Forestry project pays off

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
Mr Kenny Chivandire of Featherstone, 90km south of Harare, became one of the earliest farmers in the district to join a huge tree planting project when the Sustainable Afforestation Association (SSA) came looking for partners late last year. In January, the 46-year old veteran dairy farmer, who made only his third tobacco harvest this year, gave up 100 hectares of unused land at his 1 000-hectare-farm to growing gum trees, in a deal where he will be entitled to 20 percent of output. The SAA gets the remainder. The association was formed last October by merchants and firms in Zimbabwe’s thriving tobacco industry concerned rapid forest loss from the golden leaf threatened future profits and ecological balance.

By planting 30 000ha of eucalyptus (gum tree) in 17 districts across Zimbabwe over the next seven years, the SAA believes it will be able to build a sustainable energy source and help limit deforestation linked to tobacco production, estimated at nearly 50 000ha annually. For Mr Chivandire, however, who entered forestry mainly as a safeguard to meet future flue-curing needs, the industry has created early benefits.

While awaiting his share of profit from the first harvest of timber due only in seven years, the Featherstone farmer has already grossed $11 000 from another contract with the SAA.

“I was empowered,” Mr Chivandire declared, waving his hand toward the seamless new forest plantation at his farm, as noisy bowsers running to and from watering the plants frequently interrupted the interview.

“It is hard for the indigenous farmer to put up a 100ha forest plantation if you do not have technical support from institutions such as SAA.”
In that contract, Mr Chivandire, though untrained in forestry, became the community leader in planting a total 385 000 trees on 175ha of land at a farm adjacent to his own and another elsewhere in Featherstone. That’s in addition to the 220 000 gums Mr Chivandire planted at his farm in January.

For that work, the SAA pays him US$40 per every hectare planted. The Association provides technical and input support.

Community participation and Empowerment
Through partnerships such as those they have with Mr Chivandire, the SAA’s forestry projects are beginning to show potential to yield important short-term community benefits from projects otherwise predominantly targeted at combating existing and future climate risks.
The SAA is entering into districts strewn with smallholder tobacco growers, whom, like numerous other families in rural Zimbabwe depend on forests, as a key source for fuel-wood to meet their cooking and heating needs, and increasingly today, tobacco curing.

The association’s joint venture projects will, therefore, be most successful where empowerment of communities is strongest, even when they are not the primary partners. Risk of illegal harvesting or fires from surrounding small-scale or communal farmers excluded from the system remains real. The benefits of sustainable use of forests must be clearly spelt to them. The SAA should ensure that farmer benefits, and indeed that of the community, are significantly greater than “transaction, management and opportunity costs” of the joint venture arrangement.

Answers are emerging, however. With a 14-month-old baby strapped to her back, Mrs Moleen Chifamba, 20, carefully weaves her hoe through a forest of weeds, as she tends to the three-month old eucalyptus at Mr Chivandire’’ plantation, eliminating competition for nutrients.

The single-mother is one of the hundreds of villagers, particularly the youth, from nearby communities to gain from the seasonal employment that is now arising from the Chivandire-SAA tree planting programmes in Featherstone.

Mrs Chifamba was among the first people to be hired by Mr Chivandire during planting in January. Today she is weeding and has earned US$60 for her work so far.

“I was unemployed before. But my earnings here have helped me buy some food and clothing items for my baby,” said Mr Chifamba, whose youthful looks have visibly drowned under her dark, sun-baked skin soaked in sweat from long periods of working under hot conditions.
More than 50 small-scale farmers from within Featherstone are knocking at the association’s door, offering land for new forestry partnerships, Mr Chivandire said, with his example standing as the biggest inspiration. But most of them will have to wait a little longer.

“We are expanding, but our capacity to take more farmers is limited due to the limits on funding,” said Ms Maggie Okore, chief executive of the SAA, which is funded from a 1.5 percent levy on Zimbabwe’s total annual tobacco sales.

“I think we will take about 10 more (partnering farmers), those nearest to Mr Chivandire because we depend on his capacity as well  to support the new projects.”

Fire Hazard
For the SAA, community participation was a key strategy in their forestry development plan, according to Mr Lenin Mauganidze, the Association’s forestry manager for Mashonaland Central but currently acting in Mashonaland East.
He said villagers in Featherstone will be trained in fire prevention and the importance of protecting both natural woodlands and the commercial plantations. Uncontrolled veldt fires are a major hazard for new forest plantations.

Such incidents are highly common in Mashonaland East, as communal farmers clear land for agriculture or hunting.
“Fires can cause serious damage for plants young as ours. There can be complete write offs,” Mr Maunganidze said during the tour of the SAA’s plantations at Featherstone last week.

“We are also looking at establishing community fire brigades, which will be incentivised either through a community-based project such as borehole drilling or cash incentivises.”

Land destroyed by veldt fires in Mashonaland East climbed 53,6 percent to 176 507ha last year, the third highest fire prevalent province after Mashonaland West and Central, according to statistics from the Environmental Management Agency. “Contrary to the general declining trend in fire prevalence, the three Mashonaland provinces realised an increase in the area burnt,” said Mr Wilson Chimwedzi, director at FireFight, a Harare based private organisation promoting safety against wild fires. Ms Okore said the SAA will continuously explore new ways of empowering communities through forestry by learning experiences from other countries like South Africa, which was running successful community forestry projects.

The success of projects like those by
God  is faithful.

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