Bernard Chiketo 1 January 2017
CHIMANIMANI – A mysterious black fungi epidemic threatens to wipe the
giant baobab trees particularly in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani district.
Forestry Commission Provincial Manager Phillip Tomu said his organisation
was concerned and conducting studies on the impact the bacteria could have
on baobab populations.
“We are aware and carrying out some studies on effects of fungi and its
impact on baobab species in Zimbabwe especially in Nyanyadzi area,” Tomu
told Daily News on Sunday in an interview.
Worryingly their demise could pull the rug from locals’ livelihood and
economic foundations because almost every part of the tree is useful.
Its bark is used to make mates and various other artefacts; its leaves are
used as relish; its seed roasted to make coffee, its fruit used to make
porridge, something they fall back on during droughts and its seedlings
are harvested for its juicy bulb roots.
Although the bacteria is a mystery to locals, in South Africa it is listed
among the major threats to baobab trees as it has an impressive
resilience in arid regions as it has the capacity to live for more than a
South African farmers have been reporting of blackened and dying trees for
several years now with resultant studies pinning the problem on the fungi.
Debarking of the tree for making mates and other ascetic artefacts is the
biggest predisposition to the bacteria that is threatening baobab across
the southern African region, scientists say.
Mike Wingfield of the University of Pretoria who participated in one of
the studies said their working theory was that the fungus only takes hold
when a tree is already damaged.
“One theory is that elephants are damaging them,” Wingfield, the director
at Pretoria’s Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute.
“I think elephants eat and damage, the stems of the trees… and then
these secondary organisms start to infest on them.”
It is however human, not elephant damage, that are combining to distress
the plant locally.
And in Nyanyadzi, the theory is proving to be true because instead of
elephants its locals who routinely debark the trees to make mates giving
room for infection by the fungi which appears to be spread by wind.
“The disease initially attacked damaged trees but it’s spreading to other
trees,” Environment Africa’s Lawrence Nyagwande observed.
Extended drought may also be stressing the trees, reducing their ability
to withstand the fungus, a local environmentalist Moses Chimedza warned.
“Although baobab is amazingly resilient and is like a cactus in that it is
spongy and stores up water in its bulging stem it is vulnerable to
“Nyanyadzi area has not had any meaningful rain in a long time and has
been experiencing extremely high temperatures due to weather extremes that
come with climate change which could possibly have a cumulative effect of
weakening them against disease,” Chimedza said.
Worryingly, locals are professing ignorance about the risk their
activities are posing to the survival of the tree species they depend so
much on for their livelihoods.
Gideon Chiurwi, a Nyanyadzi villager said the disease appeared from
nowhere and has been spreading more notably over the past few years.
“We used to count trees with this conditions in one hand but currently
almost every other tree is affected.
“This will affect us so much. Nyanyadzi is famed for its crafts and these
trees are the source of our livelihoods,” a downcast Chiurwi said.
National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe Eastern Region director Paul
Mupira, whose organisation has investigated the regeneration challenges of
the tree as there are very few young trees in the area said the situation
“Baobab regeneration is under severe strain because of the mysterious
disease with the few plants that take root are destroyed by livestock and
people also use the small plants as vegetables.
“There is need to continue research to adequately inform any
interventions,” Mupira says.