guest column:Blessing T Mutsambwa

“IF one generation plants a tree, the next generation will sit under a shade,” says one Chinese proverb. One thing you can’t help noticing when in Beijing, China, other than the high levels of infrastructure development is the harmonious, natural blend of buildings, roads and vegetation. Magnificent trees run alongside roads alike and flowers brighten the sidewalks. One is left to wander how in the wake of industrialisation the capital has managed to maintain a green environment.

The Chinese government has given high priority to urban afforestation since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In the early 1950s, chairman Mao Zedong initiated a campaign to promote tree and flower growing throughout the country. The response was strong, both in terms of spontaneous and planned planting. However, it was recognised that further measures and incentives were necessary if tree planting was to keep pace with population growth and industrialisation. Over the past two decades, legislation and regulations related to both general and urban tree-planting have proliferated.

As a result the capital has experienced impressive progress in tree planting over the past 32 years. Its forest coverage rate has increased from 12,83% in 1980 to 38,6% by the end of 2012. The percentage of green coverage in the urban area has risen from 20,08% to 46,2% according to the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Landscape and Forestry. Over 32 years more than 78 million people have planted more than 189 million trees with a survival rate of more than 88%.

In 1979, the Chinese central committee designated March 12 as a national tree planting day. In 1981, the fourth session of the fifth national people’s congress adopted a “resolution on the unfolding of a nationwide voluntary tree planting campaign” This resolution stipulated that every able-bodied citizen between the ages of 11 and 60 should plant three to five trees per year or do the equivalent work in seedling, cultivation or provide funds equivalent to the work required or pay heavy fines. Supporting documentation instructs all units to report population statistics to the local afforestation committees as a basis for workload allocation. The tree planting campaign was, therefore, actually compulsory. It is believed that at least one billion trees have been planted in China since 1982.

The 1982 provisional rules and regulations on the forest and garden management of cities declare that historic, rare and large trees are State property and that their presence should be documented, marketed and protected. Tree cutting should be done with permission from the Beijing Forestry Bureau and notification of the Beijing Institute of Landscape and Gardening and heavy fines are imposed if trees are cut without permission.

Forests are home to 80% of all terrestrial biodiversity. The forests of the world supply a significant amount of moisture that creates rain thus contributing to the hydrological cycle. Furthermore, trees can be used to improve the quality of human life by soaking up pollution and dust from the air, rebuild natural habitats and ecosystems, mitigate global warming since forests facilitate bio sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and harvest for timber.

However, here in Zimbabwe, we are losing forests at an incredibly higher rate with sporadic and unco-ordinated efforts to reforest. Each year more than 13 million hectares of forests are lost in the whole world. Recognising the importance of forests and finding ways to decrease deforestation has been at the forefront of climate change negotiations for the last few years. Among negotiators, government and observers, it is clearly recognised that to combat climate change, reforestation should be seriously considered.

Zimbabwe has about 54% (21 million ha) proportion of land covered by forest with an estimated rate of deforestation of 1,5% per year. Over the years, Zimbabwe has witnessed a reduction in the quantity and quality of its natural resources, mainly as a result of uncontrolled deforestation due to erratic power supply and lack of alternative and clean energy sources. The majority of people in Zimbabwe both in the rural and urban areas live off natural resources for farming and energy and this has led to increasing deforestation and land degradation across the country.

The quest for survival has given birth to rampant cutting down of trees impacting negatively on the environment. We have witnessed massive siltation of minor and major rivers alike across the whole country as a result of soil erosion caused by the loss of tree cover, the end result being that of a decline in agricultural production. Zimbabwe has registered a decline in maize crop production for the past decade and according to Fewsnet, 38% of the population is food poor and needing food assistance beginning of 2020. The decrease is mainly attributed to the late onset of rains, the erratic rainfall pattern and occurrence of prolonged dry spells during planting seasons, evidence of the global climatic changes.

