Zim battles huge forestation deficit

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FARAI MABEZA

FINANCE and Economic Development Minister, Mthuli Ncube, has identified the country’s current account and budget deficits, the twin deficits, as the prime enemies standing against the quest to wriggle Zimbabwe out of its current economic mess and into a better future. But while the country is fixated on those economic headaches, there is another persistent deficit which is also a threat to that future; the country’s huge forestation deficit.

According to the government, Zimbabwe loses an average of 330 000 hectares of trees every year to deforestation. On the other hand, the government’s annual tree planting programmes fronted by the Forestry Commission target 15 million trees but this only covers just 9 000 hectares of the decimated forest land, the commission says.

“We came up with that target looking at the population of Zimbabwe that if one person plants one tree then we will get to about 15 million trees. Maybe as we go along we will double or triple the trees per person because at the current rate it will take us more than 30 years just to plant what has been destroyed in one year,” Forestry Commission general manager, Abedinigo Marufu, explained. The huge rate of deforestation is driven largely by socio economic needs such as energy. Trees provide an important source of energy in the form of firewood for the majority of the country’s rural population and some of the urban poor. The need for agricultural land also means that more and more trees continue to be cut to pave way for other land uses.

In recent times however, tobacco farmers from the farming bloc that emerged after the country’s controversial land reform programme have worsened the situation through an ever growing appetite for firewood for use in curing their crop.

Unable to afford cleaner sources of fuel the only viable option they have is to cut down more and more trees as they increase crop volumes year after year.

Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, Prisca Mupfumira, says that the Forestry Commission which is not adequately funded by government is going to need help especially from the corporate world.

“The war against deforestation cannot be fought by one entity alone but requires a multi sectoral approach,” she says.

One of the companies that has partnered the commission in its tree planting activities, Glow Petroleum, said that it did so as an acknowledgement of the petroleum industry’s huge carbon foot print.

“The nature of the petroleum industry results in profit being realised but after emission of gases which cause environmental degradation hence the company decided to engage itself in a union that would seek to replace trees,” Glow Petroleum’s managing director Aaron Chinhara said.

The Forestry Commission has for over a year been engaged in a turf war with the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) over control of funds generated by an environmental levy collected from tobacco farmers known as the Afforestation Fund.

Government had initially said that the money would be given to the TIMB to manage reforestation programmes with the farmers. But the Forestry Commission which felt that the programme fell under its mandate had argued that it was better placed to manage the money since it has the expertise and experience in managing these programmes.

“We are experts in afforestation. We produce the seedlings. We are the people who are supposed to run with tree planting and facilitate tree planting by the tobacco industry. They should concentrate on tobacco growing and we concentrate on tree growing,” Marufu said.

Ncube however has announced that from 2019 the two entities would share the money equally and use it in their respective tree planting programmes.

“We accept what was done by government. It’s good for us,” Marufu conceded.

Deforestation is considered the second leading contributor to carbon emissions worldwide after the burning of fossil fuels.

Data released by the Forestry Commission recently says that Zimbabwe is estimated to have lost 15 percent of its tree cover in the last 15 years due to deforestation