The Herald

Deforestation rate alarming

Zimbabwe commemorates National Tree Planting on the first Saturday of December each year. Trees have enormous effect in neutralising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and thus minimising the risk of dangerous climate change

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
Beyond the National Tree Planting Day, celebrated every first Saturday of December since 1980, the gesture of burying the roots of a plant under the earth remains crucial, but even more importantly it is to ensure that tree lives to maturity.
This is where it matters most, nurturing the plant to full growth. After that, trees will be very capable to look after themselves.
Unfortunately, while Zimbabwe has been, on the average, planting 10 million trees annually through the Forestry Commission, the country is devoid of follow-up mechanisms that attend to continuity and long-term sustainability.

It’s a painstaking job, really, however necessary.
The only existing paper evidence that those trees were ever planted in the first place are sales records from the Commission.
These figures exclude tree planting projects being undertaken in the private sector, such as the one by the Friends of the Environment, which has been planting millions of trees since 2010 and aiming to grow that figure to 500 million by 2026.

Therefore, more than anything else, both the number of trees planted in any one aggregate year and those that survive and grow to maturity, under public programmes, remain a guessing game.

After many years of running campaigns to encourage tree planting, we cannot exactly measure, as a country, the rate of success or failure of such projects with any degree of assured accuracy.

We are aware of the costly impacts of inaction, which is why President Mugabe started the initiative at independence.
However, with all that religious action, Zimbabwe continues to lose more forests than gain new ones.

The area of land covered by forests as a percentage of Zimbabwe’s total land mass declined to 40 percent by end of last year from 66 percent in 2000, according to the Environment, Water and Climate Ministry.

The reasons for this accelerated and unsustainable loss of forest cover are many. They range from pressures for need of more agricultural and developmental land to fuelwood and to damage caused by uncontrolled veld fires among many.

Population growth, which added three million people to the national register in the last 15 years, has also had multiple long-lasting impacts on the country’s forestry sector, as demand for everything escalates.

Critically, at the current rate of forest loss, estimated at 330 000 hectares per year (an area equalling the entire district of Zaka), the reafforestation programme here is planting only a fraction of trees lost, a mere 20 percent precisely.

By any measure, this kind of action represents an insignificant proportion of what is actually needed and could never make up for the trees lost, not by a long shot.

The Forestry Commission says at the current rate of tree loss, there will be no forests to speak of in Zimbabwe within the next 50 years, with thundering socio-economic and environmental repercussions.

As Zimbabwe commemorates yet another day of planting trees in another year, which happened on Saturday (December 7), this is a time for some sober reflections.

It is now beyond debate the scale of action needs to be drastically escalated but have you, as an individual, considered the role that you can play in preserving and conserving forests, which ooze out precious oxygen for your survival?

For corporates this should not be another public relations exercise. Forests are too important to be reduced to some mere publicity tool.

The country has already built some critical mass around the importance of trees within the private sector, which has now begun to implement own projects. But momentum in communities remains disappointingly weak with a lot of destruction emanating from this quarterly, partly due to lack of awareness.

Environment, Water and Climate Minister Saviour Kasukuwere told a stakeholders meeting in Harare last Thursday that the aim was to plant 50 million trees in five years, all things being equal, and continue to engage and encourage communities to actively participate in the projects.

“But we are against the continuous movement of people to new land for agriculture,” he said.
“As people move in to new habitats, they also destroy forests but what we are encouraging people is that if they move they must commit themselves to the planting and reafforestation programmes.”

Minister Kasukuwere needs to significantly raise the stakes on trees. The future we face is uncertain and a five to ten year target of 50 million trees can barely begin to address the disaster within the forestry sector.

Factoring in the number of trees planted since 1980 under public projects that will amount to just 100 million trees in 40 years.
Yet, forests remain indispensable to human livelihoods.

Trees have enormous effect in neutralising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and thus minimising the risk of dangerous climate change.

Trees have played this carbon sink role for millennia although that has significantly diminished over time, as a result of unrestrained global forest loss facing too much man-made carbon emissions.

Along with numerous other factors, this has resulted in climate change and global warming, which have made life extremely difficult especially for the poor. Trees can help reverse that and keep global temperatures from rising beyond the dreaded 2 degrees Celsius limit.
Trees grown to maturity are able to soak up an average 440 tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per hectare. That may mean of the 330 000ha of forest lost per year in Zimbabwe, some 145,2 million tonnes of CO2 are being allowed to roam unchecked in our skies.
In the reverse, that much could be prevented from aiding the climate change horror if trees covering an area the size of Zaka were planted and cared for each year.

Worldwide, tropical forests remove 4,8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year.
So, from a climate change perspective, trees are crucial. To be effective, however, trees must be planted on a colossal scale, nursed to maturity and aided by change in attitudes, which supports sustainable forest management practices. Trees perform other important tasks.

Zimbabwe’s forests generate a wide range of both timber and non-timber products, sustaining over 7 000 jobs.
They also provide food, raw materials and habitats for wildlife. Nearly 21 million hectares of the forests land are indigenous trees and 156 000 hectares under plantations.

Last year, the Standards Association of Zimbabwe announced plans for unveiling a standard for the forestry industry.
The standard was expected to help promote sustainable forest management practices as well as support and strengthen the framework of policy and regulation that delivers improved economic, social, environmental and cultural outcomes from well managed forests.

God is faithful.