Zimbabwe First Lady Engages Farmers in Tree Planting, Urges Environment Protection
20 JANUARY 2022
The Herald (Harare)
By Tendai Rupapa in Mashonaland West
ENVIRONMENTAL patron First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa yesterday rolled out an initiative to plant exotic trees like gum trees and croton trees while educating farmers, mainly those into tobacco production, on the need to curb the indiscriminate cutting down of trees which exposed the country to erosion and depleted forests.
Amai Mnangagwa started the tree-planting initiative in Mashonaland West Province which has many tobacco growers who rely on firewood to cure their crop. She will carry the initiative to all the provinces countrywide.
Yesterday Amai Mnangagwa led in the planting of more than 2 500 croton and gum trees at Mafukidze homestead where she was joined by traditional leaders and villagers. She also planted the Monkey bread (Musekesa) tree which is the tree of the year. The First Lady handed over various types of fruit trees to the Chiefs and village heads for planting in their areas of jurisdiction.
She bemoaned the cutting down of trees without re-planting them which she said exposed the country to the effects of climate change.
The tree-planting initiative, which will be taken to all the country's 10 provinces, seeks to preserve trees that provide fruits and medicines, curb erosion, provide windbreak, provide energy and mitigate the effects of climate change.
"We started this programme of planting trees and providing teachings to the communities countrywide some years back alongside the Forestry Commission and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA). We shall continue doing so, but we had been affected by Covid-19," said the First Lady.
The mother of the nation, who emphasised the need to observe World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols on Covid-19 prevention said the theme for this year is: 'Trees and forests for ecosystem restoration and Improved Livelihoods."
"This theme is important for us because of climate change. I trust that you observed that this season had a hot dry period which affected some crops that were in the fields. I therefore wish to thank the Lord for giving us abundant rainfall that we are receiving across the country.
"I remind each and everyone of us that we have a task to protect trees. I implore everyone to plant trees and protect forests which are beneficial to us. We also get various fruits that help us fight diseases like Covid-19," she said.
She held an interactive session with the community where she sought to know why trees were important.
The responses she got from villagers highlighted that trees provide oxygen, fruits, medicine and that they contribute to rainfall. The First Lady implored the community to take advantage of the rainy season to harvest indigenous vegetables and dry them for future use.
She thanked the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry and the Forestry Commission for rolling out tree-planting initiatives.
"I urge all leaders countrywide to lead in planting of trees in their areas. Even legislators must lead the people and plant trees. Each year we see vehicles leaving communal areas with fruits for sale in towns a sign that fruit trees are important and that fruits can be a source of income," she said.
Addressing the community, Amai Mnangagwa spoke candidly against child marriages and domestic violence.
Asked why they married off children at tender ages, one elderly man drew laughter when he hinted that the children were marrying themselves off.
"The children are marrying off themselves through mischief without the knowledge of parents. When the children leave to fetch water and firewood, they do not come back on time and they get you arrested when you beat them saying they have their rights. We are troubled by these children," he said.
This, however, differed from the views of an elderly woman who said parents were squarely to blame.
"As parents we are to blame. Once our husbands are bought beer and given a bag of fertiliser, they send their daughters there so that they keep getting beer," she said.
Another discussant said the children were digging their own graves through alcohol and drug abuse.
In response, the First Lady said that is why she was travelling across the country with her Nhanga/Gota/Ixhiba programme to teach the children and impart them with values and promote morality.
The community begged the First Lady to bring back her educative programme for the benefit of their children.
Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Resettlement Minister Anxious Masuka also participated in the tree planting and said the country needed to appreciate the value in land and ensure it was used productively.
"We cannot talk of tobacco in isolation with Vision 2030 which seeks to make us an upper middle income country. As an agro-based country we know this is what we must transform to earn money. Therefore, as alluded by the First Lady, I urge all farmers to plant trees after clearing their land for farming," he said.
Mashonaland West Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Mary Mliswa-Chikoka praised the First Lady for her valuable teachings on the need to protect the environment.
"Your visit here has reinforced the foundations laid by the Forestry commission which teaches that trees are life and should be preserved. You have thrown a challenge to each and everyone of us to plant trees in the areas in which we live," she said.
Similar words were echoed by deputy minister of the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Barbara Rwodzi.
"We are very happy as a Ministry to have Amai here in Hurungwe where we were replacing trees that are cut during the farming of tobacco. We all know that this area, Mashonaland West, is more prominent for tobacco farming and when tobacco farmers get into their season they cut a lot of trees and Amai as our patron for the ministry is very keen and pleased to go across the country planting trees every year as we have seen with the previous years.
"People should know that whenever you cut trees for production purposes, you need to replace those trees as soon as possible and as a ministry we are encouraging to plant trees that quickly grow to replace those that we would have cut. Many thanks and gratitude to the First lady for the example that she is setting in our country and everybody else as Zimbabweans that we should replace trees because trees are life and trees are everything to human beings," Deputy Minister Rwodzi said.
Croton trees are fast-growing and its biomas (wood quantity) is as good as that of gum trees. It is good for tobacco curing, good for biodiversity and does not affect soils nor does it gets affected by diseases.
Secretary for the Ministry Mr Munesu Munodawafa warned firewood poachers that they faced arrest.
"While we are encouraging the planting of trees, a challenge we have been facing of late is rampant selling of indigenous trees for firewood. We have stepped up our campaign and anybody who is seen selling firewood for commercial purposes will be arrested. One is allowed to cut firewood for domestic consumption what is not allowed is to cut it for commercial purposes.
One of the villagers Mr Mucherwa Washington who is a village head was thankful to the First Lady for her commitment to preserve the environment.
"I want to thank Amai for coming here under a programme of planting trees. Trees are important to us as tobacco producers because if we cut down trees for tobacco curing we must replant. We shall organise programmes where we gather as a village teaching each other the importance of trees. This helps curb erosion. If trees are cut, the soil is washed away. As Hurungwe we were lagging behind in tree planting. Some Tobacco farmers were cutting down trees without replanting so we are going to teach them as village heads that trees must be planted," he said.
Mrs Massy Chawasema said; "We are grateful for the visit from the First Lady. She has come to encourage us to plant trees so that we won't struggle for firewood. As women, we struggle if there is no firewood for cooking. We have seen that it is critical to plant trees. All trees including those with medicinal properties were being cut because of the reckless cutting down without caring for their uses," she said.
Sekuru Douglas Mafukidze said he was environmental conscious and started planting trees in 1968. He urged other villagers to carry forward the programme.
In his vote of thanks, Chief Chundu Mr Abel Mbasera thanked the First Lady for rolling out the tree planting initiative which he said has many benefits for the nation.