FELLED Miombo trees left with only knee high stumps have become an eyesore that is unfortunately now a common sight within the vicinity of the lush green forests of Vumba.
Just like bruised human skin, trees attempt to close wounds by sealing the affected area naturally.
However, this is not happening in Vumba, particularly for the Miombo trees, known in Shona as Mpfuti or Mufuti and Itshabela in Ndebele.
The trees are being harvested for firewood and farming purposes.
The Vumba Forest faces great danger from wood poachers.
Among other indigenous species, the Miombo trees are fast depleting owing to wanton deforestation in the greater Vumba area, specifically within Burma Valley.
Just like the teachings of ancient wisdom passed down generations, metaphorically branded as robbing Peter to pay Paul, deforestation around the greater Vumba area owing to the search of firewood is like attempting to solve a problem in a way that makes another problem worse.
Mrs Emma Parirenyatwa, chairperson of the Friends of the Vumba Trust, concurred.
“Deforestation has become rampant and very worrisome. We have been losing our pristine forest that has always been an envy to all. The area is ecologically sensitive.
“Once disturbed, the vegetation cannot recover because it thrives on a closed canopy that maintains a moist ground. Deforestation is opening the canopy and exposing the ecosystem,” she said.
The Vumba Mountains or Bvumba mountains, as some refer to it, straddle the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border, and are situated 10km south east of Mutare.
The Bvumba rises to Castle Beacon at 1.911 metres, and are part of the Eastern Highlands of Manicaland, adjacent to the Manica Province of neighbouring Mozambique.
Chimanimani Mountains is on the south while Nyanga Mountains is on the north.
If allowed to go on, the wanton deforestation will rob the Vumba Mountains of the soothing mist they are known for in the near future.
Vumba Mountains are referred to as the “Mountains of the Mist” (Bvumba being the Shona word for “mist”), as mists is often experienced early morning in this part of the country until about mid-morning.
Mrs Parirenyatwa said efforts to reduce deforestation are being put in place.
“We have been engaging the people and encouraging them to refrain from cutting down trees in these areas. We have also been prosecuting people found cutting down trees.
“These forests are important centres of endemic species and important sources of genetic material. Let us preserve them,” Mrs Parirenyatwa added.
Mrs Parirenyatwa said the Miombo specie is under threat.
“There has not been any recent formal survey of the levels of deforestation in Vumba, but general observations show that the Miombo woodlands and indigenous forests are decreasing.
“The Miombo woodlands in Vumba are being cleared for firewood and areas around Mutare are now nearly devoid of the trees. The indigenous forests are also being cleared for agriculture, much of which is not sustainable unless good conservation practices are in place.
“Some of the plantation forests (gum, pine and wattle) are being felled by indiscriminate tree poachers who cut down a few large trees and leave a trail of devastation behind, which increases the fuel load for veld fires and creates an eyesore in the prime tourism area.
“There is need for education programmes and training on conservation agriculture to promote sustainable use of land that has already been cleared for agriculture, thus minimising the need for further clearance,” she said.
The Friends of the Vumba Trust leader underscored the huge biodiversity losses unfolding owing to the wanton deforestation.
“Removal of our indigenous woodlands and forests leads to a loss of biodiversity, a loss of traditional medicinal plants and food plants, the loss of carbon sequestration (trees trap or sequester carbon dioxide from the air), which leads to global warming. The loss of forests also leads to increased soil erosion and siltation of rivers, which leads to landslides and flooding.
“Poor agricultural and forestry practices also lead to an invasion of alien plants such as Bee Bush, Wattle and Blackwood, which can change the area’s entire ecology.
“Protecting our natural grasslands and wetlands in Vumba is also important as it will contribute significantly to biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
“It will also act as water filtration systems, thereby ensuring there is a continuous flow of clean water to downstream users,” she said.
The depleting beauty of the Vumba forests come with a lot of costs.
Environment protection proponent, Manicaland Youth Assembly leader, Mr Jusa Kudherezera said: “Many people from Mutare, Chigodora and Chitakatira buy or harvest firewood in Vumba for resale. The deforestation in Vumba has resulted in a marked change in temperature. It is becoming warmer and of late, the area has become a malaria zone. In the past it was not a malaria zone due to the cold temperatures.”
Mr Kudherezera said Vumba is losing its renowned thick vegetation at a fast pace.
“In the past 15 years, new settlers have cleared large tracts of land for agricultural purposes. Some tobacco farmers near Burma Valley get most of their firewood for tobacco curing from Vumba.
“Streams like Zonwe are being silted due to poor farming methods and land clearance,” said Mr Kudherezera.
Apart from its awesome flora, Vumba shelters a wide range of tourism products that include, but are not limited to country hotels, a botanical garden with one of the best views in Africa.
It also houses the Prince of Wales View — a cliff that overlooks Forbes Border Post near Cloudlands and Castle Beacon or Bvumba Heights, situated 1 900m above sea level.