the programs offered relevant. Areas such as environmental management and computer science have been added in line with the ICT and environmental drive in the country and the entire world.
With the Semesterisation, a block release programme for the Diploma in Forestry has been introduced. The programme was launched in December 2011 and comprises of two blocks per year over three years. Each block is two months or eight weeks in duration where students undergo rigorous, intensive training and spend the rest of the time at their work stations. The resident period focuses on theory while the practical work is covered mostly at the work station.
This training is suitable for the industry employed and those who hold either a Certificate in Forestry or alternatively hold the required ‘A’ level qualifications. The current group of 15 students recruited from Border Timbers and Wattle Company will be trained up to graduation before a new group is recruited. This will serve as a pilot group and lessons learnt will determine the future of the programme.
The lecturing and support staff at the training institutions is of high quality and highly experienced. Some have been with the institution for more than 30 years.
For the future, the institutions plan to introduce degree programmes in the areas of specialisation. This would be in partnership with other institutions of higher learning. The possibility of the institutions being converted into a university is not far-fetched as they have the capacity in terms of infrastructure, expertise (human resources) and the unprecedented track record of being innovative and self–sustaining institutions reputed for producing world class personnel for the world forest industry.