It has for long been an established fact that owing to a number of factors, Zimbabwe is a country fast losing its trees. So bad has the situation become that some have painted a future where most parts will be deserts in the not-too-distant future if corrective measures are not timely taken. While it has always been a cause for worry that areas that used to be covered in endlessly-stretching swathes of forests now lay quite bare, it was the climate change threat that stared the country in the face — as it does the rest of the world — that jolted many in the country into acting against the continued loss of the precious organisms.
Many agree that it was the coming of the haphazardly-executed land reform programme in 2000 which resulted in white commercial farmers losing the farming land they had called theirs and their being replaced by the co-called “new farmers” that signalled the end of the country’s landscape as many had come to know it. The new farmers entrusted with the land came in with their own methods of “taking care” of it — most of which did very little to care for trees. In addition to employing some destructive farming methods such as the slash and burn, among others, some took to wantonly cutting down trees that they sold as firewood along their farming areas’ highways. Firewood had proved much sought-after following the electricity shortages that bedevilled the country in the last decade. It therefore didn’t take long before the areas they had found quite densely-forested were cleared of trees. Under their watch, veld fires incidences also became a yearly occurrence. The continual fires have destroyed much flora and fauna.
The rise in prominence of tobacco farming was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. Unlike previous commercial farmers that had largely made use of coal in curing their tobacco leaf, the small scale tobacco farmers — whose number has been multiplying by the year owing to the crop’s financial rewards — have maintained they cannot as yet afford the costly coal. Instead, these “economic heroes” have been cutting down trees to use in curing their crop, and they especially prefer the indigenous trees as these burn for longer in comparison to exotic trees such as the eucalyptus.
But this is not meant to be another sad story on the continued loss of the country’s trees owing to whatever factors. It is, instead, a story of hope brought about by the country’s environmental protection warriors that are continually striving to reverse the environmental losses.
Many are awakening to the call for reforestation, with organisations such as the Forestry Commission, Environment Africa, TreeEco, Southern Alliance for Indigenous Resources and the Nyaradzo Group, among others, coming to mind whenever there is talk of tree-planting efforts in the country.
In addition, there is a new kid on the block in the frame of Environmental Buddies Zimbabwe — an organisation which has hit the ground running. While it could have been easy to dismiss it as just another environmental organisation joining the fray, what sets Environmental Buddies apart is its peculiar goal — planting 20 000 indigenous trees in Domboshava and Marange in 2017.
With two indigenous tree nurseries, one in Marange and another in Domboshava, Environmental Buddies has so far planted and supplied indigenous trees in Chigonda, Chikuku, Buwerimwe and Mapfunde villages in Manicaland, as well as Mutake and Parirewa areas in Domboshava, among others — efforts they say have received major community buy-in.
“To ensure the safety of the planted trees, you need community buy-in. The community needs to own the project,” said Environmental Buddies director Shamiso Winnet Mupara, who together with her brother Guyson Mupara and Tendai Mvuwu, formed Environmental Buddies in honour of their late father — who she said had deeply cared for the environment.
So welcoming has been villagers in both Marange and Domboshava of the project that they have taken up the task of making holes to plant the trees in. But maybe it is the future pitched to them as envisaged by Environmental Buddies that has captured their attention. The organisation is providing the type of trees that ensure that the communities they are planted in benefit in terms of not only shade and clean air, but ones that will in future serve as sources of food and income.
“In Marange for instance, the people are very poor in spite of the diamonds that were discovered in the area. As such, young girls are often forced to drop out of school owing to lack of money. They then end up marrying at a very tender age, which would not happen if they had income-generating projects,” said Shamiso, adding that her dream was to emulate the path walked by the late Wangari Muta Maathai, an internationally-acclaimed Kenyan environmental political activist and Nobel laurete.
“We have chosen to confine our project to rural areas because we would like to give a chance and hope to rural women and youth who are normally side-lined in development endeavours,” she said.
Shamiso believes indigenous trees such as the baobab, water berry, sausage tree, sycamore fig, natal mahogany, fever tree and mopani, among others that the organisation is supplying to villages and schools, will in future prove to be real sources of livelihoods. They are also meant to ensure areas do not turn into deserts, as warned.
Whether Environmental Buddies will achieve their ambitious goals, remains to be seen. One thing for a fact, their coming on board to join in reforestation efforts is a development that can only be applauded.