New Livelihoods in Zimbabwean Communities Help Reduce Land Degradation, Poaching

ReliefWeb – REPORT from World Bank Published on 13 Feb 2020


  • A land use project has created alternative livelihoods to community farmers to reduce pressure on the ecosystem and increase community appreciation of conservation
  • Increased land productivity is contributing to food security
  • Key lessons learned in land restoration are now part of a toolkit that can help the rest of the country

HARARE, February 13, 2020 – A thriving community garden has become a hive of activity in Chireya, a community that has stopped stream bank cultivation to stem land degradation and preserve its environment.

For years, the agricultural community had been relying on stream bank cultivation—the practice of growing or cultivating crops near a wetland, stream or river— to grow crops and feed their families. But the practice is one of the main causes of degradation of the river ecosystems in the country.

To help stop degradation along the Hwange-Sanyati Corridor, 120 families voluntarily gave up the practice to participate in the community garden project. Largely occupied by women, each family has a 250m2 plot, where they are currently growing vegetables. The garden has been contributing to food security and been a great relief to participating households.

“We no longer engage in stream bank cultivation which was seasonal anyway, whereas the garden keeps us busy daily,” said Sarudzai Mapfurambanje, a 27-year old community resident and mother of two. “We can feed our families and access drinking water from the garden.”

The community garden is part of the Hwange Sanyathi Biological Corridor Project (HSBC), which sought to help communities facing land degradation and low productivity in three districts, as well as three protected areas including a national park and two forests.

Through community discussions and consultations, residents shared their concerns about gullies, formed by running water and eroding soil, that were threatening a maternity ward and business district. To stop the development of large, gaping holes, stream bank cultivation had to be discouraged, and new job opportunities developed to reduce pressure on the ecosystem and increase community appreciation of conservation.

In addition to the garden, the project features the Katamba brick molding activity designed to reduce a key driver of land degradation; clay extraction to make bricks. Targeting young people, the new process replaces the base input for such production with river sand. The sand is sourced from the nearby Ume river which is silted by sand. The location for extraction is guided by the national Environmental Management Agency. The molded bricks are sun-dried to reduce deforestation.

As the community faces a continued threat of erosion, community vigilance and readiness to mobilize is required to combat new ravines. Thus; strong environmental committees exist in Chireya to provide for continued community mobilization for gulley maintenance. To also ensure sustainability of the garden, propositions have been advanced to use member contributions and mainstream the project investments into local government structures. Additionally, the project has codified the land restoration key lessons into a toolkit for sodic soils, with direct applicability to other parts of the country as over 15% of Zimbabwe is sodic soils.

“By ditching stream bank cultivation and working together in the community gardens and brick molding among other interventions, we have a renewed sense of community and will do whatever it takes to preserve our environment,” said Chief Chireya of Gokwe North. “As the leadership, I am committed to continuous education and awareness raising on the danger of stream bank cultivation so that even in rainy seasons, communities remain compliant.”

The HSBC project has not only benefitted Chireya but the various communities in the Hwange-Sanyathi Corridor through different interventions to address varying and urgent needs. In the Sidinda Ward of Hwange Rural District Council, buffalo have been restocked to improve livelihoods through the setting up of a conservancy. The conservancy is a step to stem poaching.

However, as the country has been experiencing a drought, the buffalo population has declined significantly, hampering the design of the planned Sidinda Conservancy. To stem buffalo deaths, community members volunteered to harvest grass further outside the conservancy for processing into hay.

Through the project, the business plan for Sidinda Community Conservancy has been completed and community representatives have expressed strong support for project investments.

“Years back we had lots of different animals and when we realized that they were getting fewer we took on the suggestion to restock and we are now looking forward to a change in livelihoods not only in Sidinda Ward but the whole Hwange District,” said Sinikiwe Nyathi, Sidinda Ward Councilor who is also the chairperson of the Hwange District. “We are aware that the project will take time, but we are fully onboard, and looking to our partners for further assistance.”

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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