The Sunday News
Judith Phiri, Sunday News Reporter
IT’S that time of the season again, where the southern parts of the country, particularly Matabeleland South Province and parts of Masvingo are known for their richness in mopane forests and when the rains are good, thousands of people descend there to harvest mopane worms (imbrassia belina) known in Ndebele as amacimbi and madora in Shona for consumption and commercial purposes.
In previous years, hordes of people from across the country would descend on these parts of the country and set camp there in similar fashion to the gold and diamond rushes that are often experienced in the country.
The mopane worms are an undoubtable delicacy and fetches good money on the market just like kapenta fish. Their abundance in mopane forests is, however, not without scary and interesting stories to go with.
Stories of people setting up temporary shelter in the forest, snake bites as people will also have invaded the reptiles’ space and competing with them for their food, and rampant prostitution in the camps have been told in previous years.
This time around, due to the Covid-19 pandemic regulations, people who used to travel from as far as Gweru, Bulawayo, Harare, Nkayi, Beitbridge, Masvingo among other places to catch the highly nutritious mopane worms have been restricted much to the delight of the locals who rightly claim ownership of the delicacy.
Villagers in Kezi and other areas of Matabeleland South Province will this time around harvest in excess as there will be no influx of people coming from all over the country to harvest the crawling gold nuggets — amacimbi due to the stringent restrictions on travelling that have been set to curb the spread of Covid-19.
With over 13 867 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 363 deaths in the country by 31 December 2020, police and the Forestry Commission urged residents not to set up camps while harvesting mopane worms as it was against Covid-19 regulations.
The conditions have somehow affected the travelling en masse of people from all over the country to areas where amacimbi are found where they would threaten the survival of the insect and the environment at large.
Sunday News, caught up with some villagers at Maphisa Growth Point who said they were relieved that there were no crowds flocking in their area to harvest the commercial delicacy. Villagers were freely picking up the worms from the ground, with no need to climb trees, let alone cut them down.
“Before we used to take hours to fill one bucket in the bushes, but as you can see this whole bucket will be filled in no time just from picking up amacimbi on the ground with my children,” said Mrs Fiona Ncube, a villager in Kezi, as she picked the worms with her three children.
Carrying bucket loads strolling back and forth, to their homesteads Kezi villagers murmured how lovely it was for them to freely harvest the delicacy they used to fight over with poachers who came from different parts of the country to harvest in their area.
In Maphisa there was a sigh of relief with residents saying they will harvest more than enough to sustain them three more cycles of the mopane worms.
Others said for the 2021/22 rain season they will not be able to harvest the worms due to the abundance they harvested this period.
Mr Larrington Dube of Ward 6 in Maphisa said: “We do not even know what we will do. This time around we will be selling amacimbi throughout the year because they are plenty plus. If the restrictions continue we will be fortunate enough to have much more at the end of the year when the rains come again.”
Over the years, environmentalists have raised a red flag noting that the delicacy is facing extremely high risk of extinction in the wild due to over-harvesting and deforestation.
The Government and local authorities last year tried to intervene in the haphazard harvesting of the delicacy, to protect the environment by attempting to introduce licences that will be issued to individuals intending to harvest amacimbi under areas of its jurisdictions as a way of monetising the venture.
However, these have failed with people continuously harvesting the mopane worms. Over the years, some unscrupulous individuals would even resort to cutting down trees and going to harvest the mopane worms far off from the eyes of the authorities, thereby acutely contributing to the problem of deforestation in the areas.
Contrary to the previous years, the 2020/21 rainy season has left some rhetorically saying if ever the mopane worms could record their history, this year would be recorded as their independence year.
With some, if not most being able to live their whole cycle without the interference of human beings in some areas where people will not be able to go to due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
Many have predicted vast and overpopulation of amacimbi in December 2021 with them finishing most mopane trees leaves as they increase in numbers.