columnBy Jeffrey gogo
TREES are life but whose life you may ask? Yours of course and that of the earth's. For this cause we will never stress enough the need for you to plant a tree and not to cut one. If you do, replace that one by planting 10 more trees. And, do not just plant, but plant and water and see the tree through to maturity.
There are many things that have been equalled to life, with good merit. Water is another. These resources are perceived key atoms in the nucleus of human life, without which, life as known to us, would be critically endangered.
Each year, therefore, for the past 30 years Zimbabwe has celebrated the importance of trees by planting more on a day specially set aside for this purpose, December 1.
This day is now known, as the National Tree Planting Day (NTPD) and echoes perfectly with the United Nation's worldwide efforts on the conservation and protection of trees and forests.
The Forestry Commission, which is the guardian of Zimbabwe's forests, will this year continue to lead this effort aimed at reversing the damage caused by humans on the country's tree population.
It is targeting to plant 10 million trees of the indigenous red mahogany species (muwawa or mururu in shona) between now and December 1, 2013.
President Robert Mugabe who is the patron of the NTPD was expected to officially launch this year's programme at Nyamandlovu Secondary School in Matebeleland North last Saturday.
That the 2012 official launch occurred in Matebeleland was very symbolic given this province boast Zimbabwe's biggest plantation forests, and are commonly and frequently destroyed by human-sponsored fires as well as poaching.
They require urgent protection. Some 1 500 trees were to be planted on the launch day.
Forestry Commission spokesperson Ms Violet Makoto last week said that the 2012-2013 theme, "Grow and Conserve Trees-Sustain Livelihoods", was an all encompassing one that promotes tree growing and tree care as opposed to simple planting.
"This year's campaign encourages people to go further than just planting to seeing that trees planted are taken care of and reach maturity.
"It also looks at conservation of indigenous trees, the old growth that has been in existence even before our times," she explained in an interview.
Every year a specific tree is declared tree of the year. The red mahogany is for the current one.
Ms Makoto said the tree of the year is chosen based on the criteria that it is indigenous to Zimbabwe.
It also qualifies if it possesses important food and or medicinal properties or has potential to significantly contribute to the socio-economic well-being of the country and if Zimbabwe can generally benefit from the widespread propagation of the species.
Some are identified because they are rare and can possibly become extinct. The red mahogany is a strong, robust tree, which makes ideal for furniture.
On the other side of town, leading environmental organisations Environment Africa and the Friends of the Environment (FOTE), a coalition of corporate entities answered (as they have done over the past years) to the call for the need to continuously plant trees, more and more.
Environment Africa is today expected to launch its "For Every Child A Tree Campaign" at the University of Zimbabwe.
This project targets to encourage everyone, particularly school children to take issues of the environment seriously, as well as promote the protection and conservation of trees.
Within the next year, Environment Africa targets to plant 14 million trees under this project.
At least 500 red mahogany trees are expected to be planted at launch today. Meanwhile, between Thursday and Friday last week, FOTE performed its annual walkathon, a road walk for the trees, this time to Mtoko, a rural town approximately 160km north-east of Harare.
Last year, FOTE walked 263km to the eastern city of Mutare from Harare having completed another 278km walkathon from Gweru to the capital in 2010.
The group has ambitious plans of planting 500 million trees within the next 15 years, which translates to 33 million trees annually.
Such efforts are very crucial in complimenting Government's initiatives in replenishing local forests.
50 million trees planted, many more destroyed
Over the past 30 years, nearly 50 million trees have been planted countrywide under the NTPD initiative.
For 2010-2011 the target was 5 million and this was exceeded by 300 000 trees.
Last year, 9,2 million trees were planted out of a targeted 10 million. Early in the 1980s, the yearly target of one million trees was consistently beaten.
It is not clear, however, whether all these trees have/will survive to adulthood, so to speak.
But what is clear is that Zimbabweans have shown little or no restraint at all in cutting down trees and destroying forests.
Each year, at least 330 000 hectares (that's the size of the whole district of Zaka) is lost to uncontrolled forests fires, agriculture preparations and rampant cutting.
Tobacco production alone accounts for 15 of deforestation in the country. The actual number of trees lost is not known but spans into millions, and cumulatively, it exceeds the number of trees planted to date by far.
The Forestry Commission says only 45 percent of forest cover is left, and at this rate Zimbabwe will have no forest to talk of in 50 years.
The United Nations says that at least 15 hectares of forests were being lost per minute between 1990 and 2005.
Ms Makoto said: "The number of trees planted through the national tree planting day campaigns might seem insignificant in the face of the rate of deforestation but it does make a huge difference.
It is the effort of every individual to at least replace a tree they have cut down that ensures a balance between losses and gains."
Obviously, Ms Makoto is right. Greater effort than is currently being employed is now required.
Such effort as will concretise the transition from simply focussing on tree planting to the actual care and conservation of those planted and existing ones.
This transition must also be able to significantly change perceptions that the conservation of Zimbabwe's tree life is now beyond Government's singular efforts, but a shared national responsibility which involves participation by individuals, communities, the church, schools, media and corporates etc.
Saving trees is saving our own lives
Be worried when most or all of the green vegetation in your community, particularly trees, is rapidly being replaced by emptiness, by vast spaces of rugged earth, gullies and, well, again, nothing.
But, really in what way is a tree, life to the human being? Indeed that tree, which does not even respond when talked to nor cry or weep when the merciless axe arrogantly sinks into its marrow, why is it important in the greater human scheme of things?
The reasons are plenty, the most important being trees provide oxygen, a critical gas for human survival.
At present, however, we are predominantly concerned about the impact that trees could have in neutralising atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, and thus minimising the risks of dangerous climate change.
Trees have played this carbon sink role for millenia although that has significantly diminished over time, as a result of unrestrained global forest loss facing too much man-made carbon emissions.
Along with numerous other factors, this has resulted in climate change and global warming, which have made life extremely difficult especially for the poor.
Trees can help reverse that and keep global temperatures from rising beyond the dreaded 2 degrees Celsius limit.
Trees grown to maturity are able to soak up an average 440 tonnes of atmospheric CO2 per hectare. That may mean that of the 330 000ha of forest lost per year in Zimbabwe, some 145,2 million tonnes of CO2 are being allowed to roam unchecked in our skies.
In the reverse, that much could be prevented from aiding the climate change horror if trees the size of Zaka were planted and cared for each year.
Worldwide, tropical forests remove 4,8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year.
So, from a climate change perspective, trees are crucial. To be effective, however, trees must be planted on a colossal scale, nursed to maturity and aided by a in change attitudes, which supports sustainable forest management practices. Trees perform other important tasks. As defined by Ms Makoto, trees and forests sustain livelihoods starting from cleaning the air that we breathe, providing raw materials, providing food and providing habitats for wildlife.
"In the crisis of global warming, trees and forests become the immediate response in mitigating against the effects of climate change," she said.
"In Zimbabwe many livelihoods are sustained through use of forest resources such as the timber industry, honey production. Our lives depend on trees and forests so saving trees is saving our own lives."
God is faithful.