Taming climate change with trees

At the end of 2019, Kisakasaka village in Unguja West District which was once a home to animals like bats, monkeys, bush babies among others, which flourished under the green canopy of hard and soft trees like mangroves, was a pale shadow of its former self.

This is because charcoal producers had cut hordes of trees to the ground, leaving only stumps as evidence of a hill that was once forested.

At first, Rajab and other community members just looked aside while trees were falling down, victims of the relentless axe. No more.

“There came a point when we decided that enough was enough. What prompted us, community members, to act were problems such as the scarcity of firewood, mudslides and increased cases of floods,” he says.

 “Of course, we realised that, working as individuals, it would be difficult to arrest the problem. As such, we, community members, came together to tackle the problem as a united front. That is how we formed the Kisakasaka Mangrove Planting and Conservation Association. One of the tasks we embarked on was a tree-planting. Needless to say we are happy that, once again, trees are flourishing at Kisakasaka,” Rajab, who is a group member, explains.

Not only has he become a conservationist; he has become an advocate of reforestation too.

“This entire village and neighboring villages depend on fishing. Mangroves are where fish breeding takes place,” says Rajab.

“If the mangroves are destroyed, there is a possibility of starvation,” adds a resident of Kisakasaka.

 Rajab says the time has come for all Zanzibaris to take control of their destiny, more so because the negative effects of climate change have spared no one.

“Today, the task at hand does not end when one plants trees; in fact, tree planting is the first of the processes because, after that, one has to take care of the trees. That way, we will play a role in restoring the rainfall pattern, which has lost track of itself because rains are no longer predictable,” he says.

Rajab warns that when people cut down trees wantonly, either for firewood or charcoal production, no place in the country is spared when it comes to effects of climate change.

“That is why we decided to come together and start planting mangroves and protecting them. We want to go back to a situation where we had thick bush with natural trees like mangroves here,” he emphasizes.

However, bringing people together to advance a common cause was no easy task.

Rajab reminiscences that, initially, some community members were reluctant to join the cause.

However, after Rajab and a few other individuals got in touch with the village authority, he did not only help them sensitise other community members to the importance of joining the cause; he left a hectare in the hands of the conservationists, who now take care of it.

Now the man-made mangrove forest has hundreds of trees which the conservationists hope, will serve community needs such as when women prune dry branches for use as firewood, beekeeping as well as marine products such as crabs and fish farming.

“Of course, some people were mocking us when we were planting these trees, telling us that we were embarking on something that attracted no wages,” says Fatma, an association member.

 “However, we stood on our ground and today, the fruits of our work are there for all to see,” she reminiscences.

She is quick to say community members are already benefitting from forest resources, citing bee keeping and marine resources farming as one of the flourishing activities there.

Events unfolding in Kisakasa have not escaped the attention of the government.

For instance, Director of Zanzibar Environmental Management Authority (ZEMA), Sheha Mjaja, has hailed the association for the initiative.

 “What the community in Kisakasaka has done, that is, planting and protecting trees is quite commendable. As you are aware, the government encourages community members, private sector players and non-governmental organisations, development partners and others, to collaborate with the department of forestry and participate in tree planting and management activities,” Mjaja says.

The Zanzibar Development Institute has planned to plant one million trees per year in an area of ​​100 hectares, of which 400,000 will be planted on the Pemba Island and 600,000 in Unguja with the aim of making Zanzibar green.

Furthermore, the government in collaboration with the Agha Khan Foundation (AKF) intend to plant 3,000 million trees in a period of 10 years in schools and urban areas.

“The government’s goal is to have a green and stable Zanzibar by encouraging citizens to plant trees in order  to have an environment that will be able to cope with climate change,” says the Principal Secretary in the First Vice President’s Office (responsible for environment), Dr. Omar Dadi Shajak.

However, the challenge has been acceptance of energy transition from charcoal to other alternatives, notably gas.

But Water, Energy and Minerals Minister, Hassan Kaduara, maintains that his ministry is making sure that more people are changing from charcoal use to other alternatives like gas.

He explains that, at the moment, they are promoting the use of gas which, he says, is reliable and cheap.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13 calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

To address the problem of negative effects of climate change, countries also adopted the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

On the same, goal number 15 requires countries to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

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