Despite the fact that wetlands are essential in purifying and replenishing water and suitable for rice production, farming in wetlands without practicing good methods harms them and disturbs their conservation and sustainability. In Zimbabwe, wetlands are facing massive destruction due to haphazard urban land use among other harmful practices. The unprecedented destruction needs urgent redress to preserve the few wetlands sites left in areas such as Buhera South.
In the drought-prone areas of Buhera South, residents are carrying out farming activities in a manner that is least caring of wetland conservation. Wetland degradation is so rampant and this is already affecting different life forms such as fish, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and so on.
Consequently, wetland ecosystems are usually threatened either by an increased rate of erosion that leads to either gradual downstream removal of deposits, rapid creation of a channel cut in the earth by running water after continuous rains. Constant digging, overgrazing as well as natural disasters like hurricanes or flooding can result in the lowering of the water table and the depletion of wetlands.
Wetlands are defined as areas of marsh, fen, and peatland, or water including marine zones whether natural or permanent or temporary, with water that is static, or where its depth does not exceed 6 meters.
The reliance on cultivating wetlands in an otherwise dry region has been practiced for centuries, with serious consequences that are visible for all to see today.
It is believed wetland cultivation in Buhera South began during the Iron Age. When whites came they changed wetland usage policies in order to conserve them, for example, the Mainzo wetland in Buhera was once owned by whites then later passed on to the nearby community that is misusing it through unbridled agricultural activities. Though the cultivation of wetlands in Buhera South can make a contribution to food and livelihood, the benefits are short-term.
Wetlands are generally regarded as sacred in Zimbabwe and the majority of them are associated with rituals. However, the current wetland cultivation has been happening without the consent of the community elders in Buhera South. Notwithstanding this, the degradation of wetlands in Buhera South happening through the activities of rural peasant farming is approaching unacceptable levels due to several activities which include cultivation, grazing, and other harmful human activities.
Citizens seem to forget that wetlands are fragile ecosystems as they look at the immediate benefits they get from utilizing them. Their continued existence depends on the maintenance of a delicate balance between soils water and vegetation. This balance is very important since a change in any of the features can result in changes in the wetland ecosystem.
Zimbabwe is endowed with various natural resources including wetlands. These cover 3 percent of the
Country (11717,4 square kilometers). Of the available wetlands, a meager 21 percent are stable while 18 percent are severely degraded and moderately degraded. This excludes reservoirs, dams, and impoundments that cover 652,151ha and permanent rivers and streams that cover over 5,700km.
The country has two categories of wetlands which are inland wetlands and man-made wetlands, the former tends to decrease with decreasing amount of mean annual rainfall from agroecological Natural Regions 1-5. All these types of wetlands represent complex hydrological and hydrogeology patterns of wetlands influenced by amounts of rainfall received and its drainage, respectively, and later influenced by the soils and the hydrogeology.
In Buhera South various efforts are being done in conserving wetlands through cultivating 30 meters away from these areas and NGOs are mobilizing peasant farmers to practice climate change resilient agriculture without disturbing the remaining wetlands. On the other hand, the community is being urged to practice permaculture thus living the wetland environment undisturbed as well as imposing fines for environmental disturbances, particularly wetland. Thus Chidziyamhango wetland in ward 28 Village 5 is being conserved and protected by SAFIRE in line with Environmental Management Act (EMA) 2020, keen to protect wetlands for posterity.
Wetlands cultivation is rampant in Buhera South because the area generally receives little rainfall annually. This has led to a lot of wetland degradation, especially as women and youths carry out farming activities, sometimes resulting in siltation.’’ said Mr. Enerst Marange Provincial Environmental Planning and Monitoring Officer of Environmental Management Agency. (EMA). Listen to the audio here
‘’The wetlands are sacred, so we don’t want people that denigrate the ancestors when in the wetlands as well as bringing items like soap, and tin with soot. We also do not allow the cutting down of trees, if one is caught cutting down trees they are prosecuted ’’ Headman Sauti Mafudza. See video here
However, a youth at Sambanzou said ‘’Wetlands are getting destroyed as residents are cutting down trees in and around wetlands’’ Ms. Mufudza Suwisa. See video here
In Buhera South women and youths grow crops in wetlands to ensure food security for their families. Thus a lot of advocacy needs to be directed to women and youths to ensure that they are able to manage and safeguard wetlands for posterity, especially given that more than 64% of wetlands have been destroyed according to RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands.
People in Buhera South especially women are not cultivating in wetlands out of ignorance but they are forced by poverty and the harsh economic realities obtaining in Zimbabwe
“We are growing rice, bananas, beans, and maize at Sambanzou wetland. We have water problems thus practicing farming in wetlands. The buyers for their crops are paying very little when buying products from us’’. See video here
To this end, women’s participation in wetland and water governance structures must be actively supported at all levels, including their participation in leadership meant to oversee the conservation, and management of wetlands. To achieve this, gender issues ought to systematically and adequately be included in wetland, water, and cross-sectoral policies and plans in order to contribute to the implementation by 2030 of Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equity and Goal 6 on Water.
All efforts to conserve wetlands must take note of the economic, social, and cultural benefits that value wetland–based livelihoods are formally recognized. Further to this, it is crucial to identify and successfully implement appropriate solutions to enhance women and youths’ participation in wetland and water management.
The more clear challenge is that rural communities need to eke out a living and with persistent droughts common in areas like Buhera South women, youths and men resort to wetlands tilling to maximize production with the desperate hope of looking after their families. Even though wetlands are regarded sacred in the Zimbabwean cultural and traditional understanding, no one seems to pay attention to this as the community is worried about putting food on their tables. This calls for serious education amongst the communities to grow small grain crops. Small grain crops such as rapoko, sorghum, and millet do not require a lot of rain hence will do well in region 5 like Buhera South where rains are frequently inadequate.