Samanga is an area located in Honde Valley, Manicaland, 120 km from Mutare under Chief Mutasa. Honde Valley is a unique area in region 1 of Zimbabwe, the soil is very fertile with plenty of rainfall, probably the highest in the country. Due to this climate, the valley has biodiversity that is unique to the area. As far back as the 90ís, Honde Valley had lush vegetation, plenty of water and wild spaces.
Fast forward 20 years and things couldn’t be more different, the lush vegetation has been replaced by banana plantations, water is limited depending on the time of the year and there are no more wild spaces. Every patch of land is now inhabited or owned by somebody thanks to the village heads who keep allocating land, illegally. Villagers can no longer own cattle because there is no more herding space, affecting their livelihood where cattle are traditionally seen as a symbol of wealth.
Bananas have become the new cash crop in the region, they need plenty of sunlight and water which Honde Valley has in abundance. With the soil being very fertile and plenty of rainfall, more people are cutting down forests to make way for banana plantations. Bananas are grown commercially in only 3 regions of Zimbabwe, Honde Valley, Burma Valley and Chipinge. The demand for this cash crop has made it a mono culture with everyone getting involved, leading to the loss of habitat for the local wildlife including the Samanga baboons. These baboons are a unique species only found in the Samanga hills and they are facing local extinction if nothing is done, hence this article. The baboons have been pushed into pockets, habitat patches on the hills sounded by banana farms. They are at risk of inbreeding, affecting the gene pool and natural behaviour. Due to this loss of habitat, less food is available to the baboons, they resort to eating bananas causing a backlash from the farmers whereby they are hunted using dogs, further decreasing their numbers.
Banana plantations have not only changed the landscape but other elements in the region. Plenty of water is needed for banana production, water is piped from the local rivers and streams, water that should be going downstream supporting biodiversity and the people further down. In the dry season there is less water to go around, villagers are taking each other to traditional courts as local tension increases over land and water disputes. Smaller farmers are coming together to form cooperatives, which collectively put money together to obtain larger pipes and placing them further upstream. Farmers are undercutting each other by placing larger pipes further upstream, closer to the source, having disastrous effects on the environment dependent on these natural springs. All these developments are causing there to be less water for aquatic life, the baboons and other creatures dependent on these water systems. To add, too much fertilisers are being applied to the soil for maximise production, the excess runs off into the rivers and streams contaminating the water and killing aquatic life. The whole water system is being affected.
Deforestation in the valley is also contributing to climate change, trees and plants are responsible for capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and converting to oxygen. The more the forests are cut down, the less CO2 captured, contributing to climate change. CO2 is also stored in the ground, so when an area is cleared, burnt and dug up for cultivation, CO2 trapped in the ground is released into the atmosphere. Climate Change affects the availability of water, especially in the dry season. This pushes villagers to expand and improve their food production, resulting in more forests being cut down. Honde Valley has a unique micro climate, vapour from trees and plants collectively moves up the mountains forming clouds which release rain. So, less trees means less water vapour rising, less rainfall, hotter and drier seasons. The rains are also coming late, the rainy season used to start in October less than 2 decades ago, last year the first rains came in late December. A sure sign the climate is changing. With water being piped into the plantations, there is less surface water for evaporation. Less evaporation means less rainfall, the whole micro climate is affected. Water is the derivative of climate, it is being drained for human activity at an alarming rate, rather than being absorbed into the natural systems. Bananas are transported out daily, increasing the number of vehicle coming in and out of the valley. These vehicles emit more CO2 especially when carrying heavy loads, contributing to climate change. The valley becoming hotter and drier impacts the Samanga baboons as less food and water is available to them. Climate change affects the space becoming the constriction on the baboon’s habitat.
To tackle the above issues, I propose awareness and capacity building workshops aimed at the farmers, local youths and leadership. They need to be informed on what is really happening on the ground and collectively come up with alternative income generating activities. For example; eco-tourism, Mutarazi falls (2nd tallest in Africa) and the famous Eastern Highlands are in Honde Valley. Government and the NGO sector need to create local employment and make it conducive for; solar farming, biogas production, conservation farming, mini hydro, water harvesting, afforestation and fish farming. Recently US AID were celebrating the success of its banana farmers in Honde Valley. In most circumstances this would benefit the community, boosting the local economy. In this instance it is coming at the cost of the environment. Studies need to be conducted to find out the remaining number of the Samanga baboons and the amount of habitat still available to them. Also, finding out how climate change is affecting their behaviour. More pressure needs to be applied on the local council, the MP and other leadership to enforce regulations on land allocation and irrigation pipes. We need to influence youths, policy makers and government to come up with more effective habitat conservation strategies.
To save the Samanga baboons we need to find a balance between human needs and those of nature. We need to promote more environmentally friendly practices that ultimately cater for people’s livelihoods and the local biodiversity.