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Replanting the answer to deforestation

Tree planting efforts are welcome in Zimbabwe, a country that is believed to be losing as much as 330 000 hectares of forest cover per annum.

Environment with Chipo Musara

But are all the re-planting efforts by the Forestry Commission and Nyaradzo Funeral Services, among other participants, proving to be worth the effort?

Zimbabwe used to be characterised in many areas by dense forests, which were home to a variety of bird and animal life.

Back in the old days, some traditional communities even considered some forests to be sacred. I remember hearing a tale about how people would get lost, never to be found, when they ventured into some “sacred” forest. But that was then, when people put value on forests. Today paints a totally different picture.

If one is to travel along a highway they last travelled a decade ago, the experience would not be as pleasant as before. Today, the trees that once enveloped the landscape have been replaced by stretches of degraded bare land. In fact, today Zimbabwe is battling deforestation. The effects of years of rampant cutting down of trees are now clearly showing.

The destruction of the forests has taken away not only the trees — the oldest living organisms and our main source of oxygen — but it also took away what used to be the habitat for many living organisms that include birds, insects, wildlife, etc.

Deforestation in the country had a lot to do with the economic turn of fortunes that left Zimbabwe’s economy on its knees.
Electricity, which had come to be viewed by urban dwellers as a basic need in their homes, fast turned into a luxury that many had to go for hours on end without. Firewood for many was the immediate solution to their energy woes.

As the electricity deficit situation further deteriorated, more firewood was required. Selling firewood became a lucrative venture and it became common to see bundles of firewood, mostly from indigenous trees, being sold along all the country’s major highways.

Most of the indigenous trees that were senselessly cut down had taken an average of 35 years or even more to reach maturity.

On the other hand, the bulk of farmers that benefitted from the land reform programme opted for tobacco farming because it offered better monetary returns. Unfortunately, almost all of them even today still claim they cannot as yet afford to buy coal to use in curing their tobacco leaf.

They have resorted to using trees, and many of them prefer the longer-burning indigenous ones. It’s common to find mountains of cut indigenous trees at most tobacco farms.

However, a statutory instrument has since been put in place that requires each tobacco farmer to establish a woodlot of fast-growing trees such as Eucalyptus to use in curing their tobacco. It however remains to be seen if the new piece of legislation will be adhered to.

And then there is another breed of the so-called “new farmers”, that have found nothing else to do with the land they benefitted except to clear it of all trees.

But in spite of how gloomy the picture looks, it would seem all hope is not lost and Zimbabwe might not, after all, turn into a desert.

For the past three years, there have been notably extensive efforts made at re-planting, mostly by the Forestry Commission, with help from some corporate social responsibility-aware companies.

The Forestry Commission, which is currently making preparations for the launch of the 2013-2014 tree planting season; have for the past two planting seasons (2011-2012 and 2012-2013) been targeting the planting of 10 million trees each season. The organisation is determined to reverse deforestation in the country.

But the Forestry Commission has not been alone in their endeavour; a group of corporates that converged to make up a trust called Friends of the Environment, also came on board.

Most notable among the companies has been Nyaradzo, a local funeral service company which in 2010 came up with an equally ambitious project.

According to Augustine Mukaro, the Nyaradzo information and communication officer, the project is so big they are looking at having planted 50 million trees by 2026.

But then, considering all the efforts and resources that continue to be invested in the on-going tree planting exercises, has it all been worth it?

According to Violet Makoto, information officer of the Forestry Commission, the organisation recorded a 65% tree survival rate for the 2012-13 planting season.

Mukaro on the other hand, says Nyaradzo recorded a 93% survival rate for the same season. This is good news.

However, while those trees which are planted in enclosed and well-guarded areas like schools, parks, prisons, and inside villages tend to thrive, it is those that are planted in natural forests whose survival is in danger.

Makoto and Mukaro concurred that the biggest impediment to achieving a 100% survival rate for the newly planted trees are veld fires.
While there has been vigorous awareness campaigns aimed at ending veld fires, the problem is evidently intensifying. The newly planted trees have proven to be much more susceptible to the ravaging fires.

But then it would seem the problem stems from how the generality does not seem to really understand the value in the presence of trees, even in their very homes, and choose to leave the task of re-planting to the likes of the Forestry Commission.

There is need to raise more awareness and make people have a better understanding of the “trees are life” concept, especially those that do not think twice before they go around cutting down trees!

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