When issues of forest conservation, adaptation, regeneration and restoration are discussed, rarely do we hear about the significance of indigenous hardwood trees’ role in the climate resilience matrix. Is it because they take long to grow or they are just brushed aside as not suitable enough to contribute to climate action strategies?
Guest column: Peter Makwanya
Indirectly and covertly, indigenous hardwoods have withstood the test of time, since time immemorial and have demonstrated resilient ecological footprints, even in the face of drought, hunger and climate variability.
Forests provide a broad range of ecosystemic services, and it is also in the forests that we source for food resources and livelihoods. As part of a consortium of carbon sinks, indigenous trees have also contributed a significant chunk of traditional fruits, food stuffs and medicinal substances, sufficient enough to form a comprehensive network and inventory of the indigenous knowledge systems (IKS). The role of indigenous knowledge systems in supporting biodiversity conservation cannot be undermined. Biodiversity is an ecological natural state of resources that can benefit livelihoods. This clearly underscores the role of forest conservation and restoration.
Africa south of the Sahara, and in particular, Southern African region is home to a variety and diverse array of hardwood tree species, which are drought tolerant and climate change resilient. The hardwood tree frontiers have demonstrated an evidence-based network of traditional food provision, fruit supplies and medicinal properties value and capacity. In this regard, communities have benefitted, including domestic and wild animals. There is no other green discourse, or climate related linguistic inventions, which can undermine the comprehensive and exhaustive nature of the traditional forest reserves. As such, when we talk of adaptation, resilience and climate solutions, African traditional forests have demonstrated resilience in all respects.
Indigenous hardwood trees that have demonstrated resilience and conquered backgrounding and under reporting, are Baobab (Adansonia), Mopane, Marula, Sausage-tree, Mahogany and
Teak, just to name a few. These hardwood trees, apart from the threat from deforestation, mining and commercial logging, under reporting and representation on their significance has become one of the major threats, while climate change has not done enough damage so as to threaten their significance and resilience. Although hardwood trees are not
favourable candidates for forest regeneration, as some of them take much longer to attain full growth, conserving and protecting those that are there would be the best practise.
Nowadays, the main threat to these indigenous hardwoods, is human greed and expansionist tendencies in the form of commercial logging, mainly from foreign companies. Indigenous hardwoods have managed to survive in the face of climate change and it is advisable to take lessons from their survival as test cases. With all climate change models predicting extreme temperature changes in the sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the Southern Africa region, planning our forest survival with the indigenous hardwoods in mind is the way to go.
These fruit bearing hardwoods also help us to dismiss the myth that only exotic trees are fruit bearing, with indigenous fruits not receiving the prominence they deserve.
Where indigenous hardwoods have been extensively chopped, for commercial purposes, it should be made a priority for these foreign wood mongers that, they should spell out how they will restore the trees they would have destroyed. Restoration is fundamental of many adaptation strategies, hence countries in the named region should not pay lip-service to the destruction of indigenous hardwoods by their foreign proxies. Long-term commitments are required to ensure protection, monitoring and management during the long periods of nurturing new indigenous tree species. These species need to be adaptable and suitable to the decade-long regional conditions.
In this regard, it is important to have some significant insights into the nature of indigenous trees under discussion. The Baobab, is quite common in southern Africa, including the Indian ocean island of Madagascar. Baobab trees can be found in dry regions and have the capacity to store large amounts of water to carry it through periods of drought and climate-related stresses. Some baobab trees are hollow inside and can be used to shelter people, livestock or crop harvests. Baobab trees also bear edible and nutritious fruits, while the leaves can be eaten as vegetables. The seeds can also be pounded and crushed to produce oil.
The other tree species quite common in almost all southern African countries is the Mopani tree. It grows in hot, dry and low-lying areas. Mopani leaves are thin and butterfly shaped, hence they are a favourite for cattle in Beitbridge and some parts of Gwanda, in Matebeleland South and they improve the quality of beef. As a hardwood tree, Mopani has a wide range of uses, ranging from firewood, charcoal, fencing poles, railway sleepers and floor tiles. The tree is a major source of food for Mopani caterpillars, otherwise known as Amacimbi or Madora in Ndebele and Shona respectively. The Mopani worms are quite nutritious and a good source of proteins. As such, caterpillars have a significant contribution to food security and livelihoods for people of Zimbabwe.
The other tree species is the Marula, and the name is derived from its fruit, which produces wine called Amarula, a traditional brew, fruits and jam. Its seed kernels are a good source of proteins, while the bark has medicinal properties and can be used to make cooking oil.
The Sausage tree (Kigelia Africana), has large sausage-like fruits, which are a favourite of the wild animals such as bush pigs, baboons, hippos and elephants. The sausage-like fruits have medicinal properties and can also be used in a traditional brew.
In this regard, it is not particularly good as a nation to pay lip-service to the significance of indigenous trees, both as sources of food security and also as species which can fight the scourge of climate change.