Villagers in the lower parts of Chipinge district have embarked on a massive commercial extraction of sand from the Save river as community resilience in the wake of successive droughts have weakened, forcing many to scrap a living in this unconventional trade.
The first half of the farming season is almost over yet very little rainfall have been received in this predominantly agricultural society prompting villagers to find alternative ways of living.
Crops are in bad state and economic opportunities are so lean.
Conventionally, people here would sell livestock to neighboring communities as a resilience strategy against poor harvests but this is the second consecutive drought looming yet many have already lost cattle and are left with few goats.
“Most people in Chipinge are really in a difficult situation. Normally people here survive through selling of agricultural produce including vegetables, mealie meal from grain harvested in previous yields but there is nothing left to sell, the rains have been so erratic and the crop in a write off,” Claris Madhuku, director at Platform for Youth and Community Development – a local community based organization said.
“It has been very hot since October and there have been no rains so it has pointed out a serious situation where communities have been forced to be innovative. In the lower veld of Chipinge along the Save River, people are now so desperate that they now survive on extracting sand form the Save River to sell. People are molding bricks along the river,” he added.
Demand for sand for construction purposes in nearby Checheche growth point which was recently accorded town status by government has risen, creating opportunities for locals to supply sand.
Along the river, some are even molding bricks, cutting trees for use in their brick making ventures.
But environmentalists are less amused by the development.
“We acknowledge the opportunities arising from selling sand which is giving our youths some form of income but it is the future of our rivers and trees being cut we are mostly worried about. It will worsen the environmental effects we are already grappling with,” said one senior villager.
The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) is also skeptical about mining activities in this area.
“Our mandate is to ensure that there is no land degradation and pollution. In this instance where we are having people extracting sand for brick-making we encourage people to extract sand from registered points and they must transport it using vehicles that have been registered. This is a way of getting to know where these things are happening so that we are able to monitor the activities and formalize them. But we have noticed there is a lot of illegal sand extraction especially around growing settlements such as growth points and its causing a lot of land degradation,” EMA spokesperson Amkela Sidange said in an interview.
However, it’s not just in Checheche where community resilience is weakening under the vagaries of climatic hazards such as poor rainfall and cyclone Idai but other areas like Birchenough Bridge, Rimbi, Chipinge town and Chibuwe are also adopting non-conventional means of survival such as engaging in illicit money trading activities.
These activities have mainly been practiced in urban areas and rural communities are also fast adopting them in the wake of cash shortages and lean economic opportunities.
“There has been an increase in illegal money trading activities in the area were young people are converting mobile money into cash, local currency into American dollars and the Mozambican Metical, the Rand and vice versa. So that business which used to be alien in these parts is now very prevalent especially if you go to areas like Checheche, Birchenough Bridge, Rimbi and Chipinge town. We now have high number of young people selling money without being productive,” Madhuku added.
Experts have warned of an escalation in non-conventional economic activities in these areas as effects of the impending drought deepen.
High crime rate, prostitution and other immoral activities are already on the increase in the district.