The Sunday News
Vioncent Gono, News Editor
THE Marongere community in the Zimuto area is little known. It is tucked in the sprawling Masvingo District of Masvingo Province. Like so many rural areas in the country, the villagers survive on subsistence agriculture whose fortunes have been on the downside due to the vagaries of climate change.
But even before climate change became apparent, their agricultural produce was suffering a knock.
There was an uncharacteristic dryness of part of their community, which used to be marshy and swampy, a sign that the abundant water provided by the closeness of the water table to the ground surface was slowly disappearing.
It was an extensive wetland. One covering 8,4 hectares of land — the Gokoro wetland and another covering 3,6 hectares — the Chimudyahoto wetland.
“We used to grow crops here, maize and rice and we would often have a good harvest. Even during drought years when rains were scarce, we knew we would get something from this area and supply the villages beyond. It was always wet.
There were springs too and we used to believe that the area was sacred and therefore it was revered,” said a village elder.
As years went by, the area started to experience some dryness and villagers were watching in vain as their source of food and water was slowly disappearing.
The villagers had a way of keeping it, of preserving it and it was through indigenous knowledge systems which they say were no longer followed owing to changes in generations some of whom thought the traditional ways were archaic and needed to be abandoned.
“Those of us who are old enough knew how good the area was. We even knew how to protect it using our traditional ways and we would derive the benefits. We didn’t know about this climate change thing. It came to us recently. We only believed our ancestors were angry because there was too much trespassing in the area that we believed was sacred,” he added.
The villagers, are, however, grateful to the efforts of various stakeholders led by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) that has seen the revival of the two wetlands in their community where more than 60 villagers are set to benefit from the restored wetlands.
That would come through community gardens, which are being mooted and supported by the Government through the Marongere Integrated Catchment Management Project. Speaking at the occasion to mark the World Wetlands Day in Zimuto on Tuesday, Masvingo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Cde Ezra Chadzamira said he was pleased with the amount of work that had been done on the two wetlands in the community.
“They are recovering from the degradation that they have suffered in the past years. The Government, through the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), brought this project (of reviving the wetlands) to this community in a bid to ensure that these two wetlands are protected and that the livelihoods of the community are improved.
“I am pleased to note that the wetland areas have been fenced-off and are significantly recovering as evidenced by the high species density and improved biodiversity,” said Minister Chadzamira.
Expanding on the “Wetlands for Sustainable Livelihoods” theme of the day, the minister said the theme highlights how interconnected wetlands and human life were as people draw sustenance, inspiration and resilience from the productive ecosystems.
He said human well-being was irrevocably tied to the state of the wetlands around them hinting that the Government was going to initiate bee-keeping and fish farming projects in the communities to eliminate hunger, improve nutrition and their overall well-being.
He urged the Marongere community that is dependent on the two wetlands to continue working together to protect the sensitive ecosystems and also protect all the infrastructure that the Government was putting in place.
“Wetlands provide us with water and food, they support biodiversity, they provide livelihoods, they protect all species from extreme weather events, they help mitigate against climate change and provide a habitat for various plant and animal species. Investing in the sustainable use of wetlands means investing in the future of humanity.”
Minister Chadzamira highlighted that the Government had deployed resources to establish two community gardens with one having already been fenced while its borehole has been solarised.
“I am also pleased to note that the Government has already set aside funds to establish two community gardens one of which has already been fenced and has its borehole solarised. The Government is committed to ensuring that these two community gardens improve the nutrition and income of all community members in line with the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1).”
He called on the communities to ensure the success of President Mnangagwa’s Agriculture 8.0 which brought poultry, nutritional gardens, fisheries, goats scheme and many other projects to the communities.
Minister Chadzamira noted that despite their many socio-economic benefits, wetlands have often been under-appreciated while wetlands management have been overlooked in development and planning, something he said had changed as all wetlands have now been mapped for mainstreaming in development planning.
“The Government through EMA has mapped all wetlands in the province, including those found in our urban centres and all rural service centres. This is going to go a long way in the management and protection of these wetlands as guided by the Ramsar Convention. Wetlands provide various communities with multiple economic, social and cultural benefits that support human well-being, so wetland restoration is essential to the well-being of humans. The contributions that wetlands make to human well-being have often been under-appreciated.”
He added that it was worrying that the world has lost 85 percent of its wetlands over the years, noting that they were disappearing three times faster than natural forests.
“Wetland degradation is mainly attributed to human activities like drainage and infilling for agriculture and construction, pollution, overfishing and overgrazing, infestation by invasive alien species, climate change and trampling by livestock and humans. In the last decade, our country has lost a significant amount of wetlands to illegal human activities,” said Minister Chadzamira.
His sentiments were echoed by the Director of Civil Protection Unit, Mr Nathan Nkomo, who said the country was seized with the issue of illegal settlements that were an affront to the environment conservation efforts that the country was making.
He said the mushrooming of settlements in wetlands and other prohibited areas were a fight by humans against nature but in the end nature always wins the fight but that was usually associated with costs of moving people away.
“We have a big problem with people who just plant themselves wherever they want, in waterways, floodplains, wetlands and other ecologically sensitive areas. They are destroying the natural environment and it becomes costly when nature fights back. We are led to bear the cost of evacuation from the little resources we have in our purse. Local authorities and those in charge of land allocation should help us by doing the right thing in the first instance. EMA should help us by invoking the relevant statutes and arrest those who deliberately ignore environment issues in planning and development,” said Mr Nkomo.
He said it is worrying that construction on wetlands has become commonplace in the country with slow but perfunctory steps being taken to stop those that are doing so while enforcement of relevant legislation seems painful.
“Nature always correct the recklessness of town planners, local authorities, individual land barons, property developers and companies as it always claims its traditional space and routes much to the suffering of those who by way of innocence or complicity stood in its way,” he said.
He said that was so because the scope of conservation of water and its sources in the country had been limited to lakes, dams, tanks and other man-made water reservoirs with little attention having been paid to the wetlands, while their many ecological functions have equally been ignored.
He said all that was done in the face of a clear legislative ammunition on wetlands provided in Section 113 of the Environmental Management Act (Chapter 20:27), Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA and the Ecosystems Protection Regulations) which provides for the minister to declare any wetland to be an ecologically sensitive area and gives him/her the power to impose limitations on development in or around such an area.
And apart from a comprehensive and often not followed legislative framework the country is a member of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, the Ramsar Convention – an inter-governmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international co-operation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
Wetlands, according to EMA, provide an important habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, trap moderate amounts of soil from running off nearby uplands before they enter lakes and streams. They maintain and improve water quality by filtering contaminants and excessive nutrients as well as renew ground water supplies.
Wetlands also help control flooding and reduce flood damage and further support recreational activities including fish, hunting, nature appreciation and bird watching and are a source of economically valuable products such as wild rice and commercial fishing.
National Climate Change Management Director Mr Washington Zhakata said the importance of wetlands could never be over-emphasised in the climate change and food security matrix.
He said elevated temperatures caused by climate change were enhancing evaporative losses and as precipitation was gradually decreasing, there were signs of reduced run-off and discharge into the rivers from the wetlands.
He said wetlands also prevent flooding by holding water much like a sponge adding that by doing so, wetlands help keep river levels normal and filter and purify the surface water. Research has shown that wetlands accept water during storms and whenever water levels are high.
When water levels are low, wetlands slowly release water and vegetative matter into rivers, which helps feed fish in the rivers. Wetlands help to counter balance the human effect on rivers by rejuvenating them and surrounding ecosystems while many animals that live in other habitats use wetlands for migration or reproduction.