By NQOBANI NDLOVU
AMACIMBI (mopane worms) as they are called since they feed on leaves of Mopane trees, have become a source of conflicts involving locals and outsiders.
In Zimbabwe, amacimbi are not only considered a delicacy and an important source of nutrition, but a source of income for many, especially in rural Matabeleland.
Amid warnings of another spell of hunger, a bountiful of amacimbi in parts of Matabeleland South province such as Kezi, Solusi and Gwanda, among others, is seen as coming at the right time to hedge against the impact of food shortages in the coming months.
An unprecedented rush for amacimbi from “outsiders”, especially from Bulawayo and other parts of the country, who have literally camped in rural Matabeleland bushes has, however, alarmed and angered locals who say they are being robbed of their resources.
Scores of “outsiders” have camped in the bushes, cutting down trees in search of amacimbi, leaving locals seething with anger over fears of either extinction or reduced numbers of the delicacy worms in future.
“It’s our natural resource; it’s our resource and that of our children and future generations to benefit from, but then outsiders are disregarding all that by cutting down the trees,” lamented Peter Moyo, a Solusi villager.
“There has to be regulation on the harvesting of amacimbi, outsiders must be licensed by our traditional leaders as we cannot continue to allow this situation where outsiders come here to finish off our resource, leaving us with nothing, with no source of income, and with no Mopane trees after they have either cut them or burnt them down.”
The “outsiders” stand accused of also fouling the environment by bathing and relieving themselves near the rivers.
A Forestry Commission official also expressed concern over the indiscriminate harvesting of the common property food resource.
“We seem not to have any problems with the local communities who have established intact indigenous natural resource management systems,” the official said.
“The main culprits are outsiders who are fuelling environmental damage. In some areas, these people have started veld fires while in other areas they are cutting trees in order to catch the worms.”
The cutting-down of trees, deforestation, is a major concern in Zimbabwe among other southern African countries, according to a Food and Agriculture Organisation report by Sasha Naidoo, Claire Davis and Emma Archer van Garderen, from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa titled Forests, rangelands and climate change in southern Africa.
“Deforestation and forest degradation comprise a large proportion (approximately one-fifth) of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” the report reads in part.
“Deforestation in the Sadc region is a major concern and has been identified as one of the priority areas for regional action due to its contribution to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and to land degradation and its negative impact on biodiversity and the balance of associated ecosystems.”
However, this is of little concern to amacimbi harvesters who are not resident in parts of rural Matabeleland South where the insects are found, with experts warning that this is a recipe for conflict.
“All I need is money,” said Jacqueline Ndlovu, from Bulawayo, who had travelled with her friends to Kezi, Matabeleland South, in search of amacimbi.
A 20-litre bucket of amacimbi fetches US$25 or 375 rands with the price set to go up as demand increases as the worms deplete. A small cup of the commodity is being sold for anything upwards of ZWL$10.
Chief Nyangazonke of Maphisa in Kezi, Matobo district, lamented the cutting-down of trees by “outsiders” who have descended in his area in search of amacimbi, saying they risk being charged at his court for looting a resource that naturally belonged to locals.
“There should be no cutting down of trees, and neither should there be fouling of our environment by those who have camped in our bushes,” Nyangazonke said on Friday.
The traditional leader urged his subjects to take ownership of their natural resource to avoid a situation where outsiders “leave them with nothing”.
“As traditional leaders, we have our traditions which call on visitors to register their presence with traditional leadership structures . However, these people here for amacimbi do not do so, that is disrespect and that worries us,” he said.
“Locals must take control and ownership of this resource. It’s their natural resource and they must benefit from it. At the same time, we are not chasing anyone away, but we are saying let us be responsible; let us harvest amacimbi in an environmentally sustainable way to avoid conflicts with locals who will surely want to fight against such practices.”
Analysts warn unless this common property food resource is managed in a sustainable manner, there could be highly reduced numbers and market failure for the resource in the future.
They also recommend that government improves the property rights and institutional arrangements that govern the exploitation of mopane worms by supporting communities to establish indigenous natural resource management systems.
“It is important that government takes the harvesting of mopani as an important contributor to food and nutritional security of locals, and an important contributor to the gross domestic product,” said Effie Ncube.
“For that to happen authorities need to educate and train amacimbi harvesters and farmers to ensure it is done in an environmentally sustainable way.”
Ndodana Moyo, a villager in Kezi, however, feels authorities have let them down by giving free rein to “outsiders” to loot their resource.
“It is for this reason that you see some gold panners resorting to the use of machetes to defend their claims,” Moyo said.
“In our case, the outsiders have literally flooded our area and you cannot continue to have that kind of situation…eventually this will cause serious friction in the communities and we will end taking up arms to protect our resource from looting.”