The Transitional Stabilisation Plan (TSP) acknowledges that agriculture, being the backbone of our economy underpinning economic growth, food security and poverty eradication continues to experience systematic challenges exacerbated by prolonged periods of drought caused by climate change. SDG Goal 15 talks about the protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Accordingly, there is need to integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes to reverse the loss of environmental resources. Reforestation, which is the natural or calculated restocking of existing forests and woodlands that have been depleted, usually through deforestation is one such initiative towards attaining the above-mentioned goal. This is a call on the part of government to urgently address reforestation in an endeavour to come up with strategies to restore food security in the country.

The government, through the Environment, Water and Climate ministry in conjunction with the Forestry Commission, Environmental Management Agency, local authorities with support from development partners and civil society should come up with an aggressive and compulsory national reforestation plan. The plan should set out the aims, overall layout, priorities for reforestation efforts in the country. Reforestation projects are not just about regenerating forests, other elements like livelihood generation, education, better agricultural practices, poverty alleviation, promotion of FDI, restoration of biodiversity and catchment protection will be integrated in order to harness full benefits from the project. As government is currently seized with work on the national development strategy, it is critical that climate change issues be mainstreamed into the plan as this will impact agricultural productivity and ultimately the GDP of the economy thereby causing inclusive growth and development of the nation.

There is need to leverage on the technical and financial support from development partners for a resounding success in the initiative. IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva, at the virtual launch of the Global Centre on Adaptation Africa held in September 2020 said: “More than any other region, Sub-Saharan Africa is vulnerable to the impact of climate change, which threatens lives and livelihoods and undermines economic growth and after the current COVID-19 crisis, boosting resilience is an urgent priority so it is vital we share the knowledge and best practice that can help accelerate climate adaptation.”

Hosted by the African Development Bank at its headquarters in Abidjan, GCA Africa will work with partners across the continent to scale and accelerate adaptation action that protects African communities from the impacts of climate change.

The World Bank has a BioCarbon Fund (BioCF) which is a public-private initiative that mobilises resources for projects that sequester or conserve carbon in forest- and agro-ecosystems.

“Since 2004, the World Bank’s BioCF has built one of the largest portfolios of afforestation and reforestation projects under the UN’s clean development mechanism (CDM),” said Joëlle Chassard, manager of the Carbon Finance Unit of the World Bank.

To date, the fund has contracted 8,6 million emission reductions from 21 projects across the world. More than half of the projects involve planting trees for the purpose of environmental restoration. Countries that participate and take the option to reduce their emissions from deforestation during a committed period of time would receive financial compensation for the carbon dioxide emissions that they avoided.

This demonstrates that reforestation activities can generate emission reductions with strong environmental and socio-economic benefits which include revenue from carbon markets for local communities thus actively involved. Some African countries are driving the development of CDM projects. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ibi Batéké reforestation project is set to absorb close to 1,6 million tons of carbon dioxide between 2008 and 2037.

Also with the support of the BioCF, Africa’s first large-scale reforestation project on Humbo mountain in Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley was developed and is now looking to be scaled up.
The Zimbabwean government, with the help of environmental organisations like Friends of the Environment, Environmental Solutions Africa, the corporate world, schools, citizens and well-wishers should work in this greening initiative and the development of CDM projects.

There is also dire need for the government to come up with and support initiatives by investors with regards to power supply so as to curtail the rampant cutting down of trees currently obtaining in the countryside.

Still on this issue, the rural folks should be empowered with skills and resources to come up with real meaningful economic projects that take advantage of the rural electrification programmes.

This will go a long way towards the reduction of dependence on the natural resources, especially trees which are sold as firewood for income. This also calls for the government to encourage decentralisation of economic activities by incentivising investors to locate in the countryside and to operationalise special economic zones which are a multidirectional tool for economic development leading to job creation and consequently reduction of dependency on the natural environment.

