Gully erosion threatens Dete-Mabale community

By Nyasha Dube

SOIL erosion is often taken lightly in communities and its effects are rarely perceived as severe, but for the Dete-Mabale community, gully erosion is becoming a menace and if it goes uncontrolled it could result in the destruction of farming land and displacement of people, among other challenges.

Located in Matabeleland North province in Zimbabwe, the Dete-Mabale community has become a victim of human activity, particularly poor farming methods like stream bank cultivation and lack of contour ridges.

A survey conducted during a recent field trip indicated that  intensive and short period rains as a result of climate change are also fueling the formation of gullies, which are a permanent form of erosion, difficult to control and could lead to severe damage to agricultural lands relocation of villagers and increased socioeconomic problems.

Gullies are landforms that look more or less similar to ditches or valleys and are usually created by running water which sharply erodes the soil, and they are often very wide and deep in size.

One of the villagers Vusumuzi Moyo is a farmer whose homestead is a few metres away from a fast approaching gully. 

The gully has already divided one of his farms into two, and a few rainy seasons from now, Moyo would have no choice but to relocate.

Moyo’s biggest fear is having to move to another place which he and his family are not familiar with.

“The issue of gullies is really affecting us. My home is located a few metres from one of the gullies. I fear that one day we will have to move to another area,” said Moyo.

He added that efforts to contain the gullies have been futile because every farming season some farmers still fail to construct contour ridges.

Moyo is not the only farmer affected but other villagers are also sharing the same burden of poor farming techniques.

This indicates how agricultural activities are not only a victim of environment degradation and climate change, but also a cause of these negative effects.

Gully erosion is also a major concern for traditional leaders in the area, with Chief Dingani Nelukoba expressing concern over the intensity of the challenge.

The Chief echoed the same sentiments with Moyo, that the gullies are a result of farmers who shun practicing contour ploughing.

“The gullies are caused by human activity, especially farmers who think being advised to construct contour ridges is a form of punishment. But those contour ridges protect the soil from being washed away thereby containing the gullies,” said the Chief.

Chief Nelukoba also said that gullies are destroying road infrastructure, and further implored relevant responsible stakeholders to work together and not politicise reclamation efforts.

“I urge my community to work closely with the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), government and local authorities in protecting our land. The other challenge is that locals politicise reclamation efforts. We call people to come and fill in the gullies, but you hear them saying this is ZANU PF or MDC work. This delays progress,” said Chief Nelukoba.

Meanwhile, EMA Matabeleland North Environmental Education and Publicity officer Mildred Matunga says they have recently conducted a Land Degradation Inventory in all districts in the province, so as to assess the status of land degradation.

Matunga said although the Mabale area was not rated as a hotspot  for gullies, there are areas like Lukosi in Hwange, where severe gullies have formed as a result of lack of vegetation and fragile Kalahari soils that are vulnerable to erosive forces.

She added that there is need to prevent gullies rather than controlling them when they have formed. 

“Communities in Mabale once implemented gully rehabilitation activities and constructed gabions with the assistance from a local villager,” Matunga said.

Gully erosion is not only a challenge in Matabeleland North, but in other provinces as well.

According to EMA statistics, in Mashonaland West about 40. 08501 hectares of land is covered by gullies.

This has resulted in the displacement of villagers in areas like Zvimba in Chirau communal lands, who have had to move to resettlement areas..

The problem of gully erosion also extends to the Midlands province as well. 

EMA Environmental Education and Publicity officer for the Midlands province Oswald Ndlovu said there are parts of the province which have soil types prone to erosion.

Ndlovu urged farmers to practice sustainable farming methods so as the reduce land degradation.

“As EMA we encourage farmers to practice conservation farming to prevent environmental degradation challenges like gully erosion,” he said.

In Zimbabwe, gully erosion mostly affects river catchment areas, with about one million hectarage of land recorded to be affected.

The challenge is also experienced at continent level, where about 29 million hectares of land has been affected by erosion in Africa.

The gullies are a death trap for people as well as livestock, which shows the need to intensify sustainable mitigation efforts.

In areas like Mabale and Hwange which have been hit the hardest by effects of climate change and environmental degradation, one would expect more funds to be channeled towards environmental conservation and adaptation.

However, Hwange Rural District Council Lupote Ward Councillor Cosmas Mwakiposa says budgets allocated to land conservation are not enough.

“Money set aside for environmental presentation and adaptation to climate change is not enough and as local authorities we end up prioritising some issues over others. We appeal for funding from donors and government to ensure effective land conservation,” says Mwakiposa.

There is a strong need for communities, government, environmental experts, EMA and other responsible stakeholders to join together and come up with sustainable mitigation measures to reduce land degradation.

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