Trees are our treasure! Image: GCIS Vuk’uzenzele

Trees are our treasure!

Many places in South Africa are barren and lifeless because they do not have trees, gardens or plants, especially in township areas.


Trees are our treasure! Image: GCIS Vuk’uzenzele

Historically, South Africa did not have a culture of tree planting, and it was in the 1970s that a real need to promote tree planting was recognised. The concept of National Arbor Day ensued from the 1973 Green Heritage Campaign.

To date, the campaign has graduated to Arbor Month, which is a national campaign initi-ated to celebrate South Africa’s trees and to raise awareness about their importance.

How can you help to protect our indigenous forests? 

Our forests are under threat from people who are careless with our heritage. Never cut down a tree in a natural forest and do not remove an animal or living plant without permission. Explain to others the importance of protecting our natural places.

Why must we plant trees? 

Many places in South Africa are barren and lifeless because they do not have trees, gardens or plants. In the past, trees were not planted in township areas while suburbs have usually had trees growing for many years. We have to plant trees in every town, city and school in South Africa.

We need to plant a tree with every new home. We need to ensure that every clinic has trees. You can help by planting trees at home or working with your school, church, or local government to plant trees. Integrating fruit trees in your food garden can address household food security. Remember we are a water-scarce country, so use methods that conserve water to irrigate your trees.

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Champion Trees Project

The purpose of the Champion Tree Project is to identify and protect trees that are of national importance and worthy of special protection, due to their remarkable size, age, aesthetic, cultural, historic or tourism value. Similar projects have been established in several other countries, but this is the first of its kind in Africa.

Nomination forms with guidelines for the nomination process are available from the DFFE. Every nomination cycle starts on 1 August each year, and ends on 31 July the following year.

The oldest planted tree in South Africa is a Saffron pear, brought from the Netherlands and planted in the Dutch East India Company’s gardens in Cape Town more than three centuries ago.

Trees and Climate Change

It is now well known that global climate is changing and that it is likely to continue changing for many years to come. Climate change brings about unusual weather, droughts, floods, melting of the permanent ice of the north and south poles, as well as rising ocean levels. All this is the result of air pollution caused by human activities.

One of the main pollutants responsible for this phenomenon is the greenhouse gas Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Greenhouse gasses have the ability to trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere and so prevent the earth from cooling down

Green plants are a vital defence against climate change because they have the natural ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store the carbon as biomass. Trees are especially valuable because they produce wood, in which large quantities of carbon is locked up for many years. To put this into perspective; one hectare of forest growing at the rate of producing 10m3 of wood per year will be removing carbon to the equivalent of 14 million m3 of air. One can visualise this as a column of air 1.4 km deep over an area of forest the size of two soccer fields.

Do keep in mind that trees do not all grow equally fast, and all forests are not equally productive as carbon sinks. Trees in urban environments and commercial forestry plantations are generally quite fast growing and are therefore active carbon sinks. Under favourable conditions some plantations can achieve average annual growth rates of 20m3 per hectare.

Forests and the Economy

According to Forestry South Africa, forestry is estimated to contribute about 150 000 jobs, predominantly in rural areas where there are high levels of unemployment. This translates to about 11.5% of job losses in the sector due to factors of production affecting profitability throughout the value chain. The contribution to the economy is estimated at R 45.5 billion. This translates to 7.7 % of Manufacturing GDP and 25.5% of Agricultural GDP, including Pulp and Paper. It is through commercial plantations that timber is produced for construction, mining, furniture, paper production and other beneficial timber related enterprises.

This article was originally published in the GCIS Vuk’uzenzele.