Livestock and competing claims on natural resources at the population-land-livestock nexus in Mbire District in the Mid-Zambezi Valley, Zimbabwe

PhD project by Steven Matema. Smallholder farmers in rural communal areas of Zimbabwe practice mixed farming under rain fed conditions, in which livestock have different functions relating to crop production, consumption, household finance and social roles.

picture by Jens Anderson

Traction is the most important reason for keeping livestock in Zimbabwe and manure is an important input for crop production. Livestock in Zimbabwe is kept under extensive grazing in which animals are herded during the wet season and left to roam freely during the dry season. Livestock responds to spatial and environmental variability in arid regions by moving across the landscape in order to access key resources such as water and forage. Government policies, veterinary restrictions, land use zoning, traditional structures such as villages and communal rights to grazing, wildlife conservation and socio-political disputes on land rights may, however, interfere with such movements. In-migration and population increase amplify the struggles in the rural landscape at various scales; natural resource related conflict among livelihood groups, such as between crop cultivators and pastoralists, and between agropastoralists and the state in situations where livelihoods are resource dependent. In Zimbabwe, two authorities to allocate land exist; the Rural District Councils (RDC) and the traditional chiefs. The dual