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Zimbabwe Poachers Risk Lives To Dig Up Ginger

by Stanley Karombo

$125/mo to risk lives crossing Mozambique border

(IPS) HARARE -- At dawn, Tsitsi Savanhu wakes her teenage daughter so that they can prepare for the 25 kilometer journey to neighboring Mozambique. Once there, they will dig up as much ginger as possible before rivals descend to challenge their claim to certain areas.

Such is the daily life for many residents of Nyamaropa village, about 270 kilometers east of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.

Savanhu began crossing into Mozambique illegally after drought all but destroyed the crops she grew at home. Three months after the official start of Zimbabwe's rainy season, downfalls in the country have been erratic, leaving millions in need of food aid.

But, ginger continues to grow abundantly in the forests of Mozambique. And despite the economic woes affecting Zimbabwe, the plant is in demand locally for its pleasant flavor and perceived healing qualities. Many believe that it is effective in treating constipation and minor abdominal pains.

To get to Mozambique, the Nyamaropa villagers risk their lives by crossing the crocodile-infested Kairezi River. In addition, there have been clashes with Mozambicans who are angered by what some view as the whole-scale looting of ginger roots.

Maria Jane, an official based in Chimoio -- capital of the western Mozambican province of Manica -- says, "There is a very high influx of Zimbabweans crossing the border into Mozambique for ginger."

"Although the tuber is found in abundance in the country and is far from being depleted, our major concern is environmental conservation. The looters dig for the tuber very carelessly, leaving a trail of permanent land degradation," she adds.

Savanhu disagrees: "It is true that our neighbors may now be very worried about our increased presence into their country... But, we always take... measures not to destroy the plants and the environment."

The Governor of Manica, Soares Nhaca, has also expressed concern about the number of Zimbabweans entering Mozambique illegally.

But, another Nyamaropa villager, Memory Kupe, says it simply wouldn't be possible for her to give up harvesting and selling ginger. The plant has served as her economic life line for the past four years, since she lost her job on a farm.

"I'm for the upkeep of my family from selling the ginger tuber. On good days I can earn as much as 100,000 (Zimbabwe) dollars per month. Although the money is not enough, it assists (us) to survive. (100,000 Zimbabwean dollars amounts to almost $125.)

When the villagers return home, they sell the ginger locally or at wholesale price to vendors from Harare and the southern city of Bulawayo.

A 20 kilogram bucket of ginger can fetch up to $10 (about 8,000 Zimbabwean dollars) -- and baskets packed with the roots are a common sight on buses which ply the road between Harare and the eastern border city of Mutare.

However, a specialist in traditional medicines, Richard Ngwenya, says people who use ginger may have been misled about its healing properties, the other benefits of the plant notwithstanding.

"There is so far no evidence of the tuber treating any ailments while in its raw form, although the majority of our people eat it like that," he told IPS.

"Ginger, like any other unprocessed herbs, should be taken with maximum caution to avoid overdoses that could result in serious consequences."

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Albion Monitor January 27, 2004 (

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