FORESTS provide humans with a wide range of economic and social benefits.
They make important contributions to the economy, including employment, processing, trade and energy.
However, forest degradation and climate change are two of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time.
People and nature are threatened by these challenges and we must act now to develop creative and innovative solutions that can lead to a sustainable bio-economy and prosperity in a healthy environment.
Bioeconomy refers to a radical ecological approach to economics that combines economic growth with sustainability.
It encompasses the sustainable production and use of renewable resources from forestry, natural environments and their conversion into food, animal feed, biobased products and bioenergy (firewood).
The forest sector has the opportunity to take the lead in the sustainable development of the bioeconomy.
This year’s International Day of Forests (IDF) commemorations provided a platform to discuss the contribution of forests to the bioeconomy.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 21 as the International Day of Forests in 2012 to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests.
The commemorations focused on how forest innovations, resource efficiency, forest products and ecosystem services can contribute to a sustainable way of life and accelerate the shift to more sustainable consumption and production.
Ensuring sustainable development is a necessary prerequisite for the success of a forest bioeconomy.
There is a need to have a realistic understanding of the potential capacity of forest resources to sustainably contribute to economic and livelihood development while maintaining ecosystem integrity.
Forests play an important role in the economic development of many countries.
According to official figures from Zimbabwe’s national accounts, forests contribute significantly to the economy, contributing an average of 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) and employing 8% of the total population in manufacturing.
In addition, forests contribute to Zimbabwe’s economy by providing goods and services that allow other sectors to thrive.
For example, in agriculture, forests provide pasture for livestock, preserve watersheds to support irrigation by protecting water sources, and also provide wood energy for curing tobacco.
The forests are home to many species of wild animals, including mammals, reptiles and birds, which attract tourists and thus contribute to the tourism industry.
As a versatile material, wood is commonly used for the construction of buildings, shelters, boats, railway sleepers as well as furniture and interior decoration.
It is highly machinable and can be made in all kinds of shapes and sizes to suit virtually any construction need.
Raw wood is pulped and turned into paper.
Paper is used in a wide range of economic sectors, including as packaging material, a means of communication, and for many other purposes as economies develop.
There is no truly satisfactory substitute for paper for many of its uses.
The global Covid-19 pandemic has also shown us the importance of forests in the economy.
Forest products are used as part of essential personal protective equipment in health systems.
For example, their masks use wood pulp and soluble cellulose fibers from trees.
Other tree products include toilet paper, paper towels, tissues and ethanol for disinfectants.
According to the World Health Organization, medicinal plants meet the health needs of 80% of the world’s population, especially in rural areas.
Medicinal plants are considered a rich resource of ingredients that can be used in drug development.
They can be used as a source of healing agents, a raw material for drug development.
In Zimbabwe, the umsuzwane (zumbami) plant is receiving a great deal of attention due to its properties associated with respiratory healing of Covid-19 symptoms.
The plant is also used as an ethnomedicinal remedy for fevers and lung ailments such as sore throat, cough, bronchitis, sinus, pneumonia and asthma.
Healthier populations contribute to a stronger local economy and well-managed forests and environments contribute to a healthier population.
Forests provide a range of non-timber forest products (NTFPs).
They are useful substances, materials or products obtained from forests alongside wood, including fruits, insects, nuts, medicines, leaves, herbs, vegetables and fibers.
People harvest NTFPs for several purposes, consumption, household sustenance, maintenance of cultural traditions, spiritual fulfillment, fodder, indigenous medicine and healing, scientific learning and income.
In 2020, Zimbabwe’s fruit exports were valued at around US$43,803 million and the mopane worm value chain was estimated at US$2 million annually.
The harvesting and sale of NTFPs has the potential to achieve the goals of sustainable forest conservation, income generation and economic growth.
Their extraction, value addition and marketing offer a better alternative to cutting down trees.
Ecosystem services support life by regulating essential processes such as air and water purification, crop pollination, nutrient cycling, waste decomposition, and soil generation and renewal.
In any economy, these elements are crucial but they are rarely recognized and it is difficult to assess their value.
For example, the Mafungautsi forest in Gokwe was primarily gazetted to provide ecosystem services to manage the headwaters of the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River Basin.
Preservation of the forest minimizes disturbance of fragile soils that could lead to siltation and contamination of the waters of Lake Kariba.
Zimbabwe’s only source of hydroelectricity is the Kariba Dam.
By managing the Zambezi River Basin well, the Kariba Power Station can consistently supply hydroelectric power to the nation.
The dam is a major tourist attraction for Zimbabwe as it provides water recreation facilities.
The dam is a source of fish, with many people employed in the fishing industry.
All of these benefits to the economy would not be possible without the protection of forests for watersheds and watersheds.
Remember the next time we’re sitting in a chair, cooking with firewood, drinking a glass of cool water or juice, writing in a book, taking medicine, counting your livestock or visiting a beautiful seaside resort that everything is possible thanks to the forest.
Sustainable forest management is essential to the prosperity and well-being of current and future generations.
Fortunes Matutu is a forester with the Forestry Commission and has a particular interest in social forestry.