The Sunday Mail
Mash Central Bureau
MOST urban communities in Zimbabwe have an abysmal record of managing and conserving wetlands.
Authorities have, for years, laboured with enforcing sustainable wetland management regulations in urban areas, with the development of illegal settlements on fragile wetland environments now commonplace.
Environmentalists have singled out the continued destruction of wetlands as the biggest threat to natural ecosystems in urban areas.
However, some rural communities in Mashonaland West are providing valuable lessons on how communities can organise themselves and sustainably manage and benefit from wetlands that surround them.
A small village in rural Bindura has employed a sustainable model of properly managing and conserving a wetland while drawing expedient benefits there from since 1997.
A community-led horticulture project on a wetland in Chingwaru village is being touted as a model for sustainable conservation, which can also be deployed in urban communities.
Today, the Chingwaru garden project provides over 70 families with sustainable income sources and has secured household nutritional supplies for the families.
The project is based on the amalgamation of conservation agriculture on a wetland and strict adherence to environmental management best practices.
Through collaborating with the Environmental Management Agency, Forestry Commission and Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (Agritex), the community has moulded an execellent model of practicing sustainable agriculture on wetlands.
Mrs Shupikai Hungwe, who chairs the garden project, told The Sunday Mail that an increasing number of people from surrounding urban communities are relocating to Chingwaru to join the burgeoning project.
This, she said, was testament to the project’s success.
The community has set up an expansive fruit and vegetable garden on an eight-hectare plot that includes an orchard with an array of exotic and indigenous fruit trees.
They also have a sprawling vegetable garden.
“In 1997, EMA provided us with a fence to secure our garden against livestock,” Mrs Hungwe said, outlining how the project started.
“The Forestry Commission then gave us orange and sun span banana trees which we used to start an orchard and mark our boundaries.”
In 2008, the garden was voted the best wetland conservation agriculture project in Mashonaland West.
“We are managing to send our children to school through this garden.
“It has enabled women to start savings and credit co-operatives.
“We don’t struggle to find a market because people from urban centres come here to buy fresh farm produce.”
Mrs Hungwe said before the garden was established, women from the village travelled long distances in search of fresh vegetables.
“Before we had this garden, women used to walk 30 kilometres to Tsunda Irrigation Scheme to buy vegetables for resell here.
“This was detrimental to their health because most of them would travel such a long distance with babies strapped on their backs
“We would keep the tomatoes that would have gone bad for use in the kitchen, while we sold the good ones.”
This is all now a thing of the past, she said.
The community uses conservation farming methods in order to protect the ecosystem.
“We do not allow the use of ploughs or tractors for tilling,” she said.
“We only do holing and mulching for consecutive years and only use hoes when necessary.
“We leave waterways free so that we do not disturb the wetland.”
Mrs Hungwe said at the onset of the current summer cropping season last year, the community was already harvesting and selling green maize cobs.
“We use the proceeds to buy farming inputs,” she added.
Village head Chingwaru said the garden has improved the standard of living for people in his village. He said cases of Gender-based Violence have decreased because couples are spending their time being productive.