Current levels of deforestation in Zambia are amongst the highest in the world, with a rate of 250,000 to 300,000 hectares of forest cleared a year, mostly for farming, firewood and charcoal. To put that into context, an area the size of 1,000 football pitches is cleared every day, in a country with only 13 million people! If deforestation continues at this rate experts have estimated that Zambia (currently one of the wettest countries in Southern Africa) will become a desert in less than 20 years.
As anyone who reads the Raise a Smile Facebook page will know, we have been doing something to address the issue of deforestation in Mambwe District, Eastern Province. Our "Green Mambwe" tree planting project saw us add trees to 15 schools and many more government buildings in the district at the beginning of the year.
At each school we held activities to teach pupils why trees are so important to the future, not only of the planet as a whole, but to people in rural Zambia especially (most of whom are heavily dependent on rainfed agriculture). We also explained what they can do personally to reduce their impact on forests and how to plant and take care of trees. Every pupil was then assigned their own tree to plant and look after.
In October we visited every school that had taken part in the "Green Mambwe" competition to check on the progress of their trees. Some of the results left us stunned! As you can see from the picture on the right, many of the trees dwarfed the pupils who had planted them after less than one year of growth. The endless sunshine and fertile soil that Zambia is blessed with, and of course the hard work of the pupils who showed dedication to watering and weeding, really proves that reforestation is very possible!
As we went round to the schools, pupils received prizes ranging from stationery to Raise a Smile t-shirts, depending on how healthy their trees were. Those pupils whose trees really impressed, got an extra special reward: A trip to the South Luangwa National Park! Although all of the pupils who took part live less than an hour's drive from one of Southern Africa's finest national parks, not one of our winners had ever been inside. The kids were very excited to see lions, zebras, giraffes and all the other amazing animals, but it wasn't only the animals that we went to see! Local guide James Zulu also explained everything there is to know about the indigenous trees of the park. We are sure this will be an experience these pupils will not forget any time soon and hope some of these kids grow up to be the conservationists of tomorrow!
The trees serve more than just one purpose. Fruit trees add to school nutrition programmes, some trees can used for medicinal purposes, some for shade on hot sunny days and some to act as windbreaks to help prevent roof blow offs (which happens with surprising regularity). Most important of all however, the knowledge that these pupils gained may just go some way to help reducing Zambia's deforestation rate!