Blame game could lead to environmental catastrophe

Burma Valley contains vast indigenous and exotic forests and is blessed with a diversity of fauna, minerals and breathtaking scenery.

EMA Provincial manager Kingstone Chitotombe pointing at an illegal banana plantation in Burma Valley.
EMA Provincial manager Kingstone Chitotombe pointing at an illegal banana plantation in Burma Valley.

The area produces quality bananas, coffee, timber and tobacco for local consumption and export – but in recent years it become a casualty of illegal settlement, veld fires and siltation.

The lust for power and control by some politicians continues to blight one of the most promising tourism destinations.

The perennial flowing rivers and streams that used to provide fresh water for irrigation and fish for consumption are drying up as sand continues to accumulate and chokes the river basins.

Indigenous and exotic trees are being cut or bunt by illegal settlers who haphazardly clear land for cultivation. Settlers claim that they are landless and need space for their farming activities.

“Illegal settlement and veld fires are the greatest challenges in our forest management and tourism industry development,” said EMA Provincial Environment Manager, Kingstone Chitotombe.

Even the famous Nyachowa falls, a major tourist attraction, has not been spared. “Stream bank cultivation in Chikubvu and Nyamakarishi areas has suffocated most river tributaries which used to feed the falls,” explained Chitotombe.

He said EMA was working round the clock to educate the public about good ways to manage the environment for the sustenance of their livelihood.

“Enforcement is a process. We are just five years old, but our presence is being felt,” he said, adding that the problem of illegal settlers needed a collective effort by all stakeholders, including traditional leadership.

Illegal settlers shacks near mountains.
Illegal settlers shacks near mountains.

But a representative of Mutare District Administrator, Brighton Mangoma, said the illegal settlers were “mischievous and greedy people” because they were given alternative land for farming but had abandoned it and illegally settled themselves in protected areas.

Between 2006 and 2007, these people were evicted and had their houses burnt by police. But this did not deter them.

Sources privy to the matter said the problem of illegal settlers was complex as some had been given land by certain politicians during the run up to 2000 general elections as part of the campaigning strategy.

After the election, the politicians clandestinely tried to evict these people and this triggered a war.

“EMA is doing its best to enforce environmental laws, but the war is far from over because it needs a political solution. The politicians are to blame,” said a local horticulture farmer who declined to be named.

Locals blamed the mess on some unscrupulous chiefs whom they accused of taking bribes from settlers at the expense of protecting the environment.

Environmentalist Brian Rodgers said Manicaland`s mountainous terrain could only remain stable if disturbed sites such as Burma Park were maintained through conservation agriculture and plantation establishment.

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