The Herald (Harare)

24 November 2012

Zimbabwe: Mataranyika Speaks On 2012 Walkathon

interview

It is that time of the year again when Friends of The Environment (Fote) embark on their annual walkathon. In this Question and Answer, Mr Phillip Mataranyika (PM), the founding trustee of Fote gives some insights into this year's walkathon.

How far have you gone with preparations for this year's walkathon?

We are well on course with our preparations. Currently, we are tying all the loose ends to ensure that everything has been put in place by the time of the walkathon. With the experience gained over the past two years, we do not anticipate any serious challenges.

What is the destination for this year's walkathon?

We shall be headed for Mutoko in Mashonaland East after having covered the Midlands Province and Manicaland Province in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

All the participants are looking forward to the walkathon and, I know that each individual participant is upping their game by keeping in good shape ahead of this gruelling exercise. From the organisers to the participants and sponsors, we are all raring to go.

Have you firmed up on the dates for the walkathon?

We shall be leaving Harare on November 28; arriving in Mutoko on November 30. On December 1 which is National Tree Planting Day, we intend to plant trees at the same time unveiling one of our many tree nurseries created with the support of OK Zimbabwe.

What influenced your choice of Mutoko as a destination for this year's walkathon?

Nothing in particular. All we are aiming for is to rotate the walkathons among the country's 10 provinces on a yearly basis.

We want to cover all the provinces by 2020 and from then on start all over again.

In doing this, our mission is to raise awareness about the dangers lurking on the horizons as a result of the indiscriminate cutting down of trees and jolt the nation into replenishing these forests which are disappearing while the nation watches.

There is no part of the country that has been spared by this wanton destruction of forests and this is why our campaign is covering all the 10 provinces.

What have you observed about that stretch between Harare and Nyamapanda?

Just like in every other part of the country, the situation between Harare and Mutoko is equally depressing.

Trees along this stretch are disappearing at an alarming rate, right up to our eastern border with Mozambique, Nyamapanda.

A number of factors are to blame for this: Villagers are cutting down trees for firewood without replacing them and they have been joined in this destructive exercise by residents at Bhora, Murehwa Growth Point and Mutoko Centre who have descended on nearby forests in the wake of intermittent electricity blackouts.

Tobacco farmers, who are not that many in this part of the country, are also cutting down trees for purposes of curing their tobacco.

Another phenomenon peculiar to Mutoko is that of granite miners who are clearing vegetation in order to extract the black gold at a huge cost to the environment.

What can Fote do to mitigate the scourge?

We have been and continue to spread the message to communities that they must preserve their forests since trees are life.

We must not plant trees on National Tree Planting Day alone, we need to plant trees everyday to regain the lost vegetation, preserve our environment and live beyond the current generation.

 Is the message sinking in?

People are beginning to take the tree planting message seriously wherever we have gone given the natural disasters that we see day in day out even in developed Countries such as the USA.

The fact that we are walking the talk has made it easier for them to follow our footsteps.

The enthusiasm shown by the local communities has been encouraging and the feedback has also been amazing.

As a result, more and more companies have activated their own tree planting initiatives.

This is extending to individuals as well.

I am, however, cognisant of the fact that Fote is just one of the many organisations working on the side of the environment - together, I see our efforts bearing fruit sooner rather than later.

In your opinion, what can be done to speed up the buy-in?

PM: As individuals, we need to be responsible. We should not wait for someone to compel us to act or to do it on our behalf -- we must just do what needs to be done without anyone pushing us to do it.

As alluded to earlier, the disasters happening around us as a result of global warning; with the most recent one being Hurricane Sandy in the United States, should get us to act otherwise we will all perish in the end.

Everybody should play his or her part for the good of humanity -- we really don't have a choice out of this one.

This is not a task that can be left to the corporate sector alone or to the Government alone; it needs every one of us to take the bull by its horns.

What do you say of those who are for legislation as a way of protecting the environment?

Legislation should only be considered as a last resort. I do not see the need to go this route if every one of us is to behave responsibly.

But if we don't act on this threat in the manner expected of us then we will leave the powers-that-be with no other choice except to compel us to do the right thing through legislation, which will be more painful.

Why do you say legislation would be more painful?

Human behaviour tells us that it is more exciting and pleasant for one to act on their own, without any form of external influence: The use of a stick to get a certain response enlists resistance and results in people doing whatever that needs to be done under duress, which is not good at all.

Any highlights you might want to share with us that people should expect from the walkathon?

It is going to be a fun-filled three days of walking for the good of the environment. Lots of entertainment has been lined up for those who will be taking part in the walkathon and for those who will be there to meet our walkers along the way and at designated stopovers.

We have secured the services of some of the country's top musicians to provide entertainment during the duration of the walkathon including various traditional dancing groups from Mashonaland East.

The highlight will obviously be the commissioning of a nursery at Katsukunya, which was adopted by OK Zimbabwe Limited as well as other activities lined up for the National Tree Planting Day on December 3, 2012.

Do you see Fote achieving its objective of planting 500 million trees by 2015?

We knew from the onset that this was never going to be an easy task. We are, however, excited by the support we have received from our partners which has helped bring the dream closer to becoming a reality.

Together with our partners, we have made tremendous progress in putting together the various building blocks for this to happen one of which being the adoption of nurseries in various parts of the country and the establishment of new ones to feed into this initiative.

Why establish the nurseries?

It became clear the moment we embarked on this initiative that we needed sufficient tree saplings to be able to plant 500 million trees by 2015.

Our partnership with the Forestry Commission has helped us create a buffer of seedlings that we can distribute to all those who want to participate in the re-greening of our environment without which we were not going to go very far.

Now that you have talked about the nurseries, how far have you gone with your nursery adoption project?

Unbelievable! The corporate sector is coming out in full support of the initiative, which we are implementing in conjunction with our partners details of which will be released in this column in due course.

Anything you may want to say in conclusion?

I cannot thank our partners enough. Without them, we were not going to pull it off.

Despite the difficult operating environment, our partners have remained committed to this noble cause. With each passing year, the walkathon is growing -- this has further strengthened our resolve.

We are also grateful to our organising committee which, like wine, is getting better with age.

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