By Norma Tsopo
MUTASA – A panicky hare disappeared as quickly as its jumpy run had made its presence known.
“Bury the thought, you can’t hunt here,” Tea Commodity Association chairperson Patrick Chikomba said as the hare disappeared in the distance.
This is Honde Valley where small holder tea growers were awarded with Rainforest Alliance (RA) and Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) certification after passing audits in sustainable production of the cash crop.
“If you are caught hunting game, no matter how small, you will lose your certification,” he said in a serious tone but with a smile of satisfaction.
This has given them pride and status. And they are pleased to remind all that they earned it through their respect for other life forms – both flora and fauna.
Sitting afoot the majestic Inyangani mountain range in Manicaland, Zimbabwe and in the splendour of riparian forests which are only interrupted by the finery of the photogenic tea plantations, it appears Honde Valley will hang on to its rich biodiversity.
This coming, albeit from the least likely of sources – and one that is even responsible for the decimation of Zimbabwe’s forests and depleting wildlife – agriculture.
The RA and SAN certification programme is part of a global campaign for sustainable agricultural standards, which compel farmers to proactively address social and environmental challenges in farming as prerequisites to the global tea markets.
And it is already paying dividends to the country’s push to preserve its pristine forests and diverse wildlife.
Although the prestigious certification is set to benefit smallholder farmers by unlocking access of their produce to niche global markets, the environment is the biggest winner.
RA and SAN are coalitions of non-profit conservation organisations in America, Africa, Europe and Asia promoting the environmental and social sustainability of agricultural activities.
Local environmentalists have lauded their efforts noting that they gave consumers power to make agricultural producers accountable about how run their enterprises.
“Consumers are increasingly having a say over how companies operate because at the end of the day they are the ones who determine whether businesses succeed or fail. To this end, consumers now want to know and be guaranteed of producers’ compliance with source countries’ environmental regulations,” said local environmentalist Amos Chiketo.
Sustainable Environmental Conservation Trust Africa (SECTA) Programmes Coordinator Moses Chimedza also said unless consumers hold businesses to account the environment was going to be completely destroyed for profit.