ONLINE encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, defines desertification as “a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry land region becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife.”
The lower regions of Chipinge in middle Sabi well known as “Gowa” in vernacular language is one dry and arid area which fits perfectly in this description. There are many factors which lead to desertification and these are climate based and man-made.
Poor farming practices
A lot of farmers apply poor farming practices which include the cutting down of trees in order to clear farming land. This has been witnessed in some parts of the valley especially at Checheche, Machona, Matikwa, Munepasi, Chinyamukwakwa, and Chikonwe.
During the peak of cotton growing in the valley in the first decade of 2000, there used to be three farmers who boasted about owning more than 100 hectares of land each which they tilled every year.
The sad part which their land would tell was that one could hardly find trees in the hectarage. Only a few shrubs were spared to demarcate field boundaries.
When livestock is kept in large numbers over a small portion of land, it leads to overgrazing. Due to perennial droughts which affect the valley, most farmers bank their hope on livestock than crop farming. Shrubs and other ground cover usually do not have a chance to recover fully since it would be under pressure from the domestic animals.
When people develop land into urban settlement, a lot of plant destruction takes place. Urbanisation comes with clearing of land and high demand in timber for construction. Checheche is one such area which is rising so fast and land developers have since cleared land for industrial, commercial and residential purpose.
Climate change and natural disasters
Change in climatic patterns affects dry areas mostly. Middle Sabi valley is in the South East Lowveld which receives an average rainfall of 350mm per annum.
When the climate becomes warmer, rainfall isn’t guaranteed, so natural disasters like drought occur. Farming becomes impossible when an area is hit by drought after drought.
In the Save region, rainfall is not spreading throughout the season as it used to do. A greater chunk of the average rainfall is received in a short space of time. Sometimes, this causes flooding.
When a Local Environmental Action Plan (LEAP) for Chipinge was done by Chipinge Rural District Council in collaboration with Environmental Management Agency at Manesa Guest Lodge, Mutema in Chipinge West in May 2017, eleven environmental problems were identified as affecting the district.
At district level, the problems prioritised were as follows, deforestation, stream-bank cultivation, erosion, siltation, veldfires, water pollution, land pollution, illegal sand extraction, invasive species, poaching using chemicals and strong winds.
But paying attention to the valley itself, one will definitely agree that strong winds may not be rated number 11. They might be one of the top three problems because the area suits a desert category.
To be continued…