Although under serious threat from human activities, trees play a very critical role in the ecosystem.
But the only comforting news for Zimbabwe is that the country still fares better compared to other neighbouring nations.
Take Nigeria for instance; which is rated among the countries facing the worst deforestation and which, according to Google Earth layer on deforestation, has chopped 36% of its trees in the last two decades.
Or Ghana, also rated among the countries with the highest deforestation rate, having since lost 28% of its trees.
Neighbouring Mozambique may soon gain entry into that list if the current rampant cutting down of trees and exportation of large amounts of timber to China continues.
Considering the alarming rate at which trees are also being cut down in Zimbabwe, it would be a big mistake to think the country is immune to the threat of desertification.
People tend not to think twice about cutting down trees, even those that would have taken ages to grow. Ironically, they are not equally keen on planting trees. Because we are not planting trees at the same rate that we are cutting them down, the country currently faces deforestation.
A drive through the Harare-Mutare road will show how fast we are losing the valuable organisms as most areas that used to be covered in dense forests, now lay bare.
The tree-cutting culprits have been observed to be mostly people that live in communal and resettlement areas, most of whom have no access to electricity and rely on trees to cater to their energy needs.
Others however, either out of poverty or pure greed, are cutting down large quantities for sale as firewood.
The practice has however recently been observed to be fast spreading its tentacles into urban centres as it has become common to see heaps of firewood being sold. One cannot help wonder how the truck loads would have managed to go past the police roadblocks that are planted at each turn on the country’s roads.
Also blamed for tree depletion are the new tobacco farmers, most of whom are quick to admit they are still too small-scale to afford coal to cure their crop.
So instead they use wood.
Fortunately, new legislation will soon make it mandatory for all tobacco farmers to have a sustainable woodlot from which they would get the wood to use in curing their crop. It still however remains to be seen how compliant our new farmers will prove to be.
What is at stake?
Just to remind each other of what would be at stake if we were to continue losing trees; according to About.com: “A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people in a year.”
Trees increase our quality of life as they act as giant filters of the air we breathe. Without them we would be subjected to breathing air polluted with very high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other harmful gases, considering that four billion tonnes of CO2 in the world is absorbed by trees every month.
Not to mention that the rate at which global warming and climate change would be way quicker than it currently is, and then we would have to grapple with even hotter summers, more erratic rainfall patterns, and relentless floods.
All this can be avoided, if only we take care of our trees and plant more at every chance we get. It is necessary to introduce the importance of trees to the children at a very tender age.
Indigenous trees an invaluable resource
Due to ignorance or an uncaring attitude, culprits have been cutting indigenous trees, most of which take years to mature and are fast facing extinction.
Take the Brachystegia Spiciformis (Msasa) for instance, the indigenous tree takes an amazing 130 or more years to mature.
The Forestry Commission (FC) is one organisation that has been restless, especially when the rain seasons kick off, in efforts to curb deforestation by embarking on numerous tree-planting exercises as well as educational outreach programmes to raise awareness on the need to stop the rampant tree-cutting to help conserve forests.
FC general manager Darlington Duwa however recently admitted the task was too enormous for the organisation and attributed the challenges to that only 40% of their operational costs are covered by government while they have to source the rest on their own.
He also blamed the persistent veld fires for retarding their progress as most of the trees planted would be destroyed before they mature.