CAN you put an exact price tag on Zambia's forests? Forests have been identified as a valuable environmental and economic resource for supporting natural systems and improving people's livelihoods.
Many communities depend on forests for subsistence and income. In fact, forests are considered a critical link in the transition to a green economy - one that promotes sustainable development and poverty alleviation.
A Grade 12 pupil at Matero Girls High School in Lusaka in interpreting the theme 'Tree planting for poverty alleviation and economic development' for the 2012/2013 National Tree Planting season cheerfully noted that forests can alleviate poverty if used sustainably.
"We need the forests because they provide us with a lot of good things. Every day, we use or eat something that has come from a tree. Think about the paper we write on, the pencils we use and the furniture we sit on - they all came from trees.
"We also get nutritious food like mushroom and fruits like masuku and truly, the services that nature renders are immeasurable," Nancy Sunkutu said with a jolly look.
Sunkutu noted that trees are vitally important to the environment, animals, and of course humans, adding that "At every stage in our lives we need trees because they help us all the way."
She was excited that the government was involving young people, especially pupils, in the tree planting campaign believing more girls would learn to appreciate the value of the environment.
The children and youth are now taking action themselves by planting trees as they have been campaigning tirelessly to push for further action on climate change.
Zambia Youth Climate Change Forum chairperson, Evans Tembo said: "Trees are important for the climate of the earth. It is well-known that global warming is being caused largely due to emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The causes and climate change effects can be stopped to some extent, if we all do our bit towards the environment."
He said better ways of farming like conservation farming should be encouraged. "These trees we are planting in a field that belongs to a local farmer will act as fertiliser. The trees are nitrogen fixing trees so they will help in improving the fertility of the soil and the owner of this farm will have improved yields."
"Tree planting is also ideal because reforestation of lost areas and following sustainable practices will help us balance our green cover. Without trees protecting us, the world could be full of toxic gases," said Mr Tembo while planting a tree.
He further urged the responsible government departments to manage forests well and strictly monitor tree cutting.
The tree planting campaign, spearheaded by the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, was unveiled as one response to the threat of global warming, as well as to the wider sustainability challenges from water supply to biodiversity loss.
According to Anna Chileshe Masinja, director for Forestry Department in the ministry said the government was doubling its efforts in rehabilitating degraded lands through tree planting because trees benefit rural communities, encourage wildlife, improve water catchments, prevent soil erosion and reverse deforestation.
She said trees play an important role in the water cycle because when an area has no trees, there is reduced water content in the soil and atmosphere, adding that forests serve as a source of food for many communities.
Wild fruits, meat and honey can all be obtained from forests.
Forests are also known as habitats and shelters to millions of species while hosting a wide variety of genetic resources. Thousands of trees provide ingredients for medicines.
Ms Masinja said this is why the government had embarked on this exercise which would see 12 million tree seedling planted in the 2012/2013 season in the 10 provinces of Zambia.
The trees to be planted are Moringa, Pine, Eucalyptus, Faidherbia albida and many others.
She said it would also be of relevance to go into public-private partnerships in the establishment of plantations and enrichment planting in the forest reserves.
Masinja hopes the project would motivate more NGOs, private sector organisations and government departments to include greening policies in their agendas so that they could be part of the sustainability solution.
When she was asked for her thoughts about the event, Her Royal Highness Chieftainess
Nkomeshya Mukamambo II requested the government to integrate traditional leaders in environmental issues. "My appeal is that as you move in other provinces, royal highnesses and village headmen who are major stakeholders should be involved.
"You have come here with a very important message but the people, especially those in typical rural areas who are supposed to hear the message and apply it, are not here. Maybe there are in the field cutting trees.
"When people go back home, they do not have access to radio, television or newspaper. It means this relevant information will not reach them," she told the crowd that gathered in Kanakantapa.
Her royal highness said chiefdoms have structures, the more reason to involve village headmen who in turn would take the message to its subjects.
Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba on January 3 officially kicked off the National Tree Planting season by planting a tree in Kanakantapa.
This year's event exhibited commitment looking at a remarkable turnout of Government officials and other key stakeholders.
Mr Kabimba, who represented Republican President Michael Sata, said the Government would strengthen the ministry by restructuring the Forestry Department so that it could effectively and efficiently spearhead the implementation of the programme because the tree planting exercise could only succeed with sound forest management and protection practices.
Mr Kabimba told the audience that once the programme was fully operational, more than 200,000 jobs would be created in the forestry sector alone in the short term in line with the Patriotic Front manifesto principle for job creation.
He called upon stakeholders to emulate Konkola Copper Mines that had extended financial resources to the Government to plant 100, 000 trees in Chingola district.
"This is an investment that will help grow a more sustainable Zambia," he said.
The Million Tree Campaign received support from all sectors of society - individuals, children and
youth groups, schools, community groups, NGOs, farmers, private sector, local authorities, and senior government officials - who planted trees for the many benefits derived from them.
By investing in programmes that educate and promote a sustainable environment where trees can thrive, we strengthen our communities and ensure that future generations will enjoy the benefits of trees and care for them for many years to come.