By Oliver Matthews
Harare, Dec 12 (EFE).- Six million seeds from indigenous trees in northern Zimbabwe have been collected to reforest swathes of natural woodland that tobacco crops and the felling of timber for fuel have decimated.
“What we hope people will do is plant these trees on the edges of their fields or around their homes,” Nick de Swardt, co-founder of the My Trees Trust (MTT) foundation, tells Efe.
The program distributes seeds among small-scale farmers in small packets containing simple instructions in the local Shona language on how to plant and care for the trees on their land.
MTT sources the seeds from rural communities where they purchase them for around $3 a kilo.
The organization currently has 30 nurseries across Zimbabwe where it stores the seeds, de Swardt adds.
Through the woodland restoration initiative, MTT wants to end the high rates of deforestation in Zimbabwe, which currently loses around 300,000 hectares of indigenous woodland every year, according to the Forestry Commission.
Tens of thousands of small-scale tobacco farmers cause up to 20% of deforestation by using timber as fuel to cure tobacco leaves.
The global energy crisis has caused a higher demand for firewood in urban areas, which suffer from daily power cuts that can last up to 16 hours.
Drought has also forced the authorities to shutter the Kariba South Bank Power Station, on Lake Kariba (northwest), which provides the country with most of its electricity supply until January.
But not everyone agrees that reforestation is the answer.
A Zimbabwean botanist who prefers to remain anonymous, tells Efe that “seeds are a very inefficient method to restore forests.”
According to the specialist, the roots of trees and shrubs in tropical forests remain underground even after they have been chopped down.
“There is a large store of nutrients in the roots and this will quickly produce robust stems in the rains,” she says.
But de Swardt says the project is just a low-cost trial and that it could be “a very cheap way to cover the ground with trees.”
MTT is carrying out a survey in February with its partners to analyze how many farmers successfully sowed their seeds.
“Collecting, packaging and distributing a tree seed costs less than a cent,” De Swardt says.
Growing and distributing seedlings costs around $2.5.
Despite the added cost, MTT will plant 320,000 seedlings by the end of the year in three farming districts in northern and eastern Zimbabwe and in 2023 will aim to scale up the project to half a million planted seedlings.
De Swardt says the survival rate of the seeds is still unknown but in seedlings it is as high as 75%, something MTT tracks on the Greenstand app.