I have never planted a tree in my life,” laughs Ramadhan Suwed, a farmer, revealing the absurdity of the question of whether he is involved in the country’s afforestation efforts.
Ramadhan is one of the thousands of farmers who are blamed by local conservationists for turning the country’s forests into deserts and dust bowls.
Farmers cut trees for cultivation but this has cost the country’s commitment to International agreements such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) of which the United Republic of Tanzania is a signatory and as such Zanzibar is part of it.
Afforestation is the establishment of a forest or stand of trees(forestation) in an area where there was no previous tree cover.
Afforestation is an increasingly sought-after method to fight climate change concerns, as it is known to increase the soil quality and organic carbon levels into the soils, avoiding desertification
The country’s challenges on land degradation and desertification are not solely limited to small scale farmers. Wood fuel provides 70% of total energy supply, with 96% of the country’s rural households dependent on wood for fuel.
Land degradation and drought are key drivers of forests and biodiversity loss while climate change leads to increased rainfall variability and resulting to flood incidents in Zanzibar.
The UNCCD describes desertification as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variation and human activity.”
It affects the livelihoods of rural people in dry lands, particularly the poor, who depend on livestock, crops, limited water resources and fuel wood.
However, while it has appeared difficult to address these issues because of what FAO describes as “high proportion of the local communities depending on the land for their sustenance,” an ambitious afforestation programme could just help Zanzibar meets it multilateral obligations to address desertification and deforestation.
As part of the country’s broader efforts to address these challenges, the government every year commits to plant at least one million trees after what was seen as the wanton destruction of trees by farmers.
The initiative to plant one million eucalyptus trees and drought-tolerant tree species is an attempt at conservation and “rejuvenating indigenous and commercial forests”.
“We have selected varieties of eucalyptus which we believe are suitable for particular area. Factors taken into account include climatic suitability, soils, disease resistance and growth rate,” Dr Soud Nahoda, Minister responsible for Agriculture.
“The issue of land degradation is beyond the country’s desire to meet obligations under the various multilateral environment agreements but is now a serious national concern.
Enforcement of the law needs to be up-scaled if we are to get anywhere,” says Haji Issa, an environmental activist.
“Part of the problem with deforestation is that there has been no serious attempt to combat it. The laws are there but there has been no real efforts to enforce them.” Adds Issa.
But as World Desertification and Drought Day approaches, these commitments seem a tough task as challenges mount against Zanzibari’s undertaking to protect the environment.
The 2021 Desertification and Drought Day focus on turning degraded land into healthy land. Restoring degraded land brings economic resilience, creates jobs, raises incomes and increases food security.
It helps biodiversity to recover. It locks away the atmospheric carbon warming the Earth, slowing climate change. It can also lessen the impacts of climate change and underpin a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic
Forests landscape restoration is a critical part of WWF’s strategy to create a world enriched by extensive, resilient forest landscapes benefiting biodiversity, people and climate.
WWF’s estimates that 40% of the World’s forest could be under high degradation risk by 2030.High levels of degradation undermine forest and land resilience to climate change and hence have negatives impacts on livelihoods.