Jack of all environmental trades & masters of some:Finding our feet & laying the ground for future work (2)


Compiled by Dr Makanatsa Makonese*[1]

Read last week’s edition here

Trans-boundary Natural Resources Management Programme

The Trans-boundary Natural Resources Management (TBNRM) Programme ushered ZELA into the world of transnational environmental management and engagement with other actors working on natural resources governance particularly within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. The main focus of this work was on trans-frontier parks and shared watercourses. ZELA undertook work in the Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park and the Kavango-Zambezi Trans-frontier and in the process forged partnerships with organisations such as the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature, the Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Campfire) and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zim Parks) amongst others. The relationships with these organisations were critical in expanding ZELA’s worldview regarding environmental and natural resources governance issues. The fact that these organisations were established, large and tried and tested in the area of wildlife management also assisted in giving ZELA the credibility and acceptance that was necessary for its growth as it sought to establish itself in the country and internationally. The relationship with Zim Parks helped to introduce ZELA to government linked conservation initiatives, in the process establishing a relationship that would help ZELA in its future work with the State, the Parliament of Zimbabwe and other related entities.

Rural Communities Programme

The Rural Communities programme had its focus on general access to environmental and natural resources for communities living in rural areas. This programme was informed by the realisation that the Zimbabwean population is largely rural. For example the 2012 national census showed that the country’s rural population was 67% of the total national population in the country.[1] As such it is important that communities that live in the rural areas are able to access natural resources as a means of livelihood but also as an incentive for communities to look after the natural resources that they live with. Initial emphasis was placed on access to land, with a realisation that the majority of the rural communities survive on subsistence agriculture. However at the time that ZELA was beginning to implement this programme focus, Zimbabwe was faced with the Fast Track Land Reform Programme and the attendant farm invasions which changed the complexion of the country’s rural landscape, land ownership, access and control. Other than the practical challenges of implementing a rural land access programme in a policy and practice environment that was in flux, the land issue in Zimbabwe became highly political and a centre for great contestations in the country making it difficult for ZELA to put a grip on the issues that required to be addressed.

However, not to be deterred by the development on the land reform and resettlement front, ZELA continued to work with communities in Mutoko District with a focus on research on rural biofuels production from the jatropha plant which was being grown by communities as a home boundary and decorative plant. This project tapped into the work that communities were already involved in and was focused on developing an understanding of the jatropha plant production in the area. As such, the work was not resisted by the communities and related actors who in fact embraced ZELA and worked closely with the organisation. This work led to the publication of a book titled “Community Participation in Biofuels Crop Production in Zimbabwe: A Focus on Policy and Practical Efforts”.[2] The publication was important in that it linked community participation in the production of jatropha to wider national and international debates and policy issues including those on food security, climate change and community participation in the production of commercial crops.

The work on biofuels production in Mutoko also opened the way for ZELA to work on other environmental issues in the area and in particular the issue of granite mining and the rights of the community to benefit sharing and environmental protection by the mining companies. Other than the research aspects of the work, ZELA also embarked on community advocacy and education campaigns with a view to sensitize the Mutoko Community about their rights and the need to protect such rights. The work in Mutoko helped in highlighting the interrelated nature of ZELA’s programmes and the realisation that no one project could be implemented in isolation with the other.

Urban Environments

The Urban Environments Programme resonated with poor urban communities in Zimbabwe at a time when the country was beginning to show signs of economic distress leading to poor service delivery by the local authorities and the government. The challenges that urban communities were facing were myriad including the following:

  • Poor sewer reticulation as a result of reduced maintenance and limited upgrades to the urban sewer reticulation systems
  • Unemployment
  • Poor or no waste collection and management; and
  • Poor water supplies

