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MAIL AND GUARDIAN Arbour Week 2008 Feature

FAITH IN A GREEN TOMORROW To plant a tree, it is said, is an act of faith; faith in a future beyond ones own imagining; faith in the fact that the tree will grow to feed and shelter generations yet undreamed of. This is the ideal behind National Arbour Week (Iviki Lezihlahla), which is held every year from 1 to 7 September. Arbour Day, which originated in the United States in 1854, was first celebrated in South Africa in 1983, with the aim of raising the awareness of the value of trees in our communities. So popular was this event that, in 1997, it was extended to the seven-day Arbour Week, with the continued aim of motivating schools, businesses and communities not only to protect our diverse natural tree heritage, but also to sponsor and plant new trees. South Africa, after all, has a proud heritage of tree planting and preservation. The City of Johannesburg, for instance, is the largest cultivated forest in the world, with over 10 million trees having been planted there since its gold-rush beginnings in 1886. Hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted in greening initiatives over the past three years alone, focusing on such areas as Soweto and Orange Farm, south of the city. In other parts of the country, rare Afro-Montaine habitat is carefully protected by local businesses and communities, botanical gardens are well supported by the public and botanical societies, greening initiatives are embraced enthusiastically, and the special place of trees in traditional culture is always honoured. On a national level, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) is at the forefront of tree preservation, a focus that is spearheaded by its Champion Trees project. This is a project aimed at identifying trees worthy of special protection throughout South Africa, and is the only one of its kind on the continent. The first tree to be given protected status in terms of this initiative in 2003 was an historic English Oak, the only remnant of old Sophiatown, which was razed

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to the ground in terms of the Group Areas Act in the 1950s. Since then, many other historic trees have been identified for special protection, and the department reviews further applications from environmental organisations and the public every year in August. In a complementary initiative, President Thabo Mbeki and the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Lindiwe Hendricks, launched the Million Trees Campaign during Arbour Week last year, aligning to the United Nations Billion Trees Campaign launched in 2006. In her budget speech this year, Minister Hendricks announced that 501 000 fruit trees and 145 000 ornamental indigenous trees had been planted countrywide since the launch of the campaign, and assured South Africans that this was just the beginning. We will continue with our campaign to plant more trees throughout the year, she said, and are co-operating with the private sector, municipalities and other community-based organizations in this initiative. The Million Trees Campaign is expected to contribute to sustainable livelihoods by providing people with food, and will initially be concentrated in the Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Programme (ISRDP) nodal areas. The DWAF is again calling on all South Africans to celebrate Arbour Week this year by planting trees in their communities, not only to provide food and to beautify the environment, but to mitigate against the effects of climate change. According to the WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature), South Africas economy is between 5 and 10 times more carbon intense than that of the United States in terms of tonnes of CO2 produced per dollar of Gross Domestic Product, and the average South African produces three times more carbon emissions than the average Chinese. Our carbon footprint, then, is a disturbingly heavy one, and the need to plant trees to offset this is pressing. The DWAFs call, as always, is supported by founder member of Arbour Week, Food and Trees for Africa, which is the first and only national, non-profit, civil society-based, greening and food gardening organisation in South Africa. FTFA was established in 1990 by a group of concerned citizens representing the countrys major greening organisations and initiatives, recognising that the only

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way to ensure a sustainable future for all of the countrys people was to focus on greening both the urban and the rural environment, particularly in historicallydisadvantaged communities. By 1994, a short four years later, its work had been endorsed by both the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Education, and in that year alone, the fledgling organisation planted 62 000 trees. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength, launching such successful initiatives as The National Tree Distribution Programme, EduPlant, the Permaculture Network, Trees for Homes, The Carbon Standard and The Urban Greening Fund, as well as becoming the subSaharan partner of Global ReLeaf. Receiving the United Nations Environmental Programme Sasakwa Prize with co-winner Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha last year, Founder and CEO, Jeunesse Park re-iterated, FTFA aims for sustainability and replication and, in the past few years, it has been encouraging to see the government and the private sector in South Africa approach us for assistance in addressing greening and climate change. We feel that over the past 18 years we have sown the seeds of awareness and they are now germinating and growing to ensure sustainable development for our emerging democracy. The focus of Arbour Week is, of course, on indigenous trees and every year two indigenous tree species, one common and one rare, are highlighted. This year, three species have been chosen, the widely-distributed Wild Plumb, and two rare species, the Bladder Nut Tree and the Bell Bean Tree. The Wild Plum (Harpephyllum caffrum) is an attractive evergreen that grows up to 15 metres in height, and is usually planted as an ornamental tree in gardens to attract birds and butterflies. With its thick crown and drooping leaves, it is also an excellent shade tree, bearing whitish-green flowers throughout the summer months. In autumn it produces a tasty plumb-like red fruit that is enjoyed by people, animals and birds alike. The fruit of the wild plum is commonly used for making jams and jellies and, with its sour taste, is also used in the making of ros wine. The bark is a popular traditional medicine that is used to treat ailments as diverse as acne, eczema, sprains and bone fractures.

