BESIDES load-shedding and random cuts of electricity supply to the production and distribution sectors of the economy, homes and social infrastructure, the other havoc that the deficiency of electricity generation capacity is inflicting on Zimbabwe is deforestation.
This danger can be defined as heedless cutting of trees on a scale destined to turn the country into a desert sooner than thought and feared. It is a burning issue.
The areas of globally significant forest most vulnerable to deforestation are mostly in the tropical countries. Annual deforestation rates for native tropical forests between 2000 and 2005 were 11 percent for
Nigeria and Vietnam; 2,5 percent in Indonesia and 1 percent in Brazil.In Zimbabwe the rate is about 3,5 percent of the land area reclaimed and acquired for the land reform programme. Native tropical forests are particularly important with respect to global warming and climate change.
Much more carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) is absorbed and stored in native tropical forests (about 500 tonnes per hectare) than in native non-tropical forests (about 50 tonnes per hectare or less).
The African countries with the largest net annual losses in forest area are South Sudan and Zambia where the net losses were 589 000 hectares and 445 000 hectares respectively per year between 2000 and 2005. And it is estimated that by 2007/2008 Zimbabwe was losing about 350 000 hectares or more per year.
Deforestation is both local and national in its causes and consequences. It presents a unique challenge for the country’s economy because it is one of the greatest market failures ever seen. The beneficiaries of deforestation do not pay a cent for the damage done to the nation and its future generations. Stopping deforestation requires radical thinking and revolutionary action.
Tackling it has to be at the commanding heights of central government. Besides, it has to deal with long time horizons, has the economics of risk and uncertainty at its core, and reckons with the possibility of major non-marginal value proposition changes.
An effective, efficient and equitable response requires a collective sharing of pain and deeper co-operation in the relevant spheres including the imposition and acceptance of necessary electricity price signals to justify the investment necessary to stop unsustainable tree-cutting.
A shared understanding of the mission and goal must be at the centre of the national framework of action required for large reductions in tree-cutting to stop deforestation. And getting nation-wide sustained effectual co-operation requires distribution of effort and bearing of the cost across both the rural and urban areas and communities.
There is no simple formula that ever captures all dimensions of equity, but calculations based upon economic, social and political neglect and disadvantage all point to the urban areas and modern sector of our dual economy having to take more responsibility and brunt than the rural areas and traditional communities for the unsustainable cutting of trees in the country and pay more for the correction of the market
The resultant and consequential damage and loss from deforestation is incalculable. As recently as 50 to 60 years ago, Zimbabwe was decked with closed-canopy forests that rained underneath from leaves, and by lush grasslands. There was sparkling water everywhere for people and wildlife. The canopy kept fires down and tree seedlings flourished. The chiefs of the land gave special protection to the sacred natural environment.
But what do we see today? Something fast approaching the Kalahari Desert. The entire land area of Zimbabwe is on the verge of desertification due to licentious tree-cutting and decimation of the country's forests.
Loss of trees and tree cover in Zimbabwe has damaged water retention and underground water levels. Wetlands and rivers have dried up. Fertile top soils have been eroded to the Indian Ocean, silting and drying up rivers and dams on the way. Rainfall volume and intensity have fallen and rainfall patterns have adversely changed radically. Plant and animal bio-diversity have been lost as a heritage.
Opportunities based on natural endowments such as medicinal and nutritional plants, tourist attractions, and power generation, water flow and biomass have been deprived. Reduction of global warming and mitigation of climate change have been missed out. Thus, trees and forests are worth much more standing than cut.
The World Bank recently estimated that more than 1,6 billion people, nearly 25 percent of the World’s population, depend, to varying degrees and in various ways, on trees and forests for their livelihood. In the case of Zimbabwe, it is more than 50 percent of the country’s resident population.
The main cause of deforestation in Zimbabwe is demand for firewood by rural households and farms. Firewood accounts for more than 50 percent of the country’s total energy consumption estimated at about 73 billion kilowatt hours equivalent a year before the imposition of the current economic sanctions, compared to about 22 percent for coal and coke, just under 16 percent for petroleum products, and only 12 percent for electricity.
Rural households account for a staggering 94 percent of firewood or wood energy consumption in the country.
Thus, although deforestation can be dealt with on a significant scale without need for highly sophisticated technologies, it is not so easy to tackle because its causes and motives are economics. For commercial farmers, the causes and motives are business activity, making a profit and accumulation of wealth and riches.
