TREES, yes, the first human experience, according to what we believers read from holy writ, had to do with a fruit tree, and in particular, the one in which the Lord bestowed his source of knowledge.
We also read that the first inhabitants of Planet Earth, Adam and Madam Eve lived almost entirely on fruit, which made them easy target for temptation to explore the tastes of trees, including that of the Forbidden One. Until then, neither Adam nor Eve had become privy to the immense medicinal properties invested in trees – because there wasn’t any need then, their whole world being free of disease.
Yes, they lived a plain heavenly sanctuary within that Garden – of Eden – which we lost to the world’s most accomplished liar. Now dispossessed of the Garden, and infested with all manner of disease, we live now just on fruit but also medicines extracted mostly from trees, save for a few artificial drugs.
In Tanzania, we import nearly all – 94 per cent to be exact – of all the drugs we need in this country, and this, in a country known for its beautiful trees, some with unique medicinal properties. Now word is out – from the country’s highest authority – asking both local foreign investors to put their money into drug-making plants so that we could save some of that money for creating jobs for the youth. And, that word couldn’t have come at a better moment.
The current budget for medicines, reagents and other medical supplies has jumped from just 31bn/- over the past few years to some 260bn/- for the current financial year, with additional funding from development partners summing up to 500bn/- per year.
The Usambara mountains remain the country’s richest reservoirs of medicinal plants, as are other high-altitude areas across the United Republic. Instead of spreading out scarce resources into expensive imports, we need to spend the little there is into plants that could enable us make our own drugs locally. We could reap double, if not triple, benefits from these initiatives; we’ll be saving limited finances as well as training our own people in the art of drug-making.
Time was when we could boast the best medical personnel across the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region, notably the first crop of laboratory technicians who were literally ‘mobbed’ by our neighbours within SADC.
A story is told of a senior government official – a cabinet minister, in fact -- who was referred to a facility in Pretoria, at a time when going to South Africa for even the most mundane medical check-ups was still in vogue, where the doctor attending to him asked why the man was sent over there, in the first place, because the doctor he was consulting was a recent graduate from Muhimbili’s then Faculty of Medicine, which could attract students from as farther afield as the Gambia.
Yes, I still recall receiving a tall, black young man named Jack, who had come to the Reference section at the medical library where I once worked. And, yes, that’s how far word of mouth – in favour of Muhimbili graduates – had gone. Botswana, in particular, was one of the biggest ‘importers’ of Tanzanian medics of all cadres. Little has changed, apart perhaps, from increasing enrollments in graduate medical studies over the years.
That means one particular positive element about the president’s call: We have the manpower (and womanpower, too, yea?) to run the show on our own. In my kind of planet, that’s the way we would interpret the president’s call – in terms of its ‘multiplier effect’ to other sectors of the country’s economy. In terms of public awareness, extracting medicines and other medical supplies from trees would teach those among us who are ‘axe-happy’ that chopping down trees means cutting ourselves off the very source of future medical supplies.
Just as silly as chopping at a branch below where we ourselves are perched, if not sillier, since we may lose both the branch and some limbs into the bargain. On a larger canvass, we learn that trees also act as the ‘lungs’ of Planet Earth, soaking carbon dioxide in the manufacture of its foods and releasing fresh oxygen for human lungs to breathe properly. Even fairly ‘educated’ men and women often forget, or simply push it aside, for economic expediency.
And, in a hurry to find forest ‘witches’ we often blame female folk for ‘deforesting’ the land every time they go looking for fuelwood to cook the family meal. Nothing could be farther from truth; the poor women often go for twigs, and already dead and dried twigs for that matter. As big-time charcoal burning tradesmen (often men, mark this) go for lucrative charcoal middlemen from urban centres, we still find the time – and excuse – to blame the women for shaving the land clear of trees.
With the president’s call for locally manufactured drugs, we now know not just where to go, but also what to conserve. For our trees do not only provide us with food, but are also a source of cure when we fall sick.
The best tree is the one left standing, we counsel.