Here is the third instalment in our mini blog series on the crucial topic of the environment.
We are often asked if teak tees are re-planted artificially, and to answer that we first have to explain the practice of managing natural forests. That process is known as SILVICULTURE which is officially defined as “the practice of controlling the growth, health and quality of forests to meet diverse needs and values”.
In our case, that applies to the growing of teak in the diverse forests of the Kalahari sands in the North West of Zimbabwe.
Primarily, we need to ensure the sustainable harvesting of these indigenous trees, and to protect them against fire and agriculture, including overgrazing of the areas by domestic livestock.
The felling of older and larger trees is not always a bad thing. In fact it can and does promote the growth of the smaller trees by leaving more nutrition, and letting in the light for them to propagate and grow healthily. Generally speaking, as a result, many more baby trees spring up each year, no re-planting is then necessary. What is needed is the promotion of the correct environment in which these forests can thrive and, if that balance is maintained, the growth of timber, its sustainable harvesting and the health of the forest can be achieved.
Fire, together with tree predation by animals, such as elephant, eland, porcupines and rhino, have been the traditional non-human factors affecting forests. Porcupines often feed off the bark at the foot of trees, leaving dry dead areas of the tree which will then become more susceptible to fire. However the fire damage is often not too serious as the grass and woody shrubs in these areas are sparse, resulting in smaller and less destructive fires. To a certain extent, the trees are naturally fire protected by the nature of the bark and sap.
It is also important not to over-graze the Kalahari sand areas with cattle, as this leads to drastic changes in the eco balance which in turn affects the health of the forest. Once again, we are all aware of the “woody re-growth” which results from over-grazing and other non-sustainable agricultural practices.
In addition, many of our forest areas do splendid duty as wildlife reserves where tourism and sustainable hunting occur. This is a wonderful compliment to sustainable timber harvesting.
One of our directors once owned a fine farm in the Kalahari sand area. This farm was harvested of mature teak trees in the 1950s and 60s, leaving just the younger trees. By the 1980s a healthy forest had rejuvenated and grown, and visitors to the area appreciated it fully without even being aware that it had once been sustainably harvested. In fact most casual observers are unaware that after just one rainy season, any teak forest has been harvested.