THERE is growing evidence that the quality and quantity of Zimbabwe's natural resources is diminishing fast, posing threats to communities and the economy which are reliant on sustainable exploitation of the resources, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has said.
The First Lady is the country's patron of the environment and was speaking at a senator chiefs' conference on tourism, wildlife and the environment. She said traditional leaders were the custodians of the environment and natural resources who should be given the opportunity to provide wisdom and leadership to national institutions on issues which affect their constituencies.
"Honourable Ministers, senator chiefs, it is important that I highlight some of the key environmental challenges that I have witnessed in my various visits around the country. A closer look at our soils, lands, water, air, plants and animals reveals disturbing and troubling signs of over use and diminishing quality and availability of these precious natural resources. There is growing evidence that both the quality and quantity of our natural resources is diminishing fast," she said.
Amai Mnangagwa, who has in the past personally led environmental protection and tree-planting campaigns, voiced concern on the increase in human-wildlife conflicts.
"I have noted with sadness the increase in human wildlife conflict cases which have in most circumstances been fatal. Many of our communities have borne the brunt of living with wildlife without meaningful benefits. I hope this is one of the issues to be addressed through the approved new Campfire framework as you move to implement it," she said.
"This new frame work will increase community benefits and participation, but I implore the ministry to ensure that communities are adequately capacitated through their traditional leaders to manage wildlife as a business," she said.
Poaching, the First Lady said, was on the increase and had become an ill-fate in the country.
Wildlife, she added, continued to be poisoned by cartels of sophisticated syndicates of poachers.
"Coupled with the issue of poaching is the continued deforestation across the country and our magnificent and attractive forest landscape is under threat as large tracts of land are being lost to deforestation, especially for tobacco curing. The situation has been made worse by communities which are encroaching in wildlife and other protected areas. I therefore call upon our traditional leaders to play a critical role to safeguard resources with their locals. Taikumbira kuti mitemo isimbiswe kumadzimambo kuitira kuti kuparwa kwedzimhosva dzakaita sekupisa masango nekutema miti kuite kushoma," she said.
She said the degradation of wetlands and pollution of water bodies which were on the increase needed to end.
"Zimbabwe's wetlands play a pivotal role in providing ecosystem services and goods such as clean water and recharge for our rivers and dams, however, their sustainability is marred by incompatible developments, incessant pollution in the form of sewage, litter as well as proliferation of invasive plant species such as water hyacinth. Unsustainable utilisation of our water resources will in the long run deplete our water resources and ultimately derail us from achieving Vision 2030."
Wildfires, the First Lady said, were posing a huge threat to human lives and their livelihoods while also reducing the productive capacity of the land and their livelihoods and destroying property.
"In last year's fire season alone, more than a million hectares were destroyed by these destructive fires. In some seasons we have lost lives and huge property investments to these ravaging fires. Water availability remains critical for the social and economic development of this country. The right to water ranks high among other fundamental rights and there is need to make water available," she said.
Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo said the involvement of chiefs in environmental issues helped them appreciate the need to protect natural resources.
"In looking at the Constitution, chapters 14 and 15 of the bill of rights, chapter 15 which relates to chiefs, emphasises issues of the environment and natural resources. Also the Traditional Leaders Act, if we look at the powers of chiefs, headmen and village heads, the issue of protecting natural resources is highlighted. Therefore, i want to thank the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry for inviting chiefs to this important conference because the country's resources need to be protected," he said.
Minister Moyo's explanations dovetailed with what his Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry counterpart Mangaliso Ndlovu said.
"This conference is convened to provide a platform for our senator chiefs to give us their feedback and indeed wisdom as we execute our work. We would have loved to meet all our chiefs because our work is entrenched in our communities but the Covid-19 restrictions limited us. We therefore invited our senator chiefs with the hope that this programme will be cascaded to provinces so that every chief in this country will have an opportunity to inform our policy as far as environment, climate, tourism and hospitality issues are concerned," he said.
Earlier in the day, Minister Ndlovu said he had attended the launch of the fire week at Gwebi Agricultural College.
"Your excellency Amai, we were launching the fire week in Mashonaland West Province because this is the province where we have experienced the worst fires, the biggest land under veld fires is Mash West. Mash central is quite close and also Mashonaland East Province. We have realised that areas that are closer to chiefs, communal areas are better contained and managed in terms of veld fires. 60 percent of veld fires are in A1 and A2 farmers. We want to utilise this platform to see how we can collectively address the issue of veld fires in A1 and A2 farms. We realised that of the 18 000 A2 farmers only about 400 have 99 year leases and its only in the 99year lease that you find provisions of environmental protection so there is a good chance that most of the A2 farmers do not know that at law they are supposed to put fire guards. They are supposed to put measures that will suppress the spread of veld fires. We have more than 360 000 A1 farmers who need also to be constantly conscientised and guided on suppressing veld fires. As a ministry we are in the process of revamping several acts and policies and this work will not be complete without the involvement and input of our traditional leaders. We are hoping that the new policies and legislative framework will strengthen community participation and benefits from the sustainable management of our natural resources. Over and above that our country is faced with a number of environmental challenges such as pollution and wetland degradation, climate change, poaching, unsustainable land use, human and wildlife conflict, deforestation among others," he said.
Minister Ndlovu commented on reports that Zimbabwe had okayed the killing of its elephant population which has become topical across the globe.
He said the reports were inaccurate.
Representing the Chiefs, deputy president of the Chiefs council Chief Mtshane Khumalo expressed gratitude for being roped in the programme that benefit their communities and the nation at large.
He said as chiefs they were also worried by the increase in veld fires.
"On veld fires we feel that the laws are not deterrent enough and we believe they should be commended accordingly so that people can be controlled against starting fires and deforestation among other things," he said.