International Forest Day: Repaying Our Debts to Nature, Restoring the Green Lungs

Image courtesy: Health Food Chain Safety Environment.

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The United Nations General Assembly initiated the celebration of International Forest Day on March 21 2012. This happens each year to mark this important event internationally. Perhaps if you have not marked it on your calendar, it’s not too late to do so, although it may raise an eyebrow to some of us with an exclamation.

What does it mean, and why is it so important to us, even the UN assembly, to decide to dedicate a special day for these so-called forests? Is it necessary to dedicate the day and make a celebration each year all over the world? Without rush or hush, let’s try to walk through why this is so urgent to celebrate.

The forests are not just collection of trees but including trees outside of the forest which in total they contain about 80% of terrestrial biomass, this implies that trees are so important part of the life. Their roles are so urgent although there are several incidences of extinction recorded each year.

Trees are classified into different species, and current estimates indicate that there are more than 73,000 species globally by approximation. Are these not worthy? In fact, yes, they matter a lot as their biomass has multiple uses beyond pulp, which is regularly used for paper making and is well known, at least for most of us.

In the recent report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO, 2020), the global total forest area stands at some 4.06 billion hectares, although it continues to decrease.

Don’t Miss Out: How the World Owes Tanzania to Keep Eastern Arc Mountains & Forests Standing.

The oxygen we breathe daily, which enables humans and animals to continue surviving, is possible because of forests. This happens in their routine when they strive to make their food through photosynthesis. They end up releasing oxygen, among other products, and humankind benefits from this process.

If they had decided to fast, we would have been domed, but thanks to the economics of nature, demand always enforces supply; henceforth, our survival is enhanced. These forests are kind enough to continue supplying us with oxygen, a precious life-saving fuel. The scientific findings indicate that the Amazon Forest contributes about 16% of the oxygen globally, leaving other forests alone.

In the same photosynthesis process, particularly during the day, they are busy absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and herein become a carbon sink. They serve as a sink for the harmful carbon we emit to the environment, which would end up creating a blanket in the atmosphere that would trigger excessive temperature.

Although they also emit some carbon, it was estimated that they absorb twice what they emit. It’s a voluntary activity the forests perform, although we disregard it on several occasions through intensive deforestation, which is now at an alarming rate. For example, between 2015 and 2020, the estimated annual deforestation rate was 10 million hectares, but between 2010-2015, it was about 12 million hectares, causing about 12-18% of emissions.

The forests are natural capital, they provide life support resources such as water which is key to life. It also protects the soil and enhances fertility for the production of essential food plants to feed both humans and animals. Not only that, but also, they are economically worth it as they provide income to a large part of people, communities, and some countries. These groups enjoy income from the forest’s products businesses, which range from timber, honey, and lignin to a few.

The benefits of the forests go even over and above spiritual and medicinal use. Several species are utilized as medicinal, while some are attached to cultural and traditional practices in some communities. These attachments, therefore, increase the cohesiveness of humans while giving strong binding morals and spiritual strengths to the community. According to FAO records, about 1.6 billion people directly depend on forests for their well-being and survival.

It may not be an exhaustive list of benefits of the forests. Still, it should be enough to justify a dedicated day at the global level to celebrate this important part of our ecosystem. Its a jigsaw puzzle, if we misplace one, we can not fix the entire puzzle. While making the very jigsaw puzzle, what should an individual or nation as an entity do to make it sounder and more justifiable as commemorated internationally? Here are some suggestive ways to engage and what it weighs.

What Does Forest Day Mean to Tanzania?

Although collaborative partners of forests select the Forests Day theme, some activities are worth undertaking, especially those related to trees. Therefore, celebrating Forests Day can involve routine and basic tree planting to curb the shrinking and continued momentum of the deforestation process.

Also, read: Combating Climate Change: The Urgent Need for Effective Tree Planting in Tanzania.

This should include not only the forested areas but also extend beyond the forest and encompass the urban trees to provide shade, fruits, and ecological connectivity. The activities should cater for the needy in the selected sites, and several campaigns were possible.

This year`s theme is forests and innovation, which combines two angles of technology and innovation. Innovation in forests encompasses sustainable practices, forest monitoring, agroforestry, bioenergy, and urban forests. On the other hand, technologically, the theme aims at issues relating to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, blockchain, forest apps, 3D printers, and the like.

These packages are essential for shifting the paradigms in conservation sectors in Tanzania and beyond.

Forests, particularly in developing countries, play roles and create an enabling environment for communities. For example, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) initiatives offer developing countries financial incentives to reduce emissions from deforestation.

Local forest communities have used it to protect and enhance the conservation of forest resources. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) recently announced a USD 19 million project to build climate resilience in Tanzania, a collaboration project with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency in Kigoma region only. This is an example of one of the benefits of investments in Tanzania, which enhances the community’s economic status.

REDD+ is derived from Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD); the “+” indicates sustainable activities that can enhance climate change initiatives. Therefore, it widens the avenue to engage in other sustainable forest management activities.

The intention is not only to ensure that the trees remain intact and compensate for those who retaining those trees but to facilitate other activities such as improving management issues like the forest management plan support, improved forest patrols guards etc.

For example, the current and the largest land-based initiated carbon projects in East Africa aim to cover 1.8 million hectares of national parks across Tanzania in Burigi-Chato, Katavi Plains, Ugalla River, Mkomazi, Gombe Stream, and Mahale Mountains. This is a leap economically in the carbon trade sphere, and the centre of this is tree biomass in these national parks. It is an invisible commodity with tangible benefits to be accrued through novel carbon trade at its best.

Read related: Carbon Trading Symphony: Tanzania and UAE Dance Towards Green Prosperity.

To tidy up, I would emphasize that Forest Day is a big deal for Tanzania and all humankind’s dimensions. It should be embraced and celebrates dearly notwithstanding existing negative perceptible images relating to backwardness and primitive which have been attached to forests.

Individuals doing with forestry being ignored and devalued should be the foregone stories and mindsets. Innovation and technology cuts across sectors and to our dear forests too making it part of the big picture as per this year’s theme, we must hold the grips tightly.

Dr. Emanueli Ndossi, a seasoned EIA and EA Expert, directs J & Enviroconsult (T) Ltd, with over a decade of experience. His expertise covers Project Management, Monitoring, and Evaluation (M&E) for comprehensive environmental assessments. Dr. Ndossi, with impactful roles in WCST, TFCG, and the University of Queensland, has shaped conservation efforts work spans diverse sectors, contributing to sustainable practices in tourism and conservation. Dr. Ndossi holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Göttingen and an M.Sc. in Environmental Management from the University of Queensland. His active engagement in organizations like ISIE, Carbon Lab, Soil Science Society of Germany, WCST, and FCC showcases his significant contributions to the environmental field.

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