Forests give us so much more than timber and bamboo.
21 March 2023
Compiled by Ignatious K. Maeresa & Hazel T. Chimbiro
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 March the International Day of Forests in 2012. The day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests. ZELA recognizes the pertinent role played by forests not only in the environment but in human life as well. On this day we reiterate our mandate of protecting forests as part of the environment. The theme for this year is “healthy forests for healthy people,” and is in tandem with s73 of the Zimbabwean Constitution that enshrines environmental rights.
Zimbabwe is host to different woodland types consisting of Acacia, Miombo, Combretum/ Terminalia, Mopane and Teak. Some of these trees that are part and parcel of our forests are now on the brink of extinction and there is a need for concerted efforts to conserve them. Illegal trade of various forest timber products is also a cause for concern, and this has contributed to the decimation of most forests in Africa. In 2010, Zimbabwe had 1.06Mha of tree cover, extending over 2.7% of its land area. In 2021, it lost 9.05kha of tree cover, equivalent to 3.82Mt of carbon dioxide emissions. This is worrying considering the important role played by forests including combating climate change, the biggest health threat facing humanity. According to an article published by the United Environment Programme, illicit funds obtained from illegal wildlife trade and timber products have been also used to finance criminal and militia groups.
We applaud various initiatives that have been taken by numerous stakeholders to conserve our forests including the various initiatives being undertaken in Zimbabwe to promote sustainable forest management, and the salient one is the commemoration of the first Saturday of December, which is marked as the national tree planting day. The day significantly contributes to forest conservation, acts as an impetus to motivate the nation to plant and conserve forests, enlightens the nation on the importance of forests and woodland resources with regards to enhancing biodiversity and mitigating the effects of climate change.
In addition, forests play multi-faceted roles and produce environmental, social and economic benefits. The primary beneficiaries of forest conservation are humans and animals. Ecologically, forests have a plethora of functions, such as purification of our water systems, cleaning the air, fighting climate change by capturing carbon and providing food to both humans and wildlife species. They also provide life-saving medicines and harbor most of Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity. There is a need for humans to manage all types of forests in a sustainable way, so that we ensure that the benefits accrued continue to exist for future generations to come.
The legal framework is a pertinent instrument that must be used in advancing forest conservation. Forest crimes threaten the existence of our forests. The laws and policies in place to combat forest crime and enhance the conservation thereof need to be strengthened so that they comprehensively protect our forests. Forest crimes like wildlife crimes are also now transboundary in nature and there is need for transboundary interagency collaboration to dismantle the criminal syndicates involved.
Conclusively, as ZELA, we reiterate our support to all the stakeholders and interested parties advancing forest conservation in Zimbabwe and beyond. Let us continue conserving our forests. The onus is on us all! We will continue to be at the forefront of forest conservation, and we need everyone on board.