National tree ambassador, Never Bonde, has challenged government to invest in fruit farming to cut the country’s import bill.

Bonde, who was appointed tree ambassador by the then Environment, Water and Climate minister Oppah Muchinguri in 2015, yesterday said most citrus projects had suffered neglect forcing the country to import fruit to produce cordials and other edibles.

The tree ambassador gave an example of the Esigodini orange plantation which was grabbed during the 2000 land reform programme, but has not been productive since. He said the orange trees which were lush and a wondrous sight to travellers along the Bulawayo-Gwanda Road dried up following the invasion of the property.

“If we are not serious about embarking into citrus trees farming, we will have to import fruits from across borders and this will be too expensive for us. I urge the government to invest a lot of money into fruit trees projects such as oranges, apples, bananas and so on,” Bonde said.

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“It will be unfair and foolish for us to be seen importing such fruits when we have vast land where we can grow our own trees and become producers and suppliers of such fruits.”

Bonde, who donated 4 800 plants to various wards in Bulawayo with each ward getting 200 trees, said they will be conducting a tree planting event in Bulawayo.

He, however, said climate change, characterised by erratic rainfall, has affected the trees planted between September and November. The Forestry Commission, in conjunction with other environment and wildlife conservation organisations, will conduct a tree planting event at Silwane Nature Reserve in Bulawayo on Saturday.