Zimbabwe’s anti-deforestation youth innovators

Emma Zihonye

For Kupakwashe Kabanya Dane Chapanga ,both 12 years old, the alarming rate of deforestation occurring in Zimbabwe due to the high demand for wood prompted them to develop an innovative alternative. Witnessing the devastating destruction of forests and the resulting loss of animal habitats inspired them to take action.

“We made a decision to create an alternative for wood by utilising waste materials from our school,” Chapanga explained.

“By burning this waste and combining it with a special adhesive.The output proved to be stone hard after drying it and we were able to produce a compact material suitable for making furniture. Our aim is to reduce the rate of deforestation and preserve our ecosystem.”

These two students are currently enrolled in the sixth grade at Westridge Primary School in Belvedere, Harare.

Kupakwashe Kabanya Dane Chapanga

Kupakwashe and Dane put their idea into action and began building an incinerator with the help of their science teacher, Elias Kapuya at Westridge Primary School who expressed his admiration for thier commitment to environmental management during their science lessons.

“When Kupakwashe and Chapanga approached me with their brilliant idea, I was not only their teacher but also an environmental enthusiast. I willingly supported them in gathering the necessary supplies and provided assistance with technical aspects they were not familiar with, such as constructing the incinerator capable of safely burning plastics and paper,” said Kapuya.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, Zimbabwe experiences one of the highest rates of deforestation globally. Wood serves as the primary source of energy, accounting for over 60% of the country’s total energy supply. Additionally, nearly 98% of rural communities depend on fuelwood for cooking and heating purposes.

Between 2000 and 2010, the rate of deforestation escalated to 327,000 hectares per year, significantly impacting ecosystems, biodiversity, and people’s livelihoods. This rate remains the highest in southern Africa, underscoring the urgent need to address the adverse consequences of deforestation in the country.

Amkela Sidange, the Environmental Education and Publicity Manager at the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), emphasized the importance of integrating environmental education into the curriculum to empower students to become influential agents of change.

“The Environmental Management Agency recognizes environmental projects being done at schools as a crucial starting point to foster a culture of conservation and innovations among children. It is vital as it addresses environmental issues and empowers school children with the knowledge and skills to effectively address challenges of pollution and  environmental management. By engaging students through these clubs, we can cultivate a sense of environmental responsibility and promote sustainable practices among the younger generation,” she said.

Zimbabwe is home to some of the world’s most significant biodiversity hotspots, with over 5,930 plant species and over 1,360 animal species. Currently, forests cover approximately 45% of the country’s total land area. However, deforestation has become a growing concern, causing forests to vanish at an alarming pace.

The students showcased their project at the 2023 Zimbabwe Science Fair, where their creative innovations earned them prestigious awards, placing them third in the competition. They also represented Zimbabwe  at the South African Youth Engineering and Science Symposium, where they secured the third position.

The Zimbabwe Science Fair serves as a prominent platform where the nation’s most talented young scientists and engineers convene to showcase their innovative ideas aimed at addressing the pressing challenges faced by society. It brings together exceptionally bright minds dedicated to developing groundbreaking ideas that have the potential to address the most pressing challenges faced by society. The young scientists and engineers have earned accolades in renowned international science competitions such as the Regeneron ISEF, highlighting their remarkable competitiveness on a global scale.

Notably, the fair actively encourages participation from budding innovators at the primary level, fostering a culture of scientific curiosity and ingenuity from an early age.

Kupakwashe and Dane diligently collect litter around the school and burn it in the incinerator they constructed. Once reduced to ashes, the material is compacted using glue and left to dry, resulting in a wood-like hardness.

Deforestation is a global issue that significantly contributes to global warming. It is for this reason that Kupakwashe and Chapanga aspire to expand their project worldwide.

“Our ultimate goal is to make our project global and potentially mass-produce furniture, thereby reducing the rate of deforestation. What sets our project apart is its unique approach to recycling, its contribution to halting deforestation, its role in biodiversity preservation, and its environmentally friendly incinerator equipped with a smoke-trapping fan,” Kupakwashe explained.

Every year, Zimbabwe loses approximately 330,000 hectares (815,450 acres) of forests. This loss is mainly due to activities like wood farming and the need for firewood in homes, as reported by the Forestry Commission.

Currently, the forest and woodland resources in Zimbabwe occupy 45% of the country’s landarea. This represents a decrease from the previous measurement of 53% in 2014.

Kupakwashe and Dane said they have set their sights on becoming environmentally friendly businessmen, aiming to mass-produce furniture for the nation.

“Our  innovative project not only offers a sustainable alternative to wood but also addresses the pressing issue of deforestation. By utilizing waste materials and employing an environmentally friendly incinerator, they are making a significant contribution to preserving the ecosystem and biodiversity,” said Dane.

According to World Wide Fund for Nature trees are very important in people’s lives because they act as the lungs of the planet. Through the process of photosynthesis, trees pull carbon out of the air, store it, and replace it with oxygen.

It is estimated that forests store 22 billion tonnes of carbon within their trunks, roots, and the surrounding soil. Just four trees can store the equivalent carbon that a car produces in an entire year.

Zimbabwe’s rich biodiversity and extensive forest resources make the conservation of its natural environment a critical priority.

 The innovation by Kupakwashe and Dane in developing an alternative to wood and reducing deforestation contributes to the preservation of the country’s unique ecosystems and habitats.Their project not only addresses the urgent need to reduce deforestation but also highlights the power of young minds to effect positive change.

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