I was born in Zimbabwe in the eastern border town of Mutare that is surrounded by a beautiful mountain range. They call that part of the country Kumakomoyo, “Land of mountains” in the local language. When I was in primary school, we used to go to church every Sunday as a family drive from our home in Greenside to Dangamvura. I don’t get to go to Mutare a lot, but on one of my last visits, I noticed when I was in Dangamvura and the surrounding areas in that part of the country that the level of deforestation had reached another level.
Zimbabwe has periodically experienced excessive electricity rationing cycles known as loadshedding as the power utility has struggled to meet demand. Its aging power stations have an installed capacity of about 2200 MW but generate just over 1000 MW at times. This has resulted in unprecedented deforestation in semi-urban and urban areas as some families have been forced to rely on firewood for cooking.
The situation is of course worse in the rural areas where access to electricity is still a challenge. Another devastating cycle is the annual tobacco curing season. A lot of farmers still use firewood to cure their tobacco crop. According to Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Agency (EMA), the major contributors to deforestation are:
- Tobacco curing
- Energy provisions
- Land clearing for various land uses including agriculture.
Tobacco remains one of Zimbabwe’s major foreign currency earners, along with gold and nickel. The levels of deforestation mean that a serious reforestation initiative has become critical. Zimbabwe loses about 330,000 hectares of forests annually. Forest and woodland resources now cover 45% of the country’s land area, down from 53% in 2014.
Kuva Local, a Zimbabwean e-commerce startup, lets you add a tree on checkout and plants a tree for every bottle of sparkling wine or every case of beer they sell. Kuva Local supports local businesses by providing a platform for local businesses and farmers to sell their products. All products on the Kuva Local app are sourced in Zimbabwe to reduce the carbon footprint of shipping across continents as well as create employment and business opportunities for local communities. Last-mile deliveries are done by electric bicycle through their partnership with Asambe. Larger loads such as building materials and intercity trips are still done by fossil fueled trucks, but Kuva Local is looking into how it can progressively electrify these areas in future.
Remittances from citizens living overseas are now Zimbabwe’s major foreign currency earner. According to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s monetary policy statement on 18 February 2021, in the year 2020, diaspora remittances amounted to $1 billion, a 58% increase from previous year of $635.7 million. Kuva Local makes it easy for people overseas to send money directly to family, friends, and businesses in Zimbabwe directly via several payment methods, including Google Pay, Apple Pay, or credit card. Businesses can then receive US dollars directly from the diaspora remittances, cutting out a layer of transaction fees.
Consumers transacting on the app are encouraged to add a tree for only $1.50 on checkout once they have filled their basket. Kuva bundles in a tree with every purchase of its own sparkling wine, called Pau Lily, as well as for any purchase of a case of their Koovha beer. “By embedding the cost of planting an indigenous tree into the sale price of a consumer product, Koovha has opened up the possibility of reforestation on a mass scale without people even realising it,” says James Saruchera, founder of Kuva.
Kuva Local is working with My Trees Trust Zimbabwe to plant indigenous trees. They employ people around the country and especially in rural areas to plant these trees, creating much needed employment opportunities in these communities. After a 6 month pilot, Kuva Local has grown its team to over 30 people and is now looking to scale and expand to East Africa. The importance of planting trees has been covered here on CleanTechnica, and you can also read more articles on reforestation initiatives around the world here
Planting trees is something that we all can do quite easily, and what we should all do to help save the planet. Kuva Local’s initiative makes it easier, as it does all the physical work with its partners.
All images courtesy of Kuva and Asambe.