One of the assumptions on which the TSP is hinged on is increased investment in infrastructure through various private sector driven initiatives. Investors also consider the need for a harmonious and pleasant business and living environments when they scout for investment opportunities. That is one reason why countries like China experience high influx of investors year-by-year. For example by the end of 2012, the country had an accumulated actual utilised foreign investment of about US$1,3 billion.

Over 763 000 enterprises were approved in the same year with investors coming from more than 190 countries/regions namely: Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, the European Union, the United States, Canada, and South Korea. This makes urban afforestation and beautification an important issue that requires urgent address.

Across the country, there are a number of spontaneous efforts at reforestation being undertaken by individuals, environmental organisations and the corporate world alike.

However, the rate at which reforestation is taking place in the country is not at par with the rate at which deforestation is occurring, as a result, desertification is fast approaching and agricultural output is being adversely affected. We can no longer continue to wait for the annual national tree planting day set for December 1 to plant trees in the face of climate change and the impending fate of desertification.

It is, therefore, high time for Zimbabwe to embrace an aggressive greening initiative in order to help mitigate the negative effects of climate change.

Other than planting trees from seedlings, we should focus as a country on other methods like propagating trees using cuttings. Cuttings are detached vegetative plant parts that will develop into complete new plants by reproducing their missing parts.

Cuttings might be made from stems, roots or leaves depending on the best method for each plant. Many deciduous and hardwood plants including shrubs and roses can be easily propagated in this way. The advantage of using stem cutting for planting is that it is quick growing than the plant raised from seed.

We can also grow trees like moringa oleifera which is a fast-growing tree that bear edible leaves and seed pods and has a plethora of medicinal properties which can be utilised with no side effects unlike modern medicine. This versatile tree can be grown all year round in any tropical climate and successfully grown as an annual in temperate zones. Moringa trees grown from cuttings retain all the qualities of the mother plant.

Another tree species that we can promote in order for us to reforest our country is bamboo. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth. It continuously grows even after harvest and this makes the issue of sustainability easier where resource use is concerned. Bamboo can also convert about 35% more carbon dioxide into oxygen than a regular tree thereby contributing to a cleaner and greener environment.

One wise man once said that, “A man is born in a bamboo cradle and goes away in a bamboo coffin, everything in between is possible with bamboo”.

This statement makes it clear that bamboo can be used for a whole lot of things ranging from erosion control, soil stabilisation, environmental remediation, windbreaks.

It can also be used in the wood industry (particle board, medium density fibreboards, mat board, roofing sheets, flooring, house furniture, cutting boards, toys, blinds, door and window frames), pulp and paper industry (newsprint, bond paper, toilet tissue), textile industry (clothing, blankets, bullet proof vests), bio energy industry (charcoal, pyrolysis firewood, bio fuel), food and beverage industry (tea, wine, shoots), automotive industry (dashboards, steering wheels), medicine and agriculture (greenhouses, fencing, baskets).

Farm owners can also choose to grow trees like moringa and bamboo or nurseries which can then be purchased by the government or private individuals for the reforestation programmes and for manufacturing purposes.

This could be an excellent diversion from the growing of crops like tobacco that contributes to the decimation of forests in order for it to be cured.

On the other hand, town councils should designate places to be reserved for the planting of trees only. All large roads should be planted with at least two rows of trees. All rare, historic and large trees should be declared State property, subject to cutting after obtaining a clearance from responsible authorities.

The government should allocate more land for State nurseries of trees and flowers, preferably close to water sources for ease of maintenance. In addition, Agriculture departments in all schools should be mandated to grow tree nurseries which can then be planted on designated times and on the national tree planting day in the surrounding environment.

Furthermore, the national tree planting day should be all encompassing, the corporate world, schools, citizens and all institutions should participate on this day with statistics being captured for record of progress.

 Blessing Tinarwo Mutsambwa is an economist and writes here in his personal capacity.

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