Utariri conservation projects transform lives in the Zambezi valley.

-If we fail to address the climate change crisis, there will be more hunger, more injustice, and more conflict, the Swedish Ambassador to Zimbabwe warned.

John Cassim

Per Lindegarde Ambassador of Sweden in Zimbabwe on the right and Mads Lindegard, Country Director of DanChurchAid launches the photo exhibition

Harare, Zimbabwe – The security walls of the Swedish Embassy in Harare will, for some time to come, be a symbol of Utariri’s conservation success through a picture exhibition that depicts a rich understanding of biodiversity by communities in the Zambezi valley.

A picture says a thousand words; hence, several thousand words of joy, success, commitment, and love echo from the Swedish Embassy walls in Avondale.

These are images that portray some of the success stories of the Utariri Conservation Project in the Zambezi Valley that have been recorded in less than three years.

The Utariri Integrated Biodiversity and Livelihoods Programme, which has been supported by the Swedish Embassy since 2022, is a programme that seeks to create a healthy landscape in the Zambezi Valley.

These include natural resources like water, soil, trees, plants, wildlife, and human beings who are the intended beneficiaries, such as farmers, fishermen, and ordinary citizens.

The programme is implemented by a consortium of partners such as the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Bushlife Africa Trust, the Farmers Association of Community Self-Help Investment Groups Trust (FACHIG), The Future of Hope Foundation (TFoHF), led by DanChurchAid.

This becomes the Embassy’s first support for a programme where the focus is on sustainable management and use of natural resources, including protection, conservation, and restoration of biodiversity.

The Utariri photo exhibition on the Swedish Emnbassy walls in Avondale, Harare

During the launch of the Utariri photograph wall exhibition, the Per Lindegarde Ambassador of Sweden in Zimbabwe said climate change is a global issue that requires global cooperation.

“The world is experiencing increased droughts, wildfires, storms, and hurricanes. There is a biodiversity crisis, seeing the accelerated extinction of species.

If we fail to address the crisis, there will be more hunger, more injustice, and more conflict, and it brings home how all our livelihoods depend on the delicate balance of nature no matter who we are or where we come from,” the ambassador said.

-The photo exhibition

The photograph exhibition shows how communities are mitigating climate change through various projects such as mushroom production and vegetable gardening, enhancing the role of women in food systems, tackling issues of markets and value chains in remote areas, and co-existing humans and animals to reduce human-wildlife conflict.

Sustainable ways of co-existing, such as creating chilli fences, is one way of reducing the destruction of crop fields by elephants.

To reduce poaching and gender-based violence, women and youths are involved in anti-poaching projects.

Women are also benefiting from the garden initiatives, thereby reducing hunger and poverty. They have also converted tobacco bans into mushroom cold rooms, but their communities, including tourism lodges, are their market.

Runyararo Motsi from FACHIG said they have introduced small-grain production in the Zambezi Valley.

“We are leading the livelihood component; we are promoting the small grain production of cow pea and sorghum in Mbire and Muzarabani. We are also introducing sesame as a cash crop and chilli planted around fields to reduce human-wildlife conflict.

We are linking our farmers with breweries such as Delta through the production of red sorghum,” Runyararo said.

According to Berverly Kuveya of the Future of Hope Foundation, mushroom production is transforming the soil.

Some of the mushrooms being produced under the Utariri Project in the Zambezi Valley

“In mushroom production, we use the waste from the fields, and again, after harvesting the mushrooms, we use that waste to ameliorate the soil; there are no losses,” she said.

Mads Lindegard, Country Director of DanChurchAid, said his organisation is raising awareness of the use of natural resources.

“We are raising awareness so that our communities can realise that they can extract cosmetic oil from the marula seed, the baobab seed, and a number of wild fruits that are beneficial to humans,” he said while arguing that value addition should be done locally instead of exporting the raw fruits to developed countries.

Walter Mupezuweni from the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) said implementing partners need to understand what communities really want, and this will inform the programming of the Utariri project.

Already, through AWF, the communities now have a better understanding of the value of their wildlife through anti-poaching projects.

This was echoed by Desiree Murray from the Bushlife Africa Trust: “Our job is to provide sustainable and consistent solutions to the wildlife conflict. The Zambezi Valley is a wildlife corridor, and through development, humans are encroaching, but to co-exist, some awareness is being done.”

These discussions exposed by the implementing partners were just a summary of what the picture exhibition is all about.

Through the Utariri project, communities in four districts in Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central but along the Zambezi Valley are now aware of the benefits of their biodiversity.

“When outsiders come into these communities, they are often surprised by the willingness and understanding of biodiversity by these communities. Let’s not belittle communities’ understanding of the environment that they live in; communities need a few tools to modernise and co-exist with biodiversity,” Mads said.

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