By Pamenus Tuso
While in most countries urban forests are valued for many environmental benefits such as the reduction of storm water flow and prevention of soil erosion, most local authorities and Zimbabweans in general seems to be lagging behind in replenishing urban forests.
Research also highlights evidence of the social and public health benefits of strategically planted trees. It is encouraging that communities and individuals have understood these benefits and are committed to reforesting areas that have been decimated in search of fuel wood.
The Forestry Commission has been encouraging communities to grow indigenous trees by promoting a specific tree each year that is planted during the tree planting season. For 2017, the Tree of the Year is the Red Milkwood also known as Muchechete or Muchirinje in Shona and Umbumbulu in Ndebele.
Kheyi Masuku of Mzilikazi high density suburb in Bulawayo, is one of the concerned citizens who has taken up the practical action to replenish the city’s trees which are important sources of oxygen. Masuku, who is unemployed, manages and runs a unique indigenous tree nursery at his home.
“I decided to nurse and raise these trees after realizing the environmental havoc which de-forestation is causing in our city. When we grew up, a lot of areas in the city used to have lots of trees but now all these have disappeared. Trees are crucial for climate change mitigation,” said Masuku in an interview.
Masuku said his tree planting project is also meant to provide habitats for wildlife, shade and fruits to various communities not only in Bulawayo but in drought prone areas such as Matabeleland province.
“I do not sell my trees but I donate to anyone who is in need of them. I do not believe that trees should be sold because to me selling a tree plant is like selling air to a fellow human being. Citizens must be simply encouraged to plant and nurse trees at a large scale. Aided by change in attitudes, we are able to reverse deforestation” said Masuku.
Since the project’s inception more than five years ago, Masuku said he has planted and raised over 3 000 000 indigenous trees which he has donated to schools, communities, Bulawayo city council and farmers. His target is to raise one billion trees by the year 2020.
Masuku also thanked the Bulawayo City Council for providing him with a small piece of land in North End low density suburb for his project but appealed for resources to develop the land.
“I need money to drill a borehole at the site as well as to construct proper green houses. As a country, we should consider giving more support and incentives to tree care givers and producers so as to tackle the scourge of global warming which has made life extremely difficult especially for the poor,” he said.
He also appealed to the government to consider allocating land to independent tree producers.
Some of the indigenous trees found at Masuku’s nursery include mikina, mizhanje and baobab trees. He also nurses Amarula and Mukute trees which are one of the fastest indigenous growing trees. He also raises aloes which he uses for medicinal purposes.
Bulawayo city council Deputy Mayor, Gift Banda, said Masuku’s initiative resonates well with the council’s tree planting policy.
“Bulawayo city council is making every effort to double the city’s tree canopy. We really appreciate what people like Masuku are doing in our city. Many parts of our cities, especially the new suburbs still lack tree canopy which is a necessity,” said Banda.
Banda said council is currently liaising with all tree planting enthusiasts with a view of assisting them to form a tree planting association.
Environmental experts say at the current rate of trees loss, there will be no forests to speak of in the coming 50 years, a development which might lead to unprecedented socio, economic and environmental problems.