THE energy sapping walk up Murahwa Hill in the periphery of Chikanga suburb in Mutare is almost a daily obligation for ageing Mrs Elina Chimukombo, especially from the onset of the summer farming season.
The path to her half a hectare maize field on the slopes of Murahwa Hill has been made visibly clear over the years since it is not only Mrs Chimukombo and her family traversing it, but many other residents from nearby houses who have maize fields on the slopes of this once picturesque hill.
This actually speaks to extensive farming activities on the sloppy landscape of different mountains surrounding Mutare urban which have persisted for decades irrespective of their environmental degradation effect as well as disaster inducing impact.
Mrs Chimukombo said: “This is something we have survived on for many years. My children know that we get our maize-meal from this small field. We have never really looked at the environmental costs that you are talking about, but basically it has been a case of feeding my family.”
A recent drive around the outskirts of the city’s suburbs by this newspaper revealed that there are rampant agricultural practices wherein residents are growing crops on sides of hills or mountains around Mutare.
Without terrace cultivation, a method of growing crops on sides of hills or mountains by planting on graduated terraces built into the slope, there are not any mechanisms to reduce soil erosion and water loss, flooding in nearby areas as well as the negative impact to mountain biodiversity.
Residents in areas such as Dreamhouse, Zimta Park, Hobhouse and Natview in Mutare, all located near the mountains where the agricultural activities are taking place, have often faced the dangers of flooding whenever the eastern border city receives heavy rains.
A cursory internet search revealed that unsustainable clearing and ploughing on sloppy land results in erosion and increases the threat of avalanches, landslides and flooding while rare species of plants and animals face extinction due to the practice.
Environmental Management Agency Manicaland provincial manager, Mr Kingstone Chitotombe bemoaned the unbridled farming activities on sides of hills and mountains in Manicaland.
“Sloppy areas are ecologically sensitive ecosystems. Sensitive ecosystems can be easily degraded when used unsustainably. We remove trees to pave way for cultivation, in the process altering the resilience of that slope to overland flow.
“Flooding is worsened in some flood prone areas and in areas where floods were not being experienced will might soon start recording them.
“Soil will be easily washed away, thereby causing siltation. In the event of more than normal rains (cyclones and tropical storms) we are exposed as Manicaland. I urge those involved to stop cultivation on mountain slopes as they are putting the province at risk should we get excessive rains,” said Mr Chitotombe.
When asked about the penalties faced by those cultivating on the sides of hills and mountains, Mr Chitotombe said: “The Act is silent on cultivation on steep slopes, but the new Environmental Management Bill provides for that. It should be well covered by local authority by-laws which you can inquire from Mutare City Council.”
Mutare City Council spokesperson, Mr Spren Mutiwi said: “It is disheartening to note the level of wanton destruction of the environment by residents. They are shooting themselves in the foot through engaging in illegal agricultural activities whose results will affect the same people, property and infrastructure.
“The local authority fully subscribes to urban agriculture and year-in-year out, a call is made for those interested to carry out agricultural activities to engage the Department of Housing and Community Services so that they get permission to do farming in designated areas.
“The rampant invasion of mountains, river banks and planting outside the stipulated metres along the road servitude is a worrying concern.
“Some have gone to the extent of disregarding the commendable efforts of the drainage clearance exercises being undertaken by council and are now using the same cleared areas to do agricultural activities.”
Mr Mutiwi bemoaned the disregard of city by-laws.
“It is a pity that people simply disregard the city by-laws, but one thing for sure is that residents are creating a monster that will devour them in the near future.
“Cultivation on slopes and along stream banks is prohibited. We live in the environment and the onus is on us to protect it and sustain it, or to destroy it and ruin our future. The results in Mutare and the rest of the province are bare for everyone to see,” said Mr Mutiwi.
He also decried the clearing of forests and vegetation in mountains and hills for farming activities.
“Dangamvura Mountain used to be a marvel to watch because of the trees. That is now history. We folded our hands and watched as people cut down trees and now they have invaded the same mountain which has now been turned into agricultural fields. Should we continue with this armchair approach? Surely the effects will soon come to our doorsteps.
“We have weakened our mountains through extensive destruction of the environment and in the event of landslides, property will be destroyed and human lives can be lost.
“We are creating a human-made disaster. What’s sad is that these acts are being perpetrated by adults, those who are supposed to provide the roadmap to the young generation in terms of creating a sustainable environment. What are we teaching the young generation?” he said.
“The effects also haunt us as a local authority, most drainages have been clogged through heavy siltation and when this happens water will be forced to flow in any direction. Some of it will find its way into our houses.
“Let us desist from unsustainable farming on undesignated areas. Most of our roads have been affected due to lack of a proper functioning drainage system. Some have closed the drainage systems as they create vegetable gardens in their residential areas.
“Let us be each other’s keepers and join hands in condemning the wrong and bringing the culprits to book. We can play a part and team up with our municipal police, ZRP, EMA and Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe to bring the menace to an end.
“It is never too late to do good and preach the good message about a sustainable environment. Let us start now and in the near future the results will be realised, but if we decide to leave everything in the hands of the council and the other stakeholders, we shall all face the same music, those who participated and those who watched because the effects know no boundaries.”
Mr Mutiwi added that the local authority is considering slashing crops planted on mountain or hill sides.
“Council has the powers to destroy the crops but this is a painful process which we usually do not want to take. The local authority is also mandated to effect fines on offenders. These provisions are covered in the city by-laws,” he said.