HomeOpinion & AnalysisSustainable wild fruit harvesting helping Zimbos adapt to climate change

Sustainable wild fruit harvesting helping Zimbos adapt to climate change

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BY PETER MAKWANYA

A STUDY of the consumption patterns of wild fruits in Zimbabwe, carried out by Campbell in 1987, revealed that while communally-owned land was heavily populated and suffered severe deterioration, the availability of the three most favoured fruit species shuma (Diospyros mespiliformis), mazhumwi (Strychnos cocculoides) and matohwe (Azanza garckeana) were not affected by deforestation in terms of land preparation for agricultural or building purposes.

To this day in some areas of Zimbabwe, certain indigenous fruit trees are not felled during land clearance for building or agriculture, and are deliberately incorporated into new farmland.

A wide range of forest fruits are consumed in Zimbabwe, both in rural and urban settings.

These fruits help cushion communities against the effects of climate change by providing a good source of minerals and vitamins during the dry season and in areas where rain-fed agriculture is not viable.

Zimbabwean forests are rich in a wide variety of edible fruits that can be consumed as raw, snacks and dietary supplements, including trading them for income.

Zimbabweans from all walks of life are processing some of these fruits into tradable finished products that are important for household consumptions, such as beverages, beer, soups, jam, porridges, among others.

These include Muuyu (Adansonia digitata), mupfura (Sclerocarya Birrea), masawu (Ziziphus abyssinica) mazhanje (Uapaca kirkiana), matamba (Strychnos), nyii (Berchemia discolour), maroro (Annona senegalensis), and matufu (Vangueria Infausta), among other

The role of trees in protecting forests against the negative impacts of climate change should never be underestimated.

Trees are vital in reducing wind speed, improving soil texture, moisture retention, replenishing underground water reserves and preventing soil erosion.

Due to increased demand for wild fruits, people from urban areas are increasingly travelling to rural areas to harvest forest fruits and some indigenous vegetables such as magaka (African cucumber) in large quantities for resale in towns and cities.

In this regard, urban communities are stealing a vital way of adapting to climate change from the rural communities because rural people require nutrients more than urban people.

In rural areas, these forest fruits are fast disappearing as they have become a major component of the household diet and also due to unsustainable ways of harvesting like cutting down the fruit trees.

Quite a number of people are not practising sustainable harvesting as urban communities are stealing communal resources and making profit from something that should benefit rural communities.

Forest fruits have not only changed consumption patterns in rural areas, but also helped communities to sufficiently adapt in the context of climate change.

The idea behind harvesting fruits sustainably has taught some rural communities to conserve natural resources, realise the value of edible and non-edible forest products in improving their dietary and nutritional levels, fruits transform lives through revenue from their sales and fighting food insecurity caused by the impact of climate change.

The emergence of forest fruit products as a vital component of the diet system has brought a new dimension to the consumption patterns in both urban and rural settings.

In this regard, it is important to note that communities, whether rural or urban, don’t just harvest forest fruits haphazardly, but there are protocols to be followed.

These are not just protocols but culturally-related ones which are based on the communities’ worldview and indigenous knowledge frameworks.

In this view, the biodiverse nature of forests is being realised in resilience-building and community empowerment.

There is merging of traditional cultural values and food habits, leading to the integration of forest resources with the role of technology in food processing.

The importance of forest fruits in the traditional African diet is being recognised and appreciated.

The importance and central role of fruit trees as a food resource in the diets of rural populations is being appreciated even in urban communities.

Both rural and urban communities are all participating in the sustainable production practices, storage, preservation and utilisation of these products in adding value to their lives.

As such, efforts to document these lesser-known food items in the national and international food inventory are long overdue and necessary for the development of a food database for conservation and improvement strategies.

Throughout rural Zimbabwe, some communities and schools are practising agro-forestry and also establishing community woodlots of forest fruit trees as part of their reforestation programmes.

Communities are establishing woodlots close to small-scale dams built with the help of non-governmental organisations in Chirumhanzu, Zvishavane and Mutoko, just to name a few.

Some primary and secondary schools throughout the country are establishing orchards of indigenous forest fruit trees as part of the schools’ forest regeneration programme and also adaptation to climate change impacts.

Some schools and communities also sponsor competitions showcasing what they are doing as part of making their communities green again.

These competitions both in rural and urban areas are held annually and commemorated through environmental debates, music, song and dance.

The recognition of the essential role played by forest fruit products in people’s livelihoods has helped the communities to change their perspectives of the forests.

This has taught them to guard the remaining forests and use these products to adapt in the face of negative impacts of climate change.

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