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Climate Change Threatens Zim Tourism Industry

Themba Sibanda, a curio vendor smiles at clients, mostly foreigners as they look at his wooden artifacts at an open area near the Mosi-oa-Tunya Victoria Falls entrance.

By Calvin Manika

Unlike the limestone sculptors who use soapstone, Sibanda and other curio vendors at the site make their artifacts from wood.

Many curio vendors in Victoria Falls wholly depend on the trade for survival.

For the last two years the trade they have witnessed their trade struggling due to the COVID-19 induced lockdowns which saw the tourism sector also going down as countries imposed movement restrictions.

As if that was not enough, downstream industries that heavily relies on the performance of the tourism sector have not been spared as unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change.

Speaking to 263Chat, Sibanda revealed that climate change was slowly affecting the tourism sector especially wood sculpting.

“The material we use in wood sculpture is from indigenous trees. Due to climate change, these trees are at risk of dying as they are sometimes failing to adapt to extended dry spells. This will mean the death of our industry. We survive on this. When visitors come to see the ‘Falls’, both local and foreigners buy the artifacts and we survive from proceeds,” said Sibanda.

Climate Change has not spared Hwange District with the Hwange National Park one of the most affected areas.

Animals including elephants are having to battle for the little water available and are sometimes forced to travel long distances to get it. Zimparks which runs Hwange National Park has also failed to cope with the challenges due to lack of funding. This is happening at a time the elephant population has exceeded country capacity.

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In Victoria Falls, during this current 2021-22 rain season, flash floods hit most high density suburbs in Victoria Falls and overflowed in many areas.

Timothy Kaseke, a curio vendor lamented the effects of flash floods to curio vendors who operate from open spaces.

“We used to cover our products with a big plastic and temporarily seek shelter when rains come, but in the past decade things have changed, we normally experience flash floods and after the rains stops, the work place can go for days with the water all over. It’s so disturbing,” says Kaseke.

Interviews with various curio vendors by 263Chat further revealed that most of these vendors were quitting the trade and retreating back to rural areas due to low business.

“Life in the country side is not rosy. Climate Change is affecting crops. Another greatest threat is low rainfall, so it means some natural pools in the national parks surrounding us will be low and wild animals roam our villages in search of water especially Elephants and Buffalos,” says Charles Moyo.

With low crop harvests and wildlife-human conflicts pushing people to the city either is their trade spared by Climate Change. Wood carving is a form of woodworking by means of a cutting tool in one hand or a chisel by two hands or with one hand on a chisel and one hand on a mallet, resulting in a wooden figure, or in the sculptural ornamentation of a wooden object. The phrase may also refer to the finished product, from individual sculptures to hand-worked mouldings composing part of a tracery.

The curio business in Victoria Falls began shortly before the arrival of the railway line in 1905. Many of the ironwood carvings found in Zimbabwe are of African wildlife. Most carved animals on display are buffalo, giraffe, tortoise, crocodile, hippos and warthogs.

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Many of the carvings are inimitable feature pieces, exquisitely hand carved and imbued with the indefinably mystique of Africa. Numerous of the carvings are of traditional heads and come in a great variety of sizes and styles. Many different woods are used such as Olive, Mukwa, fresh teak and pod mahogany.

According to the Climate Change in Zimbabwe Facts for Planners and Decision Makers, a document prepared by the Research Advocacy Unit (RAU), Zimbabweans depend heavily on environment, but extinction among many plants, animals as well as water sources and fertile soils is piling pressure on the ecosystem as humans encroach into new territories.

With climate change affecting the curio business, other tourism activities in Victoria Falls can be more resilient to climate change and variability because the Zambezi River gets its recharge from the Congo Basin projected to become wetter with climate change.

Green Shango Trust Director and Climate Change expert, Daniel Sithole noted that despite the sustainability and stability of the Victoria Falls tourism as a whole, climate change mean more to ordinary and professional curio vendors in the shops and streets of Victoria Falls who make up the bulk of the population.

“Climate Change has devastating effects on the livelihoods of people directly and indirectly. In the case of curio vendors, the key raw material is wood. Trees survive longer but gradually they are being severely affected by climate change. Already some are dying without reaching the maturity age. They cannot sustain the changes in climate,” said Sithole.

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