Land degradation, defined as a process in which the value of the biophysical environment is affected by a combination of human-induced processes acting upon the land, is becoming a major concern in Zimbabwe.
This promotes erosion, resulting in the loss of life and limb and destroys the natural habitat for humans and animals.
One of the major contributors to this is the surge in gold panning activities as people are wantonly cutting down trees and digging pits.
So dire is the situation that it prompted the country’s environment patron First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa to engage with panners and promote the planting of trees as a way of reclaiming the environment.
On her way to Chiweshe at the weekend, the First Lady was disturbed by the prevalence of land degradation where illegal panners dug pits and left them uncovered.
She pleaded with the panners to cover the pits which they left opened.
Engaging the panners was no easy task for the First Lady as they took to their heels when she sought to meet them.
Only those working at a local registered mine spoke to her.
She commended the miners and their superiors for wearing protective gear.
“I am involved with the environment and that is why I have come to speak to you. I want to find out what you will do to the pits after extracting the minerals,” she said to which the mine officials said they would cover the pits.
“I thought if we get trees we will plant them over the pits. How do you see that?” she asked and the officials agreed to the idea and accepted to work with the First Lady and reclaim the environment.
The First Lady implored the mine workers to work together well and warned them against engaging in machete attacks.
“I urge you to work well. If you disagree, do not fight. Do not cut each other or fight with bricks. No, go to your superiors and have problems resolved amicably. Isn’t it so? The death of one of you pains me as a mother,” she said.
The illegal gold panners who had ran away later returned after getting satisfied that the First Lady meant no harm.
They gathered and apologised to the First Lady for running away and listened to what she had to say.
“Vana vangu, I urge you to cover the pits and as the environment patron, I will look for trees so that we plant. I work with the environment to fight land degradation and promote planting of trees. We say no to the burning of forests. We are worried by the pits being dug and left like that. After covering these pits I will source trees from the Forestry Commission which we will plant together,” she said.
The panners welcomed the planting of trees and agreed to fill their pits.
They gave the First Lady their phone numbers for communication after filling the pits so that she may bring over trees.
They further implored their peers countrywide to embrace the First Lady’s advice to cover the pits and plant trees.
So delighted with the First Lady’s intervention were the panners that they promised to heed her advice while female panners said they were seeking assistance to leave the risky life of gold panning and engage in meaningful income generating projects.
Amai Mnangagwa who is the Angel of Hope Foundation patron promised to assist the women. She urged them to form groups and come up with project ideas.
One of the panners, Ms Nomatter Gutsa (31), said she was willing to take part in the First Lady’s efforts to reclaim the environment and thanked her for the projects.
“We are happy because our country is being destroyed because of these pits. We have accepted her request to plant trees. Here as women there was little we could do other than gold panning, we are glad that the First Lady wants to assist us and introduce projects for us so that we do away with gold panning,” said Gutsa.
Equally delighted was Mrs Gladys Maravanyika from the surrounding community who said most people had ditched farming and growing trees rushing to pan for gold which was viewed as lucrative.
“I am very happy with this programme because I personally grow trees, but I had nowhere to put them as people were focusing on gold panning. I am happy because Amai has introduced my area of specialisation. I will also take part in planting of the trees educating other villagers in the process on the importance of tree planting,” she said.
Another panner, Mr Joel Kapuya, said the need to protect the environment cannot be overemphasised.
“I am one of those who pan for gold, the programme brought by the First Lady helps preserve our environment. As owners of the land we urge others to be organised and not degrade the environment.
“Worry is that precious lives of both humans and livestock are being lost to accidents caused by numerous open pits we dug and leave uncovered. We never think of rehabilitating the land afterwards.
“We want to thank the First Lady for coming up with the tree planting programme and we promise to take part,” he said.
As patron of the environment, the First Lady has been working with various organisations, including the Forestry Commission, to promote tree-planting.