COMMUNITIES have welcomed as beneficial, the tree-planting initiatives rolled out by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwe marks its National Tree Planting Day on the first Saturday of December and this year's commemorations will be the country's 40th.
The First Lady is the country's environment, tourism and hospitality industry patron.
She has been going around the country getting communities involved in tree planting, and wielding a spade herself, ahead of the big day in conjunction with other stakeholders.
Yesterday, Amai Mnangagwa took to Mhondoro where she was joined by Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu, schoolchildren, members of the community and other stakeholders, in planting 1 500 gum trees and fruit trees at Tafara Primary School.
Her practical leadership is ongoing and will be taken to all provinces as she leads from the front in promoting environmental conservation.
Mbuya Violet Muvhimi (76) of Village 4, Manyoni in Mhondoro, said the First Lady's initiative was beneficial since trees had medicinal properties.
She said as they were growing up, they would be given tsambatsi which she said: "Ndiyo yaive mishonga yedu (that was our medicine)," plunging delegates into fits of laughter.
Mbuya Muvhimi said the newly-introduced Pfumvudza farming concept required people to put "murakwani" (dried leaves) in the holes, attesting to the importance of trees.
She said the mususu tree was a key medicine for stomach ailments.
Sekuru James Hombe (81) told the gathering that he had many gumtrees at his homestead and the First Lady urged the community to emulate him.
Amai Mnangagwa said this year's National Tree Planting Day celebrations came at a time when the country was facing the Covid-19 challenge, which affected most programmes that sustain families.
This year's theme, "Fruit trees for food security and nutrition", underlines how fruit trees and other wild fruits came in handy in fighting Covid-19.
"Some families are earning a decent living from the sale of wild fruits and other resources," said the First Lady.
"As Environmental, Tourism and Hospitality Industry patron, I started this programme of planting trees alongside the Forestry Commission after seeing forests being depleted while on my way to assist the vulnerable."
The First Lady, who has traversed the length and breadth of the country urging communities to plant trees, spelt the need for community leaders to show how important the country's resources were so that everyone rallied behind them in preserving trees and forests.
"Madzimambo edu atinoremekedza, hecho chitsvambe nevese vatungamiri vemunharaunda, ngatikurudzirei vanhu kuti vadyare miti pangave padzimba dzavo," she said.
On a lighter note she said; "Pachivanhu chedu tinoziva kuti kune vamwe vanoti kana ndafa ndivigei pamumvuri pasi pemuti, naizvozvo tirikuti ngatidyarei miti tione pekuzozororera kana Mwari vatitora."
During her educative interactive session, the First Lady asked why forests were important to communities and the best ways to preserve them.
The questions elicited various answers, some of which triggered laughter.
She noted forests provided fruits, relish and oxygen, among a host of other benefits that communities stand to lose because of deforestation.
The First Lady also spoke passionately about the need to conserve trees by avoiding fire, which poses a serious threat to the ecosystem.
"It is difficult to talk about preserving trees without talking about fires. These fires destroy trees, they destroy creatures that live in forests and affect the ecosystem, including livelihoods.
"Let's be united against the fires. Let's come up with committees in our communities and help each other to put out fires before they destroy property, life and resources," she said to wild applause.
Minister Ndlovu praised the First Lady for her initiative and emphasising the need to conserve the environment.
"It's an honour to participate in this pre-National Tree Planting Day campaign which you are spearheading as our patron and leader in all matters to do with conservation. Every year, I look up to this day as the planting of trees is essential for the survival of our ecosystem in general and more particularly, our very existence on this planet," he said.
"Forestry Commission is the Zimbabwe Government parastatal under my Ministry with the mandate to ensure sustainable management and use of forest resources in Zimbabwe through conservation of the gazetted forests, woodland management and afforestation.
"Pursuant to this mandate and in liaison with my ministry, the Forestry Commission has embarked on a massive tree-planting initiative targeting 40 million trees annually though this is far from reversing the damage caused by deforestation.
"They have engaged in initiatives of managing and preserving the already existing woodlands so as to minimise the impact of the destruction. However, the war against deforestation cannot be fought by one entity alone, but requires a multi sectoral approach."
Minister Ndlovu said the onus was on communities to act now and stop harmful practises that degrade the environment.
"An ancient Chinese proverb proclaims that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now. I urge everyone to participate because tree-planting is everyone's responsibility," he said.
Forestry Commission general manager, Mr Abednigo Marufu, said planting trees helped curb deforestation as most new tobacco farmers relied on firewood to cure their crop.
"The reason we are here today is that Mashonaland West Province is the number one producer of quality tobacco represented by Hurungwe District which has got about 60 000 farmers that are growing tobacco," he said.
"They depend so much on wood for tobacco curing. So we are here so that Amai can send a message to the communities that they should plant trees."
Gogo Margaret Sign from Manhize Village said as communities they were fully behind the First Lady's initiative.
"She is giving us valuable lessons which can change our lives for the better. We support her 100 percent. We grew up using medicines from trees that some of us are now cutting down willy-nilly, but I guess with Amai's intervention, everyone now knows the importance of trees," she said.
"Trees are important for wind break also and holding the soil together to curb erosion. What the First Lady is doing is important for the nation and she deserves everyone's support. We must thank her for having the future of the nation at heart."
Sekuru Michael Muchire thanked the First Lady for taking time to teach communities about environmental conservation.
"While growing up some people used to just cut down trees without understanding why we were being stopped from doing so. Now that the First Lady is talking about these things I am now appreciating how important trees are to us and everyone countrywide," he said.
Amai Mnangagwa taught the community a slogan which they all took home which runs as follows; "Muti nhasi, sango mangwana (a tree today, a forest tomorrow)".
Everyone chanted the slogan as they left the venue.
Deputy Minister for Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Vangelis Haritatos and a director representing Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs Minister Mary Mliswa-Chikoka, were among the dignitaries present.