BY TATENDA CHITAGU
MASHATE, Masvingo — A desecrated wetland ripped apart by the effects of the 1970s war of liberation has regained its potential, promising huge benefits to thousands of villagers in drought-prone Masvingo central constituency, about 50km from the country’s first urban settlement.
In 1980, the 4,5-hectare Njovo wetland was so derelict that even the adjacent primary school tried to turn it into a soccer pitch without success.
The barefooted pupils at Njovo Primary School, however, got stuck in the mashes and swamps, sprained their ankles, or the ball simply could not be passed each time they tried their luck at the game of soccer. Like any other superstitious lot, they thought the gods were crazy.
And that marked the second coming of the wetland, which now is in its former pristine state following resuscitation efforts by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) in 2017 in consultation with the community.
Now Njovo wetland is the source of water for the nearby dam that now never runs dry in the parched, hilly area.
The Njovo wetland has also given birth to a thriving solar-powered irrigated garden, a poultry project, orchard, cattle feedlot and beekeeping initiative.
And fittingly, the wetland played host to this years’ World Wetlands Day commemorations recently.
“The preservation of this wetland has turned our fortunes for the better,” chair of the Njovo wetland committee, Munyaradzi Mabika, admitted on the sidelines of the commemorations.
“About 500 people are benefiting from this wetland directly. We now have a nutritional garden that gets water from the dam as well as fish farming on the dam which was built in 2018. We also started a beekeeping venture in the wetland, and a poultry project and plan to do a cattle feedlot near the school,” he said.
Benefits started accruing after the wetland was resuscitated when EMA identified it and provided fencing and raised awareness and trained the villagers on the importance of preserving it.
“The wetland was destroyed during the war when I was a young boy. Before this wetland was resuscitated, we just saw it like any other piece of land which was of no benefit. Nobody really paid much attention to it,” he said.
“Some of the villagers would herd their cattle on the wetland, while others cultivated their crops, so it deteriorated. It was out of ignorance, but now we are realising what we have been missing all along.”
Mabika added: “After we got fencing and training from EMA, some non-governmental organisations and government departments chipped in. The World Food Programme (WFP) gave us materials for building the weir dam and a solar-powered water pump. AquaCulture gave us fish and built ponds and taught us how to keep them. Now we are big suppliers of fish, and our nutrition has also improved.
“The Forestry Commission started an orchard for us in the wetland and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority also chipped in with some animal species, while Allied Timbers gave us the beehives.”
Chairlady of the 200-hectare Njovo nutritional garden, Maria Musananguro, said: “We plant beans, different types of vegetables and tomatoes and onions and we now have money for school fees while our nutrition has improved. This was once a very dry area. Before the wetland was conserved, we were so poor and some had children dropping out of school, but that is now a thing of the past.”
Chief Shumba, born George Chikava, under whose jurisdiction Njovo wetlands falls, said besides promoting self-sustenance, the wetland preservation had also reduced petty crimes in his area by keeping the youths busy.
“Apart from employment creation and guaranteeing food security for households here, the project has also reduced petty crimes and conflicts while keeping the youths busy and we are grateful for that,” he said.
Speaking at the commemorations, Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry minister Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndlovu said because of the effects of climate change-induced droughts, wetlands now play a critical role in food security and should thus be preserved.
“Wetlands work to reduce floods and relieve droughts. Inland wetlands, flood plains, rivers, lakes and swamps function as sponges, absorbing and storing excess rainfall and reducing flood surges. During dry seasons in arid climates, wetlands release stored water, delaying the onset of droughts and minimising water shortages. When extreme climate-related events occur, wetlands act as buffers that can mitigate their impact,” he said.
“The Njovo wetland protection and utilisation project clearly demonstrates how wetlands provide essential ecosystem services and benefits such as regulating and providing water for agricultural activities which provide food security for our people.”
AcquaCulture Zimbabwe director Martin Dingwa said they wanted continuity after the funding.
“We believe in self-sustenance for the people and want to increase their resilience efforts, hence the need for continuity of these projects after funding. But I am grateful that the people here are very united and co-operative such that I am sure they will keep the project running,” he said.
During the same event, mobile telecommunications company, NetOne, donated soccer, netball kits and some balls to Njovo Primary School, to thank them for helping preserve the wetland.