Rural Expansion A Menace To Biodiversity Conservation

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By Tendai Makaripe

A FEW years ago, Goromonzi District’s rural communities in Mashonaland east province were the embodiment of environmental splendour.

Areas around Goromonzi high school, Chinyika secondary school and Chinyika dam in Goromonzi north were environmentally appealing.

The hills, mountains and plains were adorned with plants, flowers and majestic trees of every description.

There were trees burdened with luxuriant fruit, of rich fragrance, beautiful to the eye, and pleasant to the taste.

The areas were clothed with beautiful verdure, while millions of fragrant flowers of every variety and hue sprang up in rich profusion around them.

The air was always pure and healthful making the area appear like a noble palace.

Sadly, all this has disappeared with the passage of time.

The once immaculately dressed scenery is now a sea of houses.

Community grazing lands that were home to an overabundance of species are nowhere in sight.

The temptation of owning a house in an area an hour’s drive from the country’s capital has become too good to resist for many, fuelling the haste to acquire pieces of land.

This rush is not unique to Goromonzi but is replayed in various other localities in the country like Murehwa, Seke, Marondera, Headlands Domboshava among others.

While the stampede for residential stands has gone a long way in trying to achieve objectives of the National Development Strategy (NDS1) which seek to facilitate the delivery of affordable, sustainable, modern, functional housing and social amenities in urban and rural areas, it has come at a cost to the country’s biodiversity.

Biological diversity means “The variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.”

According to Zimbabwe’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biodiversity (2015), Zimbabwe is rich in biodiversity in its varied landscapes and aquatic ecosystems.

It has about 5,930 vascular plant species, of which 214 are endemic, 670 bird species, 270 mammal species, 156 reptile species, 120 amphibian species, and 151 fish species.

These species are found within and outside protected areas.

However, the country’s rich biodiversity is at risk due to the incursion of people in rural areas in search of land.

“Increased land pressure due to intensification of agriculture and its expansion into grazing lands, wetlands and mountain slopes in areas such as Mutasa in Manicaland, Seke in Mashonaland East and Mazowe in Mashonaland Central has resulted in fragmentation of land. This has resulted in the loss of land cover and an associated loss of biodiversity,” read Zimbabwe’s Fifth National Report to the Convention on Biodiversity in part.

In Goromonzi and related areas, human activities necessitated by increased populations have exposed ecosystems, species and populations to numerous threats, including loss and deterioration of natural habitats, overexploitation of organisms, and climate change.

“Research has shown that activities such as those happening in many rural communities are a threat to biodiversity and is fasting leading to the extinction of species at a speed of up to 1000 times the natural background rate of extinction. Worldwide around 1 million species of animals and plants are now threatened with extinction, many within decades,” wrote environmental expert Michiel Hooykaas.

In areas like Seke, biodiversity is suffering as locals engage in brick moulding enterprises to supply demand for construction.

The brick making production process includes excavation, preparation, moulding, drying and firing which have adverse biodiversity effects

“Emissions from brick making result in several public health and environmental risks. Overexploitation of wood and the wild or uncontrolled felling of trees for use in the burning process affects biodiversity,” said environmentalist Memory Mamvura.

Various animal and plant species are being affected as their habitats are being destroyed and turned into houses.

A study by Emaculate Ingwani titled Are peri-urban land transactions a disaster in the making? A case of Domboshava noted that: “As a result of land transactions the natural extinction of natural habitats for a variety of animal and plant species is evident as vlei gardens and common property resources such as grazing, forests, wetland ecosystems and watersheds degenerate into residential spaces.”

Species inhabiting water bodies are at risk of dying from pollution due to increased population and the haphazard citing of blair toilets.

An official from Goromonzi Rural District Council said the situation in the area has grown beyond the council.

“In 2019 we intended to regularise the allocation of housing stands to bring sanity to the area but a few systemic challenges affected the process and the emergence of Covid-19 did not make things any better for us.

We are aware of the environmental challenges that are why we are currently setting up mechanisms to deal with the situation,” the official said.

Village headmen and chiefs have been accused of being complicit in parcelling out land and thereby affecting biodiversity in the process.

“Our traditional leaders are making a killing from these land transactions,” said a villager from Nyakudya village in Goromonzi north.

“They are charging about US$400 for one to be entered into the village books so they are willing to parcel out as much land as possible. The effects on biodiversity are secondary,” she said.

Contacted for comment, Musonza kraal village head, Rodwell Kufandada Musonza denied the accusations.

“People here are being settled legally. Everything is above board. The allegations are baseless,” he said.

Government has to act fast to avoid the biodiversity situation in rural areas from reaching unprecedented levels.

The country is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and accordingly has obligations to implement the provisions of the convention on biodiversity protection but it appears little is being done in this regard.

Policies and strategies to conserve biodiversity have not been followed up by proper action due to inadequate financial resources, a lack of technical skills and the need to compromise for accelerated economic development in the case of projects of national strategic importance.

People need to be educated on the importance of protecting biodiversity.

This is because biodiversity plays a key role in sustainable development as it is interwoven with the three pillars that support a sustainable world: economy, society and environment, yet it is threatened by numerous factors associated with human population growth and urbanisation.

The political will to deal with these problems is lacking and government has to swiftly act to protect biodiversity.