Battling deforestation in Zim


HARARE – That Zimbabwe no longer has the luxury to pay lip service to deforestation is now a reality.

The indiscriminate destruction of trees, combined with other environmental tragedies, is now hitting where it most hurts — the stomach.

While the farming season used to start around October, this is no longer the case.

The 2013/14 agricultural season has just started.

Contributing to the shifting seasons is global warming, defined as the rise in the average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere and oceans as a result of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gasses produced by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

Agricultural seasons are becoming unpredictable, caused in part by deforestation, itself a major contributor to global warming.

Droughts, which used to be a rare occurrence, are increasing in frequency — affecting every aspect of environmental health and human activity, including agriculture, natural areas and developmental projects.

Farmers are grappling with this sad reality. The 2012/13 agricultural season was a complete disaster in some parts of the county.

Indications are that 2,2 million people will require food assistance until the next harvest in April.

Agriculturalists are therefore keeping their fingers crossed hoping that the 2013/14 season would put smiles back on their faces.

Prince Mupazviriho, the permanent secretary in the ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, said being an agricultural-based economy, global warming was a serious threat to livelihoods.

“In certain parts of the country we used to have our early rains in October but because of whether changes caused by global warming, we are now getting to mid November without rains,” he told guests at the official handover of Rukweza High School Tree Nursery to the community.

“This is partly because we no longer have trees which act as carbon sinks to stop global warming. We should not take this issue as a joke; it’s something that should be taken seriously.”

It is estimated that 330 000 hectares of trees are being lost every year. Put differently, deforestation is occurring at the rate of 528 million trees annually since a hectare holds 1 600 trees.

At this rate, projections are that the country could become a desert in no time.

Environmentalists are sounding alarm bells. With the bells ringing louder, a multi-sectoral approach to tree planting has gained momentum over the years.

This year, government is targeting to plant 10 million trees although the shortage of resources, human and financial, is hampering its response to the threat of desertification.

Despite the adverse economic environment, the private sector has also come to the party.

One of the most elaborate efforts from the corporate sector is being spearheaded by Friends of The Environment (Fote), a non-profit making organisation whose membership comprises of like-minded corporates and individuals among them Nyaradzo Group, Zimplats, OK Zimbabwe, Turnall, Standard Chartered Bank of Zimbabwe Limited, AfrAsia Kingdom, Old Mutual and Mimosa.

Fote is targeting to plant 500 million trees in 15 years, beginning from 2016, which translates to 33 million trees being planted annually.

To achieve this target, Fote has adopted three strategies.

Firstly, they have been raising public awareness on the danger of destroying trees wantonly through yearly walkathons, inaugurated in 2010.

Fote walked from Gweru to Harare in 2010 before taking the walkathon the following year from Harare to Mutare. The 2012 edition of the walkathon started from Harare and ended in Mutoko with the unveiling of the Katsukunya Secondary School nursery bankrolled by OK Zimbabwe Limited.

This year, the walkathon will cover a distance of about 170km from Harare to Mount Darwin, with the key highlight being the commissioning of another nursery at Madziwa Secondary School on December 7 Standard Chartered Bank of Zimbabwe Limited funded the nursery.

Secondly, Fote have set a target of establishing 100 nurseries by 2015 to support tree planting activities in various part of the country. So far, they have established 14 nurseries throughout the country, including at Rukweza Secondary School.

The Rukweza Nursery was established by Nyaradzo Group, at a cost of $42 000.

Thirdly, they aim to turn the country into a green zone once again by not only encouraging their members to plant more trees but supporting communities in this endeavour.

In July, Fote were in Chiendambuya to launch the Makoni District Household Tree Planting initiative whereby communities under Chief Makoni are targeting to plant 6,5 million trees this year alone, which means each household will plant 100 trees.

Officials from the Agriculture Extension Services (Agritex) are supervising this programme.

To facilitate their work, Fote donated 20 motorbikes.

The household tree planting initiative is expected to be replicated in the country’s 60 rural districts.

A trustee of Fote, Philip Mataranyika, said they have so far planted nearly 250 000 trees with different organisations which include schools, churches, villages, charity organisations and prisons since the walkathons started three years ago.

He said the household tree planting initiative would be extended to Zvishavane where another nursery was commissioned with funding from Mimosa Mine.

“Funding for the 2013 walkathon is now in place as well as the funding for the Madziwa nursery, which is now awaiting commissioning,” said Mataranyika.

“Mashonaland Tobacco Company (MTC) has pledged to buy all the tree saplings to be produced by our nurseries. We are now under pressure to meet MTC’s requirements. We have another agreement waiting for signing to provide the Commercial Farmers Union with five million seedlings.

Proceeds from all these sales will help fund the schools operating these nurseries.

“We are establishing these nurseries in schools because we want to catch students young and educate them about the importance of conserving trees, so that they can apply the knowledge gained once they join the real world.”

Traditional leaders are also strengthening their hand to reverse deforestation.

Trees clean the air that the earth’s inhabitants breathe while at the same time purifying the soil.

They also control noise pollution, act as windshields, provide shade for cooling and guarding against soil erosion, among other things. People also resort to trees for firewood and roofing timber, among other uses.

Tobacco farming is also contributing to the destruction of forests although this could soon become a thing of the past as the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board is tightening its regulations to compel farmers to plant more trees and reduce their reliance on trees for curing their tobacco.

Mupazviriho said while it would be difficult to eliminate tree cutting in rural areas without providing alternative solutions it is important for communities to replace trees that they would have felled.

“This they can do through planting indigenous trees that do well in their respective areas which which grow quickly,” he said.

Fresh ideas are also emerging as to how best and quick the scale of deforestation could be reversed.

One of the members of Fote, Nyaradzo Group, is planting a tree with every burial that they do.

There is also a suggestion to plant a tree at every birthday celebration.

With all these efforts, environmentalists are confident that the battle against deforestation would be won.

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