By Trust Rukwava

 Illegal mining has destroyed over 193 hectares of land in Masvingo Province alone in the past year, a development that  has raised concern among  government officials, villagers and Environment activists,  Centre news can reveal.

Speaking during the inception program of the GEF-7 Sustainable Forest Management Impact Program in Dryland Sustainable Landscapes project at Great Zimbabwe Hotel recently, Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Masvingo Provincial Manager, and Milton Muusha said illegal mining, wild fires, firewood poaching and charcoal harvesting were a major threat to dryland ecosystems.

“Illegal mining activities among other human factors is the major  driver  of environmental degradation in the province and has so far affected close to 200 hectares of dry land,” said Muusha.

The programme is led by Food and Agriculture organization (FAO).

Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution for Masvingo Province, Ezra Chadzamira echoed the same sentiments.

“The absence of and non-maintenance of conservation works and human activities such as illegal mining, unsustainable wood harvesting wetland cultivation, streambank cultivation, proliferation of invasive alien species, wild fires and deforestation are largely to blame for land degradation in the province” said Chadzamira.

Minister of Environment Climate Tourism and Hospitality Industry Nqobizitha Mangaliso Ndhlovu in a speech read on his behalf said land degradation is a serious cause of concern in Zimbabwe.

“The major causes of land degradation in Zimbabwe include rampant tree cutting, Unsustainable wood-fuel harvesting, overgrazing, invasive alien species, wildfires, expansion of agricultural land, cultivation on riverbanks, and degradation of wetlands, uncontrolled mining combined with expanding urbanization. These ills are largely driven by poverty, lack of sustainable alternatives, population growth and climate change” he said.

FAO Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Patrice Talla, said degradation of forest and land resources have long been identified as major impediments to sustainable development in Zimbabwe.

The use and exploitation of natural resources contribute to their degradation, due to activities such as over-cultivation, overgrazing, cutting and clearing of forests.

“The objective of the Zimbabwe project is to promote the sustainable management of Miombo and Mopane production landscapes in Save and Runde sub-basins following a Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) approach. This initiative will support a cross-sector approach which will result in mainstreaming of sustainable forest and land management to enhance ecosystem resilience for improved livelihoods in the Save and Runde Catchments of Zimbabwe,” said Talla.

Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution for Midlands Province Larry Mavhima also bemoaned the vast land degradation caused by illegal mining activities.

“Gold rushes have proliferated within the Province resulting in massive land degradation particularly in Shurugwi, Kwekwe, Mberengwa and Zvishavane” said Mavhima.

 FAO targets three provinces namely Masvingo, Midlands and Manicaland and was graced by top government officials, members of the media fraternity and other stakeholders.

The project is expected to alleviate land degradation as current statistics show that 40 percent of the planet’s land is already degraded affecting 50 percent of all people on the planet.