In response urban communities and outlying rural communities affected by these problems employed a variety of strategies to deal with the problems. In Chitungwiza,  Mambanjeni in Gweru and Dora Pinto in Mutare, the communities resorted to suing the local authorities to compel them to stop the discharge of raw sewage in the streets and in water bodies that communities relied on for their livelihoods. The Manyame Community in Chitungwiza argued that the discharge of the raw sewage into the streets was posing a health hazard to the residents and in particular to children who continued to play in the sewer puddles, oblivious of the health hazard that they were exposing themselves to. The community won the case in 2005 and the Municipality was ordered to repair the sewer pipes and interdicted from discharging raw sewage into the streets of the town. The litigation of the Manyame case led to ZELA receiving similar requests from the Mambanjeni and Dora Pinto communities, both of which were downstream rural communities that were affected by the discharge of raw sewage by their respective urban local authorities (Gweru and Mutare Cities) into rivers. The water pollution affected the rivers, which were the communities’ drinking water sources and were also used by animals and by the same communities to irrigate vegetables and other crops for both subsistence and small-scale commercial purposes. By the time the communities made a decision to litigate, ZELA had been working with the communities for a considerable period focusing on community environmental law education. The communities at this stage were therefore conversant with their rights and had put in place structures to lead them in their litigation against the local authorities. The availability of ZELA and the successful lodgment of the first case with the High Court gave the other communities the impetus and confidence to launch their own bids for the protection of their rights to a clean and healthy environment. The relationship between ZELA and the communities in such instances was therefore always synergetic in that ZELA gave the communities information about their rights and the communities in turn were able to make informed choices about the route they wanted to take in order to protect their rights. As human communities require cooperative and respectful engagements, deference to the priorities and needs of these communities always helped ZELA in ensuring a good working relationship with the communities.

The high unemployment rate and poor waste collection in the country, though impacting negatively on urban communities, provided some of the communities that ZELA was working with in areas such as Epworth, Dzivarasekwa and Mabvuku in Harare with entrepreneurial ideas. The community members constituted themselves into waste management groups and with the help of ZELA were registered as Community Trusts to enable the communities to engage with other stakeholders as recognizable legal entities.[3] The waste management groups embarked on waste collection and recycling initiatives that provided them with a livelihood whilst ridding the urban residential areas of the piling garbage that the local authorities were failing to collect. Initially operating randomly, some of the waste management groups managed to approach the local municipal authorities to request for land on which to undertake their waste management initiatives. One such group led by Mr Kanotunga evolved into a successful business enterprise and was given some assistance by the local municipal authority.

A major challenge however was that most of the time the waste management groups lacked the necessary capital to embark on their activities in a meaningful way and often turned to ZELA for such financial assistance. They held a view that because ZELA had helped in establishing them as community trusts, then it was the responsibility of ZELA to ensure that the community trusts acquired the necessary resources to successfully set up their enterprises. This was an understandable expectation, yet in many instances, ZELA was also struggling to raise the necessary finances to keep its programmes running. This created a crisis of expectation and sometimes frustrations on the part of the communities who felt that ZELA was not doing enough to assist them. ZELA realized the importance of making these community trusts viable by providing the necessary resources and that it was not enough to simply establish the community trusts and then leave them to their own devices in an effort to be sustainable. As Satterthwaite D and Sauter G have noted:

“What actually happens on the ground in particular localities is what makes the difference. Many barriers to poverty reduction are local”[4]

In the same vein ZELA believed that many solutions to povery reduction, environmental protection and sustainable development were local hence the desire to help the local community based organisations in taking their programmes and ideas off the ground. As such fundraising efforts were put in motion to help the community trusts and often the work of the trusts was included for funding in larger ZELA funding proposals. Fortuitously at the time that ZELA was struggling to raise the funds for the community based organisations, the Director, Mr Mutuso Dhliwayo was invited to sit as a Grant Advisor of the Global Greengrants Fund.[5] This development led to Mr Dhliwayo recommending the funding of community trusts that ZELA was working with to the Global Greengrants Fund to receive funding under their small grants programme. Not only did this give the community trusts the impetus to do more, but it also gave ZELA the energy to establish more trusts with the realisation that the work of these local organisations was receiving international attention and support. The support of community based organisations, their local work and allowing the communities to amplify their voices whilst linking them with national and international like minded organisations has therefore been one of the trademarks of ZELA over the years. This has given ZELA the satisfaction of seeing the community trusts that it helped create and mentor growing and making a difference in their communities.  Leaders have also emerged from these organisations including some that have taken up local and national political office predicated on the need to promote sustainable development, a clean and healthy environment and the rights of communities to be heard. Whilst initially focused on urban communities, the creation and mentoring of community trusts also expanded to rural communities and some of the strongest community trusts that ZELA has established in Zimbabwe are based in rural areas and focus on community management of and benefit sharing from natural resources occuring in rural areas such as minerals, forests and wildlife.

With the reputation and success of ZELA in the establishment and mentoring of community trusts growing, the organisation began to receive requests from other entities to assist in the creation and registration of community trusts in areas where these entities were working. The Campfire Association was one organisation which approached ZELA to help in the creation of ten community trusts in different parts of the country focusing on the management of wildlife resources.

