Let's save our environment

HARARE - Drop a match and disappear — that’s the new method being employed by people clearing land for their self apportioned plots in urban areas.

The fires, like the illegal grabbing of public land for private practices and individual gain are out of control after years of authorities turning a blind eye. 

Every day in every direction smoke is rising and Zimbabwe’s famous blue skies and clear horizons are disappearing into the smoke.

The impact on the environment is well known: the loss of habitat for birds, reptiles, insects and mammals, the eradication of indigenous plants and the destruction of irreplaceable wetlands.

In the past, people went out with beaters, knapsack sprayers and manpower to help extinguish unattended, out of control fires but now doors and gates stay firmly closed and pedestrians on nearby roads and tracks disappear from sight.

This is because anyone seen near areas on fire is assumed to be the culprit.

The presumption of guilt along with the illegal “ownership” of public land has generated a culture of fear, leaving us watching helplessly as our neighbourhoods, woodlands and bushveld are destroyed by a few. 

The use of fire is just one of a long list of practices undertaken by individuals in built up areas which is having a devastating impact on the environment, green belts and wetlands around urban areas.

Trees on virgin  land are disappearing at an alarming rate with the approaches to our towns and cities turning into vast, treeless dust bowls.

In the past, the sound of chopping alerted us to a tree being cut down.  Now we hear nothing.

Often under cover of darkness, illegal land cultivators dig a trench at the base of the tree and either ring bark it or cut through the roots.

Covering up the evidence with soil they wait for a few days; that’s all it takes for a decade’s old tree to dry up, die and be carted away.

In recent years, it has become popular to refer to urban agricultural cultivation as “self apportioned peri-urban plots” but the fact is that everything about it is illegal.

There are numerous by-laws to prohibit cultivation, burning and tree cutting on public land but local authorities seem uninterested in enforcing them.

We urgently need a revolutionary approach to this problem in a way which would benefit everyone concerned.

At the moment, a few selfish individuals carve up every open space they find; chop down trees which belong to us all; plant right up to electricity poles to the detriment of us all; use fertiliser which leaches into water sources and plant crops on stream beds causing erosion and siltation which affects us all. 

Local authorities in conjunction with Ema could easily identify and demarcate areas of urban land where plots could be leased on an annual or bi-annual basis for cultivation
purposes for people’s own consumption.

This is done in many countries and is called allotment or patch farming. 

Municipal police and Ema could monitor these plots, control tree cutting, stumping, burning, fertiliser and chemical use; monitor erosion and prohibit streambed and wetland cultivation.

The revenue raised by local authorities from these annual leases would go a long way towards resolving the environmental problems left by the current uncontrolled peri -urban “self apportioned” illegal cultivators.

No one disputes the contribution of peri-urban farming to the food security of some families in urban areas but controls are long overdue.

Until order comes to peri-urban farming, we need feet on the ground: the feet of municipal authorities and Ema to stop another frenzy of destruction by a few on land which belongs to us all.

    Comments (1)

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    fivestar - 7 August 2014

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