HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsBuilding resilient communities through nurturing indigenous forest woodlots

Building resilient communities through nurturing indigenous forest woodlots

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INDIGENOUS forest seeds have never been favoured by communities due to a number of factors which include slow-growth, lack of knowledge and information about suitable conditions for growth as well as negative attitudes and perceptions about them.

BY PETER MAKWANYA

In some cases, due to inherent water scarcity in many dry regions, growing trees has not always been a viable option. Above all, the local communities are not in the habit of collecting indigenous forest seeds for planting but for decoration.

While it is easy and quite common practice to nurture exotic trees due to their fast-growing patterns, indigenous forest seeds require commitment, patience and dedication in watching them slowly grow. In this regard, local communities are not patient to endure this slow and painful process to see their frustrations bear fruit and culminate in resilience.

Furthermore, tendering indigenous forest seeds into woodlots and forest regenerations has been viewed as a waste of time, space and resources but as the effects of climate change bite, communities need to deconstruct centuries-long unsustainable habits and breathe a new impetus into forest regeneration.

Now that the natural forest cover is fast disappearing due to human activities and climate change, local communities need to start venturing into sustainable nurturing of indigenous forest seeds from local tree species, adaptable to their geographical conditions and landscapes.

This should be facilitated by empowering and supportive communication networks from the forest discourse communities and authorities for this life-long practice to thrive and change people’s lives in order to build resilience to climate change.

It is a retrogressive practice that, to this day, forest farming is viewed as a practice for the elite and rich entrepreneurs who do not care about the environment. For this reason, a new brand of small-scale but thriving agro-ecopreneurs should be given a chance to venture into sustainable agro-ecological forestry and make money while taking care of the environment.

Indigenous forest seed nurseries can act as back-up for the fast dwindling and threatened forest colonies due to human invasions in search of firewood, charcoal, timber, fruits and medicines. In short, rural communities depend on forest resources and products for their livelihoods.

Since the forests are so vital to the lives of local communities, it is high time they ventured into reforestation on a small-scale to recreate, adapt and build resilience to the effects of climate change. In return, this would help to reduce pressure on the natural forests so that they can grow, build up and clothe the landscapes once more as well as avoid desertification.

Forests have been growing through their natural order and cycle but this trend is under threat from human activities like land clearing for farming, building of houses, brick moulding and the effects of climate change. Against this backdrop, some tree species are under threat of extinction hence communities should come up with indigenous forest nurseries to nurture community woodlots and regenerate forests.

One of the major advantages of indigenous forest nurseries is that although they take time to grow when they are fully grown, they can multiply on their own. What they need are favourable conditions which sufficiently support their growth.

A variety of indigenous trees play an assortment of roles, some bear fruits that are rich in carbohydrates, others are host to edible insects, rich in protein like mopane worms (amacimbi/madora) and have vitamins which help in human nutrition and proteins for livestock when they are used as livestock fodder and forest food.

These are vital in reducing entrenched vulnerabilities in local communities. These trees species and fruits are mupangara/ugagu, masekesa/amahabahaba which are quite popular with cattle and goats. Some of these tree species are thorny bushes which can multiply so fast.

Besides their nutritional value, communities can mitigate the effects of climate change through woodlots as carbon sinks for carbon storage purposes. This is instrumental in preventing greenhouse gas emissions from carbon and methane trapped underground thereby contributing to low carbon economies.

Communities can collect, store and preserve indigenous forest seeds and venture into protected woodlots, which will not only give them forest resources and products but can boost soil fertility through humus generated from falling leaves, broken grass and twigs, at the same time retaining moisture in the soil, through tree canopies and shade.

Instead of invading forests to strip them of their resources and products, communities can organise themselves into syndicates and groups and venture into indigenous forest nurseries and sell these to each other. In the long run, they will realise not only monetary but environmental benefits and mitigate long-term impacts of drought.

Communities’ knowledge of sustainable woodlots can be transformed through the use of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS), integrate it with climate change and strengthen agro-ecological forest farming practices according to their socio-cultural worldview and needs. There are also some indigenous trees which grow faster like (munyera/umqoqodo), they can be used for fencing or windbreaks.

The problem faced by local communities is that when the subject of forest regeneration is introduced, what comes to mind are exotic trees like eucalyptus, pine and wattle, the same applies to forest fruits which up to this day are called wild fruits. That mentality needs to change so that communities don’t lose opportunities provided by their local environments.

The communities should be aware that indigenous forest trees are home to the world’s biodiversity, flora and fauna. An assortment of traditional medicines from these forests, with capabilities of treating both humans and livestock are still being looked down upon.

Trees with medicinal properties can be grown even in marginal environments where vulnerabilities are accelerating. Through community woodlot networks, locals can benefit from research activities by unlocking certain vital information.

Running indigenous forest seed banks, nurseries and woodlots is highly participatory in nature hence local communities will feel they are part of thr process. With the help of the agriculture and forest extension workers, communities can come up with life-transforming community woodlots designed to produce the most needed goods and services.

Above all, the environmental benefits are immense such as reduction in soil erosion, land degradation, deforestation, poverty and hunger, in order to realise resilience and achieve food security.

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