Bulilima District in the southern part of the country is taking practical steps to control the harvesting of amacimbi (imbrassia belina), a delicacy which is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild due to over-harvesting and deforestation.

The district’s natural resources committee chairperson, Councillor Innocent Mavunela, told The Herald recently that the council had approved by-laws to regulate the harvesting of the popular amacimbi.

“As a council, we have approved by-laws to regulate the harvesting of amacimbi,” he said. “The by-laws now await approval by the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works.

“This district is rich in amacimbi populations, which are coming under increasing threat of invaders who come and over-harvest without locals benefiting anything. We want to curb this and have controlled harvesting.”

Since time immemorial, the edible amacimbi widely consumed in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Zambia, has provided food at low cost and generated income for locals helping to fight hunger and poverty.

Amacimbi, madora or mashonja constitute one of the cheapest sources of protein for locals.

For a long time, locals collected amacimbi from the wild and partly traded them to earn money to buy other needs.

In recent years, there has been growing concerns over unsustainable harvesting practices that have decimated amacimbi species in areas bordering Botswana and South Africa.

Clr Mavunela said they had engaged community brigades in Bulilima district to help control the illegal harvesting of amacimbi by outsiders.

“We now have community brigades who are now helping us to control the harvesting of amacimbi,” he said.

“This year we had a good harvest in most parts of the district including the Solusi University area stretching to Tsholotsho and Gwayi River areas, Ndolwane and Madlambuzi. People got varying amounts ranging from 5 bags to around 15 or 20 depending on one’s skill and luck.

“We have to use sustainable practices to prevent over harvesting and the extinction of amacimbi in our area.”

Locals who got good amounts of amacimbi were selling them at prices ranging from R500 to R600 a bucket. Many use the proceed to pay for fees, medication and to meet other basic needs. Under the by-laws, persons harvesting the amacimbi delicacy would be required to pay a certain amount of money to the council which would then be ploughed back to the community. Botswana banned the harvesting of amacimbi after the government and conservation experts agreed that taking drastic measures will allow the popular delicacy to pupate or burrow into the ground and become stock for the next season so as to increase the severely depleted amacimbi population in this southern African country.

Authorities in that country have stopped issuing harvesting permits to amacimbi dealers who trade the delicacy both locally and in neighbouring countries.

Zimbabwe was yet to ban the harvesting of amacimbi for commercial purposes.

Amacimbi populations were declining due to over-harvesting and human activities or changing environmental factors such as poor rainfall.

Consumer demand has led to over harvesting as locals seek cheaper and nutritious sources of food.

In years gone, locals could harvest them in large quantities during the early months of the rainy season (November to January) and get another smaller second harvest in the April to May period following good rains.

But now with the frequency of droughts and human interference, amacimbi populations have declined significantly.

Forestry experts say population numbers vary from year to year based on the availability of rainfall and presence of host tree leaves.

They say the preferred time for harvesting the larvae is when they are in the fifth larval stage, just before pupation.

Amacimbi feed on the leaves of the Mopani tree (Colophospermum mopane) which is found in the south and western parts of Zimbabwe, stretching into parts of South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and northern Namibia.

They are found over a fairly large area in Zimbabwe.

The areas include parts of Chivi, Mwenezi, Mberengwa, Beitbridge, Chiredzi and Gwanda.

Zimbabwe is a signatory to international agreements, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), Access Benefit Sharing (ABS) — protocols and environmentalists say it is important to use such instruments to try and curb over-harvesting and illegal trade in amacimbi.

Given the complexity of monitoring and controlling the movement of people, Bulilima council by-laws would be a test case if they succeed. For now, it’s a good sign for a community fulfilling its obligation to be good stewards of the environment, helping to reduce the threat of the extinction of amacimbi, a popular delicacy in the country.