On the Nyangani Mountain slopes, in the midst of regenerating forests, woodlands and wetlands in Nyatondo village, Robson Nyatondo (54), looks pensively at his good one hectare wheat crop being irrigated by water channelled from a small dam constructed in the upper slopes of the mountain.
Nyanga District is a drought-plagued area falling within Natural Regions 4 and 5 and faces intermittent food shortages although blessed with abundant natural water resources along the slopes of the mountain range.
Realising their plight, villagers in Nyatondo, Sedze, Mambemba and Bonde with the facilitation of the Zimbabwe National Environment Trust (ZIMNET), a non-governmental organisation, formed a community-based organisation called Chitsanza Development Association (CHIDA), an umbrella body of 15 villages to harvest water from the perennial springs and streams on the mountain range.
“We constructed four small dams for small-scale irrigation high up the slopes of Nyangani Mountain in 2006-2007 and nine water reservoirs below the range to receive the water from the small dams as the water falls by gravity and does not require pumps,” says Nyatondo.
Though not yet fully complete, this water project now serves homesteads, fields, orchards, woodlots, tree nurseries, livestock and forest-based livelihoods and projects like bee-keeping.
“I can now manage to draw water from the mountain for irrigation in my fields boosting household food security and am also practising agro-forestry, an adaptation measure to unfavourable impacts of climate change,” says Nyatondo.
The production of potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and leaf vegetables, for example, is generating reasonable financial gains. Merchants from various markets make regular business visits, ridding the cultivators of the burden of carrying their produce to market centres.
The dams are full to capacity and hold 1 500 cubic metres of water each. The reservoirs have a capacity of holding 228,6 cubic metres of water each.
In 2007, the Global Environment Facility-Small Grants Programme (GEF/SGP) supported the project by launching the “The Wetlands and Woodlands Management for Biodiversity Conservation Project”.
They also introduced the butcher in the backyard concept to promote food security and wildlife conservation.
Another aim was to restore the degraded land to its former levels of rich biodiversity and reduce impact of climate change.
Since the launch, forests and woodlands surrounding the four nucleus villages, stretching for approximately 13km and about 20 000 hectares, are slowly regenerating, mainly because of strict observance of local by-laws that curb deforestation.
Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management, Honourable Francis Nhema, praised the project on a visit in April 2010 and promised the community assistance. He assured project members that district leaders will visit the project.
True to his word, these leaders came the same year and toured the project. Senior representatives from WaterNet, WorldWide Fund, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and the Food and Agricultural Organization also toured the project.
Before GEF/SGP moved in, wildlife poaching and timber logging was rampant. Thanks largely to the butcher in the backyard concept which promotes rearing small livestock such as goats, sheep, chickens and pigs poaching has been reduced.
With a gender perspective, his wife, Anastasia proudly implements the initiative which largely provides them with supplies of household meat, promoting sustainable food security and self-reliance at household and community levels.
“Water, forest and woodlands resources management, small livestock and sustainable agriculture production are all part of the struggle by CHIDA to boost food security and to mitigate and adapt to climate change in this community of more than 3 000 inhabitants,” says Diana Sedze, CHIDA director.
“The opportunities for replication do exist and this project will be introduced to other eleven villages further up the mountain range,” says Joseph Tasosa, executive director of ZIMNET, adding that good water management is a matter of life in the district and its availability is critical for community development.
“This case illustrates how conservation and protection of natural resources can be successfully integrated with agriculture to support food security and the sustainable use of natural resources and thereby mitigate and adapt to the negative effects of climate change at community and household levels,” says Khetiwe-Moyo Mhlanga, former GEF/SGP national coordinator.
The Chief Executive Officer for Nyanga Rural District Council, Zefania Jaravaza said communities need to be supported; neglecting community-driven initiatives contributes to persistent vulnerabilities and this calls for the recognition of traditional common property systems of water resources management.
As talks on climate change appear to be deadlocked again without any positive outcome, such sustainable projects definitely need more support as they are a practical way of adapting to the impacts of climate change through investment in sustainable natural resource management.