ZELA also views the Government Community Share Ownership Schemes/Trusts (CSOS/T)[6] programme as a direct response to the work that ZELA was doing in establishing community based organisations and registering them as trusts and a realisation by government that natural resources governance at community level and related economic activities could spur local community development and help in improving the standard of living of these communities. The government initiatied trusts have however been marred in various controversies. These include political interference in their operations[7], abuse of funds by traditional leaders who are the chairpersons of the trusts and other trustees as well as threats and coercion against corporate entities that fail to comply with the quota requirements under the country’s indigenisation laws.[8] There has also been resistance by corporate entities to the implementation of the trusts and attendant indigenisation laws due to the view that the process borders on expropriation of shareholding from these corporate entities. Despite these challenges, ZELA still believes that the establishment and strengthening of community trusts is an important way of ensuring community organisation, amplifying community voices and ensuring that community contribute towards and benefit from envrionmental management and natural resources extraction.

Urban Agriculture Project

Under the Urban Environments Programme ZELA also implemented a successful Urban Agriculture project. The project was informed by the fact that urban communities were facing a harsh economic environment in the country leading to the practice of urban agriculture for subsistence purposes. ZELA was however also aware of the negative environmental implications and potential legal breaches by the citizens that could arise from the practice. There was therefore a need to balance the survival needs of the communities and the environmental and legal imperatives that needed to be observed, especially with regards to off-plot agricultural activities in urban areas. This was a practice in which urban citizens went out of their allocated residential stands/plots to cultivate on open urban spaces such as urban green zones and undeveloped land. The practice of urban agriculture within one’s plot had long been a common practice in Zimbabwe’s urban areas and was to some extent regulated by statute[9] even though the relevant statutes were myriad and fragmented. Such practices included the rearing of animals and growing of crops and vegetables within the confines of one’s private property as provided for in city by-laws. The challenge however was that citizens were either going beyond the confines of the law within their private properties or were going outside their properties to invade open spaces in pursuit of what has in recent years been termed “food sovereignty”[10]. Many challenges ensued as a result including urban water sources pollution from fertlisers and pestcides and the slashing of crops planted in open spaces by the local authorities leading to tension between the local authorities and the residents. In an effort to provide policy direction on the issue, ZELA partnered with the Municipal Development Partnership for Eastern and Southern Africa (MDP-ESA) and undertook research on the practice and the relevant legal framework. The resultant research report was published into a book[11] which has become a reference point on urban agriculture in the country. Following this publication, ZELA and MDP-ESA were requested to develop Urban Agriculture By-laws for the City of Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. This was the first time that an urban local authority had made attempts to create a comprehensive and all encompassing statutory instrument to address the issue of urban agriculture in the country thereby pointing to the impact of ZELA’s work in this area. However with the growing poverty in Zimbabwe’s urban areas, the challenge of unregulated urban agriculture has continued.  Efforts to control the practice have been met with resistance by citizens and the practice has also become an area of political contestations and an elections rallying point. ZELA believes that this is an area that it should continue to work in and that a balance can be achieved between food security for the urban poor and regulation of the practice in order to control environmental pollution and degradation.

ZELA also had an interesting experience with waste management and urban agriculture in Dzivarasakwa, Harare. This was one of the communities that ZELA was working in to promote waste management, environmental protection and responsible urban agriculture. As a result ZELA established strong relationships with some of the individual members of the community. One such individual took ZELA’s messages to heart, she began to develop a compost heap close to her house where she would bring different types of waste collected from the vicinity. When the compost was ready, she grew vegetables on the heap. ZELA members were impressed by what they believed was an innovative way of combining waste management and food production by this woman. We however got a rude awakening when a scientist colleague advised us that the growing of vegetables on that compost heap constituted a serious health hazard to this woman and all the people that would consume the vegetables due to the presence of hazardous toxins in the compost heap that were produced as a result of various chemical reactions from the waste. This taught us that “using the law to protect and conserve the environment”[12] could not be separated from science and scientific analysis of various aspects of the environment. Following this lesson, ZELA has always relied on the assistance of scientists to understand the environment and link the scientific findings to envrionmental management and protection, the law and implications for ordinary members of the community.[13] This has been particularly useful in situations where ZELA/and or communities with the assistance of ZELA are taking pollution related cases to court.

Key Cross Cutting Issues

In implementing its activities, ZELA was awake to the various cross cutting issues that were impacting on or driving the work of the organisation. Whilst these were many, in this section, I will however deal with two main issues, namely environmental justice and gender. Until next week!

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