Building Community Resilience through Nurturing Harmony with Nature
Resting at the bank of the Save River, Mr. Wiseman Ngwazi Tagurana, a conservationist and community leader recalls the physical confrontations and other ugly incidents that were common-place in the area as rival groups competed over access to the resource-rich Zivembava island forest and the river.
“This valley used to be a conflict zone as various communities fought over control of firewood, non-timber forest products and other natural resources,” he says adding that some people would use crude methods of catching fish such as river poisoning thus endangering the lives of fellow villagers and their livestock.
“Now that is a thing of the past, he says, noting that catchment management is implemented in a structured manner. “Our resource monitoring and enforcement teams act as deterrence and ensure compliance.”
- CHIEHA promotes conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the Sangwe Communal Land. Among these were agro-forestry, multi-cropping, water harvesting as well as eco- and ethno-tourism
- With the community located within the famous SAVE Valley Conservancy and the 100 000 km2 Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA), experts say the area offers great tourism potential
- In total, the initiative has positively impacted on the lives of an estimated 50, 000 people
- Networks and partnerships have been nurtured with learning institutions, the government, development agencies, NGOs and media
Mr. Ngwazi is a member of the Chibememe Earth Healing Association (CHIEHA) a community-based conservation and development organization in the rural South Eastern Chiredzi, Masvingo province in Zimbabwe. In 2004, CHIEHA was awarded the UNDP Equator Initiative Prize, a prize that recognizes “outstanding local initiatives that work to advance sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.”
Through a grant of US $ 50,000 from the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme of UNDP in 2005, the association scaled up activities that promote conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the Sangwe Communal Land. Among these were agro-forestry, multi-cropping, water harvesting as well as eco- and ethno-tourism.
“If a community is living close to a wetland, we let its villagers to manage it,” explains Mr. Gladman Chibememe, a community leader and development expert. “We do not impose management systems but allow the local communities to devise their own conservation and development strategy in a participatory way. We allow them to define and determine their own development path and destiny.”
With the community located within the famous SAVE Valley Conservancy and the 100 000 km2 Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area (GLTFCA), experts say the area offers great tourism potential. “Faith-based groups have come here (Zivembava Island Forest) for pilgrimage because the area is considered mythical and sacred” relates Mr. Chibememe, stressing that for sustainability, the group pursued “management based on protection” strategy hinged on the local communities’ traditional knowledge, innovations and practices that has been tried and tested for many generations.
Immediate beneficiaries are 25 households members but the CHIEHA network is extensive, and its influence is felt in the neighbouring villages of Sangwe, Ndowoyo, Matema and Musikavanhu communal lands. In total, the initiative has positively impacted on the lives of an estimated 50, 000 people.
Involvement of all family members—including youth and women—and the high premium placed on traditional leaders ensured a participatory approach and reliable mechanisms for conflict-resolution. While conventional crops like maize and beans were cultivated, there were concerted efforts to ensure that items such as, honey, fish and edible caterpillars remained part of the diet in the drought-prone area, boosting food security.
In addition, the GEF-Small Grants Programme has reached out to the local Sangwe Secondary whose 109 students have benefited from the construction of a perimeter fence to secure a section of the school’s land dedicated to farming.
“The fencing was very useful because we have been able to protect the compound where the school farm is located and acts as a centre for learning biological methods of pest control, crop rotation and organic farming,” stated Mr. Zengeya Emmanuel, deputy headmaster.
Networks and partnerships have been nurtured with learning institutions, the government, development agencies, NGOs and media. Since 2003 CHIEHA has initiated and lobbied for the establishment the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park Conservation Area (GLTPCA) Rural Community Network by the local communities for information sharing. Furthermore, through the CHIEHA Environmental and Cultural Information Centre, members—and guests can exchange ideas, raise awareness, train and document best practices.
However, the difficult economic challenges witnessed in Zimbabwe that culminated in the 2008 hyperinflation stymied their best efforts, demoralising some members. “The delay in the implementation of the rural electrification programme, coupled with the dilapidated road network undermined production and access to markets” said Mrs. Maria Maposa, a group member, adding however that CHIEHA has withstood the test of time.