Owners of private properties and A2 farmers in the tourist resort area said A1 farmers, the majority of whom are war veterans, were illegally hunting wild animals and destroying the unique forests in the area.
Operators of tourism facilities said the area, which is renowned for its beautiful scenery and forests, was fast losing its value.
John Maengamhuru who grows flowers and operates an indigenous tree sanctuary said the destruction of natural environment had been worsened by people who invaded areas that were not suitable for habitation.
The illegal settlers are allegedly farming on mountain slopes, water channels and along riverbeds, thus speeding land degradation which is threatening productive farming in the area.
This has also worsened the siltation of the two major rivers, Nyamakari and Nyamataka whose water is harnessed to irrigate the rich loam soils in the area, once a major force to reckon with in horticultural production.
One horticulturalist Admire Mazaretu said one of the two sources of Nyamakari River, which is begins from Bedza Mountain, was already severely silted as the illegal farmers, who are said to be backed by senior Zanu (PF) officials in the province, were cultivating on the mountain slopes.
“Efforts to have the illegal settlers removed seem to be hitting a brick wall as we now fully understand that there are political forces behind this,” said Mazaretu.
Tourism players and farmers in the area said it was now imperative that the responsible authorities join hands with conservationists to address the situation.
“If the practice is left to continue for two seasons or more, Vumba and other areas like Burma Valley risk turning into a desert and farming infrastructures maybe destroyed,” said Peter Magosvongwe a local strawberry farmer.
EMA steps in to stop the rot
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) provincial environmental officer, Kingston Chitotombe said efforts were being made to engage all stakeholders in order to rectify the situation.
He said the agency was working with various stakeholders including the local government, police and other relevant key ministries.
“We held a meeting with these stakeholders together with the farmers last month and explained to them the implications of cultivating on mountain slopes, water channels and cutting down trees, which speeds-up land degradation that would threaten productive farming,” said Chitotombe.
He said illegal settlers have been given a deadline to vacate the area, failure to which they would be forcibly removed.
“The resettled farmers have agreed to vacate the area soon after they harvest their crops. Failure to do that we will have to act through the courts,” said Chitotombe.