Forests and wildlife are the lifeblood of Africa, particularly for over 60 percent of the population residing in rural areas... Forests provide immeasurable benefits to the continent's people: energy and food security, biodiversity conservation, climate change resilience and mitigation, and poverty alleviation
– Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations
It is nearly 20 years since doctors informed Peter Mutamuko that, at best, he only had six months left to live – what a stubborn man. An accountant by training and well into his retirement years, he can be seen every morning on his walker slowly making the short trip to the office where he will only come out after sunset, at his wife Imilda’s grumpy insistence of course. A large part of the time he is helping Hitbay keep accounting records in order, and the rest of the time he is attending to a matter that permanently occupies his heart – Bonda, more specifically, the Bonda Tree Project.
Bonda is a small rural village about 250km east of Harare in the Manicaland Province, neatly tucked away in the Eastern Highlands which are famous for the breathtaking scenery of the Inyangani, Bvumba and Chimanimani Mountain ranges. Directions to this village will most likely conclude at one of two landmark institutions founded by Anglican missionaries in the early 1900s; St David’s Bonda girls high school and the Bonda Mission Hospital. Villagers are largely poor by global economic measures but somehow get by, with subsistence farming at the heart of their resilience. For this community good rainfall is everything, and a reliable supply of firewood will go a long way to provide much needed energy for cooking and keeping warm, especially in the unforgiving cold winter nights.
Upon acquiring a small plot in Bonda in 2003, the plan had always been to permanently move from the city to his ‘real’ home at retirement, but this was derailed by his subsequent affliction. (Needless to say, Imilda prefers the city life anyway.) However, this has not stopped him from converting what was an idle piece of land marked for maize growing and communal cattle grazing into a plantation of over 20,000 gumtrees – for now at least. Almost once every month Peter travels from Harare to Bonda to oversee progress of this project, and in-between he is constantly requesting for updates from the team on the ground while coordinating the project remotely from his said office. The objective is simple: plant, plant and plant more gumtrees. This has to be a success! He is one of many pensioners whose hard-earned savings were wiped out by hyperinflation in the 2000s and could use the additional income from selling matured trees to wood processors. But for Grandfather Peter it is crucially about leaving a legacy for his grandchildren. That said it is clear that the Bonda Tree Project has inadvertently become so much more than a personal endeavor and grown into a community impact project.
Addressing UN Sustainability Goals
Sustainable Development Goal 15 aims to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss”.
Around 2013 there was a clear deforestation problem in the areas surrounding the Bonda plot as villagers were rapidly cutting down trees for firewood and farming land. This was particularly problematic along the river where stream bank cultivation amid a prolonged drought saw the small river lake at the foot of the plot dry up. This not only had an adverse effect on biodiversity but also removed fish as a key source of protein for nearby villagers. The Bonda Tree Project has seen a restoration of the much needed forestry and biodiversity and, fortunately, good rains recently have improved the river lake water levels.
National Tree Planting Day
Reforestation efforts are also in part thanks to community awareness efforts on National Tree Planting Day. Over the past three years Hitbay has sponsored communal National Tree Planting Day, with the most recent event attended by the local councilor. These events have seen great community spirit in coming together to plant trees in areas surrounding the Bonda plot and raising awareness about the dangers of deforestation.