Water bodies have social, economic and strategic values with various functions and benefits for the environment and human life that depends on the resources contained therein and the need for achieving sustainability and healthy aquatic ecosystems.
River beds and banks have high vulnerability to degradation from various land-based activities which can cause a decrease in environmental quality. Stream bank cultivation is one of the leading land based activities causing degradation of the riverine ecosystems in Zimbabwe.
Stream Bank Cultivation is a serious environmental challenge affecting water bodies in the country. Zimbabwe is an agro-based economy and the agriculture sector has over the years been contributing significantly to employment creation and the Gross Domestic Product.
Most communities derive livelihoods from horticulture which has a lucrative local market. However, environmental sustainability when undertaking such activities needs to be emphasized so that water bodies are preserved from degradation and siltation.
All farming activities should be done at least 30 metres away from the highest flood level of any wetland and water body, be it a dam, lake, river, stream or weir.
Cultivating within 30metres from the highest flood level of the bank of a water body is Stream Bank Cultivation. This practice is not sustainable and it renders the environment inapt to provide its functions of life support to humans, wildlife and vegetation.
Stream bank cultivation in most parts of the country has been the major driver of siltation affecting streams, rivers and dams. This has been noted both in the rural and urban set up of the country driven by the search for moisture and alluvium; a deposit of clay, silt, and sand left by flowing floodwater in a river valley or delta, typically producing fertile soil.
Water bodies are critical in supporting agricultural activities. Aquatic life such as fish as well as irrigated crops rely on water bodies and contribute to food security in the nation. Extra effort should therefore be put to ensure that the available water bodies are preserved.
The growing of crops and application of fertilizers within the river banks leads to the water pollution through enrichment from dissolved nutrients that stimulate the growth of aquatic plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen.
This will effectively disturb the natural ecosystem. Intensive agricultural activities often lead to increased loads of pollutants such as pesticides and fertilizers in rivers and streams.
Not only do these affect their ecological character, they also impact on human health and the quality of drinking water. There is need to employ conservation tillage and organic farming practices in order to reduce the pollution loads reaching rivers.
Stream bank cultivation has immediate and long term consequences. It results in soil erosion which in turn causes siltation of water bodies. Also, farm chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides can be washed into water bodies thus polluting the water.
In the long run, this practice causes water shortages. Silted water bodies can only hold water for short periods of time. For this reason Zimbabwe we are left with only a few perennial rivers. This affects water availability in areas where people’s livelihoods depend on water.
According to the Environmental management Act Chapter 20:27 as read with Statutory Instrument 7 on Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection Regulation, it is an offence to degrade rivers and banks through unsustainable practices such as stream bank cultivation. Any person who contravenes this statutory requirement shall be liable to a fine not exceeding level ten.
Given the important roles that water bodies play in our daily lives, it is therefore critical for all of us to take stock of our actions so that we do not contribute to their degradation. Let us desist from stream bank cultivation and ensure that rivers and streams are conserved and well protected.
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