Ecotourism vital in rural Zim

NYANGA - In a bid to promote ecotourism, a community-based organisation has embarked on a project to refurbish the ancient structures of historical and sacred sites in the Nyangani Mountain Range in the Manicaland Province. (Pictured: Mount Nyangani where sacred sites are being

The Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry has called for the need to promote and support eco-tourism in the countrys rural communities not only as an instrument for promoting sustainable resource management, but also to bring the tourist to the so-called Zimbabwean backwaters.

Globally, there is a growing enthusiasm for grass-roots efforts to promote various forms of tourism. Local communities are trying to attract visitors sensitive to and interested in their cultural heritage, their natural beauty and their contribution to protecting biodiversity.

Several historical and sacred sites lie dotted along the Nyangani Mountain Range mainly composed of underground dug pits lined with granite stones as enclosures. These pits have inner rooms used by ancient people to hide in and separate tunnels to hide livestock during times of tribal war-fares and enemy invasions in centuries past.

There are many of these sites built by ancient people found along this mountain range, said Itai Nyamaropa, secretary of Chitsanza Development Association, the community-based organization which has embarked on this project.

During a tour of some parts of the range, he noted that the sites were also used for ceremonial rituals such as burial, appeasing spirits and rainmaking. Granite stone is known to be a source of low-level natural radioactivity. Sometimes these stones were used because they were the most widely available local building materials.

Experts note that ecotourism is widely heralded as the perfect economic activity to promote both sustainability and social well-being for rural communities. In contrast, many analysts consider mass tourism to be against sustainability and incompatible with the provision of quality employment for local people.

Research shows that when given the opportunity and access to resources, local communities are more likely than other groups to engage in direct actions to protect and improve the environment, said Zefania Jaravaza, Nyanga Rural District Council Chief Executive Officer, adding that an alternative development model requires new ways to encourage the direct participation of local people in programmes of job creation in rural areas to increase incomes and improve living standards.

Policies that encourage and safeguard resources in rural communities enable the creation of a vibrant and viable social and productive force. By embarking on such projects, these rural communities can become well equipped to receive small groups and ensure respect for the ecosystems visited.

Since time immemorial, we have believed that our traditional spirits control historical and sacred sites and this prevented over-exploitation of forest and woodlands resources, said Michael Magaso, the aide to Chief Hata of the district, adding that the project embarked on would enhance such initiatives.

Such projects are also proving to be attractive to communities searching for ways of promoting profitable avenues to generate income and employment opportunities. In addition, community ownership and control is an essential building block to assure the viability of the overall project.

It is fascinating to observe that in many of the projects, the innovators understand the importance of integrating tourism into a more balanced programme of productive development, said a senior official in the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, Richard Machigere, during another recent tour of water harvesting projects along the mountain range.

Local communities in the district are attempting to find a way of creating a dignified way of life in a changing world that to some extent underestimates their capabilities, said Joseph Tasosa, Executive Director of the Zimbabwe National Environment Trust, a non-governmental organization working in the district.

Given the recent history of public policies stymieing rural welfare, any public sector action in this area as a form of structural reform would probably have to support such initiatives.

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