Environment by Chipo Musara
The Forest Act, Chapter 19:05, Section 78, clearly prohibits the damage or cutting down of any tree, whether it is on public or privately owned land.
Before any tree is cut, permission should be sought from the Forestry Commission, the body set up to protect Zimbabwe’s forests.
From the current look of things, that important piece of legislation is either not known to many, or is one people have chosen to disregard.
It would seem that the rampant felling of trees is now to many the most natural thing to do, not only in remote areas, but even right in the cities and towns, and in broad daylight.
In Harare for instance, tree fellers have been kept busy as there always seems to be trees to be brought down. On Ridgeway South as it crosses Enterprise Road alongside Nazareth House for instance, rows of trees that had been there for decades were this year cut down.
This is just one of many examples.
A significant number of the trees are being cut for energy purposes; to supplement the lack of a reliable electricity supply that has bedevilled the country for a number of years now. Selling firewood has become quite a lucrative business in the country.
One only has to visit Harare’s Mbare Musika, at a place that has come to be known as “Pamuzinda Wehuni” to see what I mean.
While the Environment Management Agency (EMA) has been making efforts to arrest the firewood vendors in a move meant to deter them, many simply pay the US$20 fine when they are caught and thereafter it is business as usual. The fine is clearly not deterrent enough.
It would seem for as long as there is a demand for firewood, the firewood selling business will continue to thrive.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that much of the logging industry which is contributing to deforestation is done illegally and at least half of the trees are used for firewood.
Deforestation affects all and sundry
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, fuelwood in sub-Saharan Africa is consumed at a rate much greater than the average annual growing of trees, causing a serious deficit in timber resources and habitat for species.
But those in the firewood felling and selling business make up just a fraction of the problem. Tobacco farmers are another equally big problem! While Statutory Instrument 116 of 2012, which was recently passed into law, states that it is a requirement for each tobacco farmer to establish a woodlot from which they would harvest the firewood they need to cure their crop, it is a requirement most local tobacco farmers are apparently taking long to comply with.
This might be because most of the farmers had become quite used to having it easy, as they would simply go into the nearby forests and cut down as many trees (mostly of the indigenous ones that burn for longer) as they could. Surprisingly, replanting efforts is an alien concept to most of the often hailed tobacco farmers.
According to the Forestry Commission, Zimbabwe is losing an average of 330 000 hectares of forest cover each year, with 15% of that blamed on tobacco farmers.
Veld fires that have been escalating by the year have proven to be another source of deforestation in Zimbabwe.
But while many might be innocent of the folly, the adverse effects of the on-going rampant tree cutting will unfortunately not only be felt by the offenders. The alarming rate of deforestation has ghastly implications for all of us.
Forests are very important complex ecosystems that are vital to the carbon and water cycles that sustain all life forms.
According to the World Resource Institute, forest loss contributes between 12 and 17% to annual global greenhouse gas emissions. This is because trees absorb the greenhouse gases and carbon emissions, while producing oxygen and perpetuating the water cycle by releasing vapour into the atmosphere.
Scientists assert trees are currently storing 283 billion tonnes of carbon in their biomass. When they are cut or burnt however, trees actually become carbon sources.
Without enough trees, people will bear the full brunt of the problematic climate change phenomenon that Zimbabwe is currently battling to comprehend. The locally prevailing extremely hot weather conditions and the erratic rainfall patterns are believed to be a manifestation of climate change.
Seventy-five percent of the world’s plants and animals live in forests. At the rate at which the country has been losing forest cover, many of the species have lost their habitat. The extinction of some species that were at home in the country’s forests cannot be ruled out. Some birds, animals and plants that people have enjoyed since time immemorial might no longer be available for future generations.
The first Saturday of December each year has been set aside as the National Tree Planting Day and it is good to note that many are making efforts at replanting.
But as long as environmental offenders that destroy trees are allowed to go scot free, most of those efforts will go to naught.
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