Monday, March 1, 2010

Saving A Little, To Save a Lot

Domingo Chinamasa, 41, clears bush to plant more Cassava. This low-nutrition crop is easy to grow, but also strips the soil of nutrients. Thousands of hectares of cleared forest have been replanted with Cassava in central Mozambique, leaving the land unproductive after a few short years.

It is the fifth day of rain and wild weather here on the flood plain (emphasis on flood) near the Mozambiquan city of Beira. Its still wet, and rather miserable, but in between downpours I have been able to get into the bush and continue the work I am doing.

Allan Schwarz, who runs the Mezimbite Forest Center, is my host at the moment. If you see my last post, you will know that he is working to return forests to their original glory, and it is tough work.

Schwarz runs the largest nursery within the Miombo biome. What that means is that he has the largest selection of seedlings of indigenous tree species in more then ten African countries, including Congo, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana, Angola and Malawi.

Last night, as we drove through the rain back to his roadside camp and tree nursery, he explained that the work he does has been recognized around the world. Schwarz is often the keynote speaker at talks on sustainable forestry from Switzerland to the Americans, and yet his project is tiny compared to the destruction visited on the forests of southern Africa. "I do not even replant or save 1% of the forests just in Mozambique, much less the rest of Africa."

It's late, and the road is dark and wet. We dodge potholes and hard-to-see pedestrians. His back hurts from years of rough driving. He is clearly upset. "And yet my project is held up as a paragon of possibility! Its ridiculous! There is no political will, there is no social change happening, just a lot of lip service and empty promises."

He is right. From the man on whom so many depend for the hope of forests, his tirade rings too true. People simply don't care, and that means you, that means me. There is not enough change happening at a fast enough pace to keep up with the destruction. Our natural world is fragmenting, has been fragmented, and our local micro-climates already show the strain. But he is also wrong.

His mistake comes because he thinks, in his well of reality, that people do not care. But they do. There is a growing movement of people that are upset that forests are gone and not being replaced. There are folks working to plant trees, working to improve their environment all over the world, right now. I saw thousands of them in Copenhagen at the Climate Conference.

The numbers are growing, and at some point a critical threshold will be reached that pushes these concerns to the front pages of our newspapers, gets them debated in Congress and Parliaments in every country. By that time it may be too late. It may already be too late, but the truth is that as long as there are seed banks and small forests left, as long as the Allan Schwarzes of this world keep fighting to save just a little from what was so much, there will be the chance to change it all around.

Schwarz sees what little is being done, but future generations will look back at him and those who championed his causes and judge him for what huge things he succeeded in doing at a time when it was not fashionable, not supported and not valued.

From the muddy reaches of developing countries to the hills behind your house, people are struggling against un-imaginable odds to save little pieces, little forests, little stores of indigenous knowledge and genetic material. By saving these little places, by their small successes, they may eventually be saving our future.

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