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Deforestation still rampant in Zim

With the extensive reforestation efforts that have been going on for a while now in Zimbabwe, it boggles the mind as to why the country’s forests keep decimating.

Report by Chipo Masara

Most areas that used to be characterised by dense forests are now miserably bare.

In its report on the state of the environment in Zimbabwe in 1997, UNDP reported that deforestation was one of the major environmental problems facing the country.

“About 70 000 to 100 000ha of forest cover is estimated to be declining at a rate of 1,5% per year,” said the report.

After the revelation, the government drafted what it termed National Strategy, which consisted of reforestation, promotion of non-consumptive use of forest resources and increased agro-forestry, among other programmes.

This, they said, was meant to encourage sustainable management of forests. But reports say Zimbabwe lost 21% of its forest cover between 1990 and 2005 — a loss of approximately 312 900 hectares on average.

From the look of things, the strategy hasn’t yielded results. In fact, loss of forest cover has increased rapidly between 2005 and 2012.

Trees cut for firewood
There are a number of activities taking placethat would help explain why the country continues to lose trees. Because the government has to date still not managed to provide enough electricity to its people, trees continue to be cut to sustain energy needs.

Going around the country’s highways, bundles of firewood (most of it from indigenous trees) can be seen the whole way. The sale of firewood has become big business in Zimbabwe and will continue to be as long as electricity remains a problem.

There are reports that people who recently invaded Save River Conservancy, are seen frequently transporting truck-loads of cut down (indigenous) trees for sale as firewood in Masvingo.

Regrettably, unlike eucalyptus and other fast-growing tree types, indigenous trees take a very long time to reach maturity, between 75 and 150 years on average.

The Brachystegia Spiciformis tree, locally known as the Musasa (Shona) and Igonda (isiNdebele) for instance, is slow-growing and takes up to 250 years to fully mature. When indigenous trees are cut down, some of them can be lost forever.

Veld fires, which are turning out to be a persistent problem in the country, have done their fair share of damage to the country’s forests. In spite of the heavy fines put in place, offenders seem to always go undetected. It is still unclear why people start forest fires, although in some parts it is believed to be a hunting mechanism to catch mice and other animals for the pot.

Last year, the Forestry Commission embarked on a vigorous tree re-planting exercise that meant to see a total of 10 million trees planted countrywide. Although the target was met, it is most likely that the bulk of the newly planted trees have since been wiped out by veld fires.

“After undertaking such an extensive tree-planting exercise, it is very disheartening to know that the efforts are going to waste. It defeats the whole purpose. But that will not deter us, obviously,” said Violet Makoto, spokesperson for Forestry Commission.

Like Forestry Commission, Nyaradzo Group [the funeral services company] also embarked on an extensive nationwide tree-planting campaign last rainy season. Their efforts might also have gone to waste.

Tobacco farming also to blame
the most serious threat to what’s left of the country’s forests seems to be the tobacco farming industry, which is (ironically) being hailed as a huge success, following the land reform programme.

The new crop of tobacco farmers, most of whom are still small-scale, insist they cannot yet afford to purchase coal to use in curing their crop.

As a result, they have been cutting down trees to use in the curing process. Furthermore, they mostly target indigenous trees, which burn for longer.

On a visit to Makoni district in Manicaland province last year, which is dominantly a tobacco-farming area, I could see large amounts of indigenous trees piled at almost every farm visited.

In an effort to curb the practice, a statutory instrument was drafted that would require each tobacco farmer to have a personal woodlot on his farm, from which he would collect wood for curing the crop.

But because the policy has not yet been made mandatory, most farmers have evidently chosen to ignore the initiative.

In the meantime, Zimbabwe remains one of the top 10 countries facing deforestation in the world.

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