by Elias Ncube, Africa Center for Holistic Management

Communities in Zimbabwe report increased suffering thanks to water shortages and land degradation in recent years. Invoking alternative solutions, a local organization is training residents and other nonprofit organizations to use livestock to restore land and natural water sources.

by Gertrude Pswarayi Senior Reporter, Monday – August 15, 2011

VICTORIA FALLS, ZIMBABWE ­– Balbinah Nyoni, 37, grew up in Sianyanga village, a rural area that lies in the semiarid region of Matabeleland North province in western Zimbabwe.

Although the province is home to the world-famous Victoria Falls, the people here suffer from long dry spells and high temperatures, thanks to climate change and environmental degradation.

Nyoni is tall and slim. She has eyes that draw everyone’s attention. Her skin is very dark, testifying to her ceaseless expeditions in the scorching sun to provide food and water for her family from the dry land. But her robust walk and rapid talk reflect her fighting spirit as she resists the daily fatigue that seems to sap the energy out of many women, men and children in Sianyanga.

Nyoni stares vacantly at the lifeless, dry lands in front of her and takes a deep breath. She says the land used to be beautiful and that a small perennial river flowed across her village when she was a little girl. Nyoni adds that livestock had plenty of food and water.

She says that there were many trees for shade, remembering how it was difficult to walk in the bush because of the dense vegetation. She says walking in the bush used to give her goose bumps because she feared snakes and getting lost.

“This is where we used to swim when we were young,” she says, trampling on the mounds of sand under her feet. “My friends and I used to come here to do our laundry, bathe and swim for hours.”

But now there is little sign that flora and fauna were once in abundance in this area. Nyoni sighs deeply and points to an old hut up the hill about 50 meters away where her grandmother used to live.

“She thatched that hut using grass that was harvested there,” she says, pointing to a piece of land about 10 meters away.

But the land she points to is bare. The soil is hard, and there are gullies.

Nyoni says she has witnessed drastic changes. It has become extremely hard for the people and livestock to live and thrive here. She says women and children bear the bulk of the hardships, as they are the ones who are involved in domestic work.

“I wake up very early to travel several kilometers to fetch water before it gets too hot,” she says. “By the time I return home, I will be so exhausted, but I still have to fetch firewood, prepare a meal for my family and do an endless list of other domestic chores such as cleaning and washing clothes.”

In light of these hardships, Nyoni says her community has realized the need to restore the land.

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