When hunger fuels tragedy

MUTARE - The real-life story of juveniles who hopped into a forest plantation in search of food and ended causing a massive veld fire has, once again, highlighted how poverty is encroaching into conservationists’ efforts.
Hunger biting hard, 13-year-old Tineyi Samanga, sibling Tatonga and two friends Patrick Saruchera and Tazivei Chaitezvi both aged 12, skipped into the nearby Selborne plantation with nothing in their minds but an eagerness to hunt for food.

Having had no decent meal in their different homes for three days, they were desperate for anything to drive the hunger pangs away.

After numerous rounds of foraging the plantation, the quartet was exhausted and slumped under the shades of the massive towering pine trees which are in their 18th year of growth.
Nothing had come out of the hunt.

The village boys from Domborutinhira in Mutasa Central constituency were dejected.

It was a bad day, well maybe not just yet.

In their despair, they suddenly noticed a beehive across a small path leading to a thick forest of indigenous Musasa trees.

The hive was patched just above two metres and the boys had a brilliant idea, or so they thought. They dispatched one of them home to fetch matches and moments later, a fire was lit below the hive and they enjoyed the honey.

Thousands of bees were killed in the inferno and that was not all.

The fire spread and soon the plantation was reduced to a mere land of charcoal logs and stumps. Nearby homes were spared from the blaze and villagers are still wondering how.

Thousands of hectares of plantations were subjected to this destruction owing to poverty, hunger and lack of education by some of the people living in the area.

It is estimated that 700 000 hectares of forest land countrywide is destroyed by veld fires, costing the country a fortune. Conservationists say forest fires are started chiefly by people hunting animals, harvesting honey and clearing land for tillage.

“It is very easy to realise that we no longer have any timber when we see timber products prices going up.

You do not need a rocket scientist to tell you that timber is fast diminishing in Zimbabwe,” Environment Africa country director Barnabas Mawire told the Daily News during a visit to the area.

 “Everyday, our forests are on the receiving end. People start fires willy-nilly and we need immediate intervention methods and programmes because we are faced with a big challenge,” says Mawire.

Environment Africa, with the help of donor countries, has begun a massive campaign in the area.
The organisation recently received $60 000 from the British Embassy to promote bee keeping projects, bee keeping materials and woodland management training. Thanks to such funding, the Bumba Honey Processing Plant, which was non-operational due to Zimbabwe’s decade-plus economic tumult, is now up and running.
The plant employs 15 locals who work full-time. Kingstone Chitotombe, the provincial manager of the Environmental Management Agency said his organisation is jealously safeguarding the environment in Manicaland province after years of neglect.

The agency has to date, assisted dozens of farmers to construct fireguards around their farms and woodlots.

Harare Residents Trust director Precious Shumba said companies with higher chances of polluting the environment should commit more resources towards environment-friendly programmes.

“We expect companies to commit resources towards proper waste disposal. The social responsibility is seen as a compensatory measure for the profit they are making out of that community.

“Big companies like food chains must also engage in clean-up campaigns and other environmental awareness programmes. The longer they continue polluting our streams the more resources we will need towards the purification of water,” Shumba said.

According to the Environmental Management Agency (Ema), companies causing environmental pollution should be fined or even closed down. - Sydney Saize in Mutasa

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