HARARE – Zimbabwe, one of three southern African countries to be buttered by the angry Cyclone Idai, is facing the prospects of wiping out its forests within 40 years due to unrestrained deforestation, according to environmental lobby, Friends of the Environment (FOTE).

FOTE, which has planted 30 million trees in the past decade to avert an environmental catastrophe, said forests were being dismantled at a rate of 330 000 hectares annually.

The lobby implored authorities to act now or risk a full-blown crisis that will aggravate clear signs of climate change in the southern African country.

Climate change has been blamed for the recurrence of natural disasters like droughts and storms in Zimbabwe and globally.

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 “Back in 2010, the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe (FCZ) released a statistic that as Zimbabwe we were losing 330 000 hectares of forests annually and ‘at this rate our forests will be completely wiped out in 52 years’ if there is no mitigation to deforestation,” said Onismus Karakadzai deputy chairman of FOTE.

“We will never be able to solve the climate change crisis without seriously engaging in reforestation while at the same time stopping deforestation. We heeded the call by FCZ and (we) have been planting trees since 2010. To date we have planted over 30 million trees,” said Karakadzai, who delivered a key note address at a prison in Kadoma, about 130 kilometres south west of Harare.

The disappearance of vast swathes of forests will be another blow for Zimbabwe’s mostly agro-based economy.

Agricultural estates and farms produce raw materials for industries.

The Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) says 52 percent of raw materials were sourced locally in 2018, 60 percent of these from the agricultural sector.

CZI says agricultural activities provide employment and income for 60 to 70 percent of the country’s 16 million population and contributes 17 percent to Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product.

Unchecked deforestation could deal a blow to the economy, which is already suffering a number of setbacks including foreign currency and fuel shortages blamed on a slowdown in production.

FOTE said unless a solid, well thought out plan is made to address the problem, the southern African country will fail to combat the devastating consequences of climate change.

The statistics quoted by FOTE were released about 10 years ago.

It means 40 years are remaining.

Exerting the pressures being piled on Zimbabwe’s forests has been the rise of economic factors like tobacco farming.

About 170 000 farmers have taken to tobacco farming.

They require heat to cure their golden leaf, one of the biggest foreign currency earners that is projected to earn US$1 billion this season.

With coal beyond the reach of many, farmers have turned to forests.

As with many countries, Zimbabwe has failed to manage its forests.

In the same way humanity ignored warning against unchecked industrial emissions, warnings against the depletion of forest have fallen on deaf ears.

The unforgiving heat being remitted by the sun has fueled climatic changes, already blamed for frequent droughts, storms and natural disasters.

Some of the worst of these devastations are veld fires.

When raging infernos sweep through delicate regions, they crush any form of breathing organism that lies on their paths.

It precipitates a wildlife catastrophe.

The fires roast snakes, eggs, bees, frogs, bats, tortoises and the birds of the skies.

Flies, pangolins, mice and even human beings are also killed.

Centuries old trees are brought down, compromising forest cover, and big game like elephants, rhinos and buffaloes slowly vanish.

The result has been a serious compromise of the carrying capacity of ecosystems, or the interdependency between animals and plants.

In the worst cases, desertification-the extension of desert-like conditions into regions where climatologically they should not exist, image.

On a global scale, sea levels have been rising at a terrific scale than before, reducing the space on which every land animal lives.

There has been an aggressive migration of deadly pests like Fall Armyworm into regions where they never lived before due to weather climate change.

Forests cover one third of the earth’s land mass, performing vital functions around the world.

Around 1,6 billion people – including more than 2 000 indigenous cultures – depend on forests for their livelihoods, medicines, fuel, food and shelter.

Forests are the most biologically-diverse ecosystems on land, home to more than 80 percent of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects.

Yet despite all priceless ecological, economic, social and health benefits, global deforestation continues at an alarming rate.

About 13 million hectares of forest are destroyed annually.

Deforestation accounts for 12 to 20 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

This is the scale that FOTE and government fear could lead to immense human suffering.

“(We must) save our forests before it is too late and at the same time contribute towards the reduction of effects of climate change, eradication of adverse environmental impacts and retard the effects of global warming,” says Munesu Munodawafa, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Tourism and Hospitality Industry.

Despite the enactment of laws to stem deforestation, large swathes to forests are razed across Zimbabwe’s provinces yearly, even for little reasons like poaching small game.

For a long time, southern Africa had lived under the mistaken belief that the region would be spared by these adverse climatic changes.

But Idai’s fury became the biggest indication that no region is safe.

Humanity must act immediately.

Karakadzai said FOTE and the Nyaradzo Group, which established it in 2010, were working round the clock to combat any form of devastation.

The effects of Cyclone Idai

“Today’s event signals Nyaradzo’s dedication towards achieving environmental sustainability by joining the ZPCS, to fulfil Friends of the Environment’s mandate to plant 500 million trees by the year 2026,” he said.

“Trees act as sound barriers, and are home for creatures, ensuring biodiversity. Above all, trees are the natural carbon sink through the process of photosynthesis. This process helps to mitigate global warming by reducing the carbon content in the atmosphere, thereby fighting climate change.  We established a nursery here in 2018, and we are happy that this project has already started to yield returns.  It is such a pleasure, Ladies and Gentlemen, to inform you that the ZPCS Kadoma Tree Seedling Nursery already has over 8 000 tree seedlings in stock to this day. The tree seedling varieties range from indigenous, exotic, fruit, shade and ornamental trees. Of the many trees being produced, I would like to elaborate more on the Kenyan Croton tree,” said Karakadzai.