By Pamenus Tuso
Regeneration of vegetation through afforestation programmes that have been adopted by most African governments, as the most basic mitigation measure against climate change, is indeed a noble venture which has been accepted and understood by communities.
There is, however, a more scientific, but simple intervention termed holistic management through which ordinary farmers , their livestock and wildlife all play an integral part in reviving the ecosystems on degraded landscapes.
A successful experiment has been carried out on a 20, 000 acre piece of land near Zimbabwe’s resort town of Victoria Falls which 11 years ago was characterised by sandy soils, leached of all nutrients after decades of uninterrupted grazing and cultivation.
The majority of the population in the Hwange area in Matabeleland North province, did not know the significance of wildlife, livestock and in influencing the creation of a healthy ecosystem.
This was until the Africa Centre for Holistic Management (ACHM), an international non-profit making organisation brought them the simple but efficient concept of making money from their environment while at the same time preserving it. This was done through the establishment of Dingangombe College of Wildlife, Agriculture and Conservation Management in 1992.
The holistic management concept was developed by Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean–born ecologist, following a lengthy personal search for solutions to the land deterioration occurring in Africa and the human impoverishment that resulted from it.
Following the launch of the programme which concurrently addresses sustainability, economic productive, environmental, climate change and cultural issues, the lives of this cosmopolitan community has drastically changed.
“Desertification or land degradation has destroyed many civilisations and is now threatening us globally. Years ago, working on this problem in Africa, we came up with a way to solve this problem .It was profoundly simple ,” said Savory.
According to Savory, holistic management of natural resources brings about consistent results which bring greater harmony amongst the people, greater prosperity and a measurable improvement in the bio diversity and eco-system healthy.
“Holistic management involves the use of a new decision making framework that effectively deals with the ecosystem. By testing decisions towards what people value most in life and the condition of the environment that would sustain what they value for centuries, people are consistently making better decisions for themselves and also for the fauna, flora and environment on which all life depends” he said.
Under the concept, Hwange villagers have already begun deriving direct benefits from their natural resources through the practice of permaculture in the gardens around their homesteads.
This includes garden planning and specific compost worm farming and liquid manure techniques which has resulted in the mushrooming of productive gardens and nutrition produce that can feed more people.
Outgoing ACHM director, Huggins Matanga, said animals in the area play an important component in the restoration of the environment because they trample the grass so that the base of the plant is exposed.
This enables the plants to re-grow at the onset of the rainy season. Livestock also break the soil crust enabling air and water to penetrate so that more grass can grow.
In Sianyanga village, the community had perennial water problems because their boreholes were drying. The land was also degraded and there was no grass for livestock and crop yields were declining.
The land had a hard cap at the surface. This caused water runoffs and when it rained resulting in the silting of Nalomwe river. The community had to take their livestock 15 km to the Gwayi river where they camped for most of the dry season.
Now notable results have registered in the area after years of practicing the concept.
“The concept of holistic management has done wonders for me. Since I started practicing the concept my yields have greatly improved. The approach is less expensive,” said Virginia Moyo, a farmer in the area.
Empowering communities to improve their lives and those of future generations by restoring their land and natural water sources requires addressing the root cause of land degradation as demonstrated by the Sianyanga, Sizinda and Monde communities land restoration projects.
ACHM through Dingangombe College also provides training to women in micro-leading, micro-enterprise development and capitalises women’s micro banks. What is unique about these village banks is that they are linked to training in holistic management so that decisions taken by the participants yields positive results for the women, their families , land and wildlife.
Over 2, 000 people in 10 villages in the area have also received training in holistic management in restoring the landscapes from facilitators churned out at Dingangombe Holistic Management Learning Site.
Under the landscape reclamation programme, the villagers combine small herds of their livestock and plan their grazing. By mimicking the wild herds of history and keeping stock moving, the villagers minimise overgrazing of plants and increase ground cover.
Due to the practice which improves soil aeration, water penetration and seed germination, most rivers in the area which had stopped flowing long back, have started to flow again.
Considered a regional catalyst for sustainability, Dingangombe is co-owned and managed by the Africa Centre and the village communities. A growing number of non-governmental organisations in the country, the region and the world have already started using the holistic management approach to restore land and natural water sources in their various countries.
Due to the success story of the project in Hwange communal lands, the centre is already working with communities and Plan International in the arid area of Chivi in Masvingo province and Debshan ranch in Shangani area in Matabeleland South, to restore degraded pieces of land as well as increasing crop yields.
“ACHM trained us on how to properly plan our animal grazing schedules. We have been taught how to regenerate vegetation using animals. Right now we have already extended this concept to neighbouring communities,” said Upenyu Mberi, one of the managers at Debshan ranch.
Close to 100 facilitators from organisations in Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar and Burkina Faso have been trained at the Centre.
The Hwange community plays an important role in the centre‘s governance through representation on the Board of Trustees, which includes among its members local chiefs.