Mr Asapha Nhongo (centre) from Harare fills up sacks with Macimbi he is buying from the women who are harvesting them standing guard behind him at West Nicholson in Gwanda South district recently, the man was buying the delicacy at twenty dollars per 25 litre bucket...Picture By Mlungisi Sibanda...

Zimbabwe should save amacimbi from extinction

Mr Asapha Nhongo (centre) from Harare fills up bags with amacimbi he is buying from women who harvest them in West Nicholson in Gwanda South recently. — Picture By Mlungisi Sibanda

Mr Asapha Nhongo (centre) from Harare fills up bags with amacimbi he is buying from women who harvest them in West Nicholson in Gwanda South recently. — Picture By Mlungisi Sibanda

Sifelani Tsiko
Zimbabwe is yet to impose a ban on the harvesting of amacimbi (imbrassia belina) delicacy which is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild due to over-harvesting and deforestation in the southern parts of the country.

A few weeks ago, Botswana announced a ban on the harvesting of amacimbi, a delicacy widely consumed in Zimbabwe and most other Southern African countries to allow amacimbi species to restock.

Since time immemorial, the edible amacimbi widely consumed in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Zambia has provided food at low cost and generated income for locals helping to fight hunger and poverty.

Amacimbi, madora or mashonja in Kalanga constitute one of the cheapest sources of protein for locals.

For a long time, locals collected amacimbi from the wild and partly traded them to earn money to buy other needs.

Forestry Commission spokesperson, Ms Violet Makoto, told Zimpapers Syndication this week that Zimbabwe has not banned the harvesting of amacimbi despite rising concerns over unsustainable harvesting practices that have decimated amacimbi species in areas bordering Botswana.

“Zimbabwe has not considered a ban as yet but we’re concerned about the decline of amacimbi in different parts of the country,” she says.

“Amacimbi populations are threatened in Matabeleland South province particularly in districts such as Matobo, Bulilima, Beitbridge, Gwanda and a few areas along the border with Botswana.”

Botswana banned the harvesting of amacimbi after the government and conservation experts agreed that taking drastic measures will allow the popular delicacy to pupate or burrow into the ground and become stock for the next season so as to increase the severely depleted amacimbi population in this southern African country.

Authorities in that country have stopped issuing harvesting permits to amacimbi dealers who trade the delicacy both locally and in neighbouring countries.

Ms Makoto says Forestry Commission researchers were still assessing whether the declining amacimbi population are due to over-harvesting and human activities or changing environmental factors such as poor rainfall.

“We’re still monitoring the situation,” she says. “We want to know whether the population numbers are declining due to lack of rain or drought. If the populations improve this season, we’ll know that their decline is related to rainfall factors. If it improves, then it means it’s a natural phenomenon and it’s not related to human activity.”

The Forestry Commission has conducted numerous training workshops in local communities with amacimbi to train them about sustainable harvesting practices as well as to empower them through their traditional leadership to manage the resource.

Conservation and sustainable utilisation of amacimbi is largely in the hands of local communities, who have been sensitised about its importance in improving livelihoods and enhancing food security.

“If the populations don’t improve, we’ll then have to embark on aggressive awareness campaigns in local communities to alert them about the impact this will have on their livelihoods as well as enhance their capacity to conserve Mopani trees which amacimbi thrive in,” Ms Makoto says.

“We don’t issue permits nor control the harvesting of amacimbi. This has been left to traditional leaders and the local communities to manage. So far, we’re happy with this arrangement as locals felt empowered to manage their own resources.”

In the worst case scenario, the Forestry Commission spokesperson says her organisation might propose a ban on amacimbi, in closer collaboration with local communities.

“We need to learn from Botswana to study the rationale behind the ban,” she says. “If the conditions are similar, this might be a learning curve and we might consider taking similar measures.”

In years gone, locals could harvest them in large quantities during the early months of the rainy season (November to January) and get another smaller second harvest in the April to May period following good rains.

But now with the frequency of droughts and human interference, amacimbi populations have declined significantly.