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The first of the two rare species being featured this year, the Bladder Nut Tree (Diospyros whyteana), is a small multi-stemmed tree with a straight trunk that branches low down to form a dense crown. The shiny leaves have a characteristic fringe of ginger hairs, and are dark green with a leathery texture. In the spring, the tree bears bell-shaped scented flowers that hang from hairy stalks, and in summer bears fleshy berries that turn scarlet when ripe. These are enclosed in inflated, bladder-like capsules that give the tree its unusual name. The leaves of the Bladder Tree are browsed by stock and game, and the fruit eaten by birds. The roasted seeds are also used as a coffee substitute. Bark extracts are administered as enemas for treating menstrual pain, impotency and infertility, and a leaf and root infusion is also used to treat rashes. The Bell Bean Tree (Markhamia zanzibarica) is also a small tree, with slender cooked branches and a soft green crown. It usually grows to about 3,5 metres in height, but has been known to reach up to 7 or 8 metres in some instances. The young branches have conspicuous lenticels (raised pores on the surface of the bark), while the leaves are compound and imparipinnate, meaning that the tree has leaflets on either side of the stalk, which end in a terminal leaflet. The trees flowers are a striking yellow with maroon flecks, and are bellshaped with spreading lobes, and are 2 to 3 millimetres in length. They appear in summer, while the fruit, which is between 300 and 500 millimetres long and spirally twisted, appears late summer. Dark brown when mature, these split open lengthwise to release numerous flat, winged seeds. The wood of the Bell Bean tree is fairly hard and durable, and is used to make tool handles or for roof timbers, as well as for ornaments. In traditional medicine, the roots are used to treat backache. Trees like these and the hundreds of other species occurring in South Africa supply the most basic elements of life - oxygen, water vapour, food, shelter and fuel - and are one of the most efficient means of offsetting the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. Trees are the largest organisms on earth and live the longest of any life form, and without them people could not survive. There are other interesting incentives for greening too. Contrary to popular belief, trees in urban areas do not increase the likelihood of crime by providing

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cover for criminals. A series of scientific studies by the University of Illinois demonstrates that the opposite may, in fact, be true. Residents living in greener surroundings actually report lower levels of fear, fewer incivilities, and less violent behaviour. The study also found that the greener a buildings surroundings, the fewer reported crimes. This is because vegetation has been shown to alleviate mental fatigue, one of the precursors to violent behaviour. Also, because green spaces are used more, there are more eyes on the street, so to speak, which may deter would-be criminals from committing crimes. For all of their environmental benefits, it is also important that we recognize the value of green spaces in cultivating healthier, safer communities. Individuals and communities wishing to participate in Arbour Week should contact FTFA for further information, advice and assistance. And those who simply cannot fit another tree into their own gardens can log on to the organisations web site ( to sponsor the planting of a tree in the name of a loved one, a lost pet or a favourite cause for around R85. FTFA will post a certificate to the sponsor or beneficiary confirming that the tree was planted, and that the world is a greener, safer, kinder, more beautiful place for it. Take a leap of faith this Arbour Day, plant or sponsor a tree - not only for our generation, but for generations to come. Sources: City of Johannesburg ( Department of Water Affairs and Forestry ( Food and Trees for Africa ( Global ReLeaf ( Rustlers Valley ( South African Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) ( WWF ( ends. Word Count: 1,713

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