But in the case of the communal or peasant sector, they are basic livelihood needs and subsistence.
The main and root cause of deforestation in Zimbabwe is rural backwardness and subsistence lifestyle. It is by providing alternatives to people who have little choice but to depend on cutting trees that deforestation can be stopped. However, this does not mean conventional forest protection and forestation efforts and programmes are not helpful. They are necessary and have a very important role to play.
Stop cutting trees campaign
The Environment and Natural Resources Management Ministry is doing an excellent job, particularly through the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, the Forestry Commission and Allied Timbers, and the Environmental Management Agency, by encouraging Zimbabweans to plant trees every year. This last summer, five million trees had been planted by April 2011.
However, it is a bit odd that we do not have, year-to-year, a high-pitched “Stop Cutting Trees Day” and a highly mobilised “Stop Deforestation Campaign” buttressed, as it were, by stringent enforcement laws and stiff punitive measures on the ground.
This shortcoming may not be a sin of commission, but it can easily be perceived as a transgression of omission, if not one of complicity. Militant action to preserve the remaining trees and areas of natural forest is overdue and long-term schemes are urgently required for effective, efficient and equitable approaches to combine national forest preservation efforts with global community support.
Zimbabwe’s deforestation rate is in excess of 350 000 hectares per year. At a musasa forest average density of 25m2 per tree, five million trees planted in a year is only about 12 500 hectares.
This means it will take 28 years to forest the 350 000 hectares we are losing in one year, and which planted area per year will take about 50 years to mature.
Forest cover can be increased in most areas of the world. Countries on record as having the largest annual net gains in forest area between 2000 and 2005 are China (4 050 000 hectares, equivalent at a density of 25ha/tree to 1 620 000 000 trees), Spain (269 000 hectares,) Vietnam (241 000 hectares), USA (159 000 hectares) and Italy (106000 hectares).
Zimbabwe should be planting at least 140 000 000 trees or 350 000 hectares a year to achieve a net gain of 12 500 hectares or five million trees. This means that each Zimbabwean over 15 years of age should be planting at least 24 trees a year.
However, while the objective of planting new trees on such a scale would be an excellent policy, its feasibility is highly doubtful, if not impossible. Thus, a more practical strategy than the creation of new forests through tree planting on a scale sufficient to offset lost stock is urgently required.
Total rural electrification
The choice depends largely upon which of the several reasons of deforestation is the keystone in a particular country. In Zimbabwe where it is the need for firewood, alternative types of energy need to be made available.
As already pointed out, firewood constitutes more than 50 percent of the country's energy consumption. Electricity is a distant third in position at only 12 percent. But it is the best and cheaper than firewood.
Besides being safer, healthier and cleaner, electricity is far much cheaper to use in homes than all other types of energy; as the following energy price comparison per customer based on data and information provided as at May 28 2010 by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority shows:
Total cost per month Times more expensive
Electricity US$19.72 1.00
Gas US$26.00 3.04
Firewood US$60.00 3.04
The total cost for electricity is based on 282 kWh per month for cooking, heating, lighting and radio services. For firewood, it is the cost of six bundles, enough to cook two meals a day plus heating and lighting.
The need for firewood by rural households for cooking, heating and lighting is the major cause of deforestation in the country. To stop deforestation there is, therefore, need for total rural electrification and subsidisation of the cost of supply by the modern sector of the economy through the rural electrification levy instrument.
The minimum additional generation capacity required, based on 282 kWh/month for a rural home, is 550MW costing about US$1,5 billion to acquire. The US$19,72 kWh monthly charge per rural home could be reduced to US$15 or even US$10 because:
The Total Rural Electrification Programme (TREP) would be a market failure correction beneficial to gross domestic product (GDP) growth and the country’s economic development.
The TREP would modernise the country's traditional sector, which transformation would enhance GDP in the medium to long term.
Total Rural Electrification is the keystone of stopping deforestation in Zimbabwe. It will, of course, be a big challenge to ensure that the full value of our forests and energy resources come into both public and private decision-making in this way.
The trees and the land on which they stand should be put to uses with the highest social and economic value according to valuations which take proper comparative account of all the impacts in terms of cost and benefit to the country. .-The Sunday Mail