Forestry experts say population numbers vary from year to year based on the availability of rainfall and presence of host tree leaves.

They say the preferred time for harvesting the larvae is when they are in the fifth larval stage, just before pupation.

Amacimbi feed on the leaves of the Mopani tree (Colophospermum mopane) which is found in the south and western parts of Zimbabwe, stretching into parts of South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and northern Namibia.

They are found over a fairly large area in Zimbabwe. The areas include parts of Chivi, Mwenezi, Mberengwa, Beitbridge, Chiredzi and Gwanda.

“Commercialisation and a sharp appetite among urbanites has decimated the amacimbi populations,” says a forestry expert in Bulilima District.

“People were now coming from far flung places to harvest amacimbi without following local customs and traditions. This led to over-harvesting and extinction of amacimbi.

“The local Kalanga people had cultural practices that safeguarded amacimbi populations. Before they could harvest, locals would take amacimbi to the Manyangwa sacred shrine for thanksgiving. After that, people would then be allowed to go and harvest. This was a sustainable practice that made amacimbi populations thrive.”

Environment Africa country director for Zimbabwe Mr Barney Mawire told Zimpapers Syndication that imposing a ban on amacimbi harvesting will pile pressure on the remaining population of the delicacy.

“Zimbabwe shouldn’t ban the harvesting of amacimbi. There’s simply no capacity to effect the ban,” he says.

“Banning is more expensive than coming up with a programme to promote sustainable utilisation and management of amacimbi by local communities.

“A ban will not be effective, it will perpetuate the cat and mouse game between authorities and harvesters, something which will fuel unsustainable harvesting practices.”

Other environmentalists hailed Botswana’s move as a great victory for conservation.

“The issue should really hit public consciousness of Zimbabweans,” says an environmental critic.

“Botswana as it stands has better amacimbi populations than us and we should move to set up mechanisms for sustainable practices within local communities. There’s a danger that if we act too late, amacimbi will become extinct soon and we’ll have nothing to show for it.”

He says local scientists, NGOs, politicians and legislators should be proactive and work closely to ensure the survival of amacimbi resources.

“We should work together to increase the protection for the threatened amacimbi specie,” he says.

“A ban will result in increased pressure on amacimbi stocks. This is a livelihood issue and if we leave it until it’s too late, the long term harvest rates are likely to be unsustainable, and the populations in general will suffer.”

Zimbabwe still faces shortcomings when it comes to amacimbi monitoring, control and sanctioning systems.

Critics say the country is not doing enough to stop illegal harvesting and promoting sustainable practices.

Commercialisation has threatened sustainable utilisation and harvesting practices by locals.

Most rural households no longer have income generated from amacimbi to buy food and pay school fees.

The black type of amacimbi are now found in small pockets in the Makorokoro area of Mangwe District, Makhado in Beitbridge and the Mabhongwane forestry area in Bulilima District.

For most areas, there only remain the green ones which are less favoured on the market.

“Amacimbi have now become extinct in the district,” says Mr Rickson Matengarufu, a forestry project officer for Practical Action.

“This is due to over-harvesting. Amacimbi normally have their own life cycle and when it’s disrupted it affects their numbers. When the drought is severe, people even eat cacoons of amacimbi, speeding up their extinction.”

Deforestation and over-harvesting of amacimbi has made the traditional way of life difficult to maintain for locals.

Zimbabwe is a signatory to international agreements, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), Access Benefit Sharing (ABS) — protocols and environmentalists say it is important to use such instruments to try and curb over-harvesting and illegal trade in amacimbi.

“There’re some regulatory aspects that can be borrowed from Cites, such as finding ways of issuing permits or to empower locals to harvest amacimbi in a sustainable way,” says an environmentalist.

“The other thing that would really help build up amacimbi populations would be to raise awareness of the importance of harvesting sustainably because in many cases, amacimbi are not destined for international markets. They’re just traded in local markets so many local communities need to be aware of how they should harvest them or if they should harvest them at all.” —Zimpapers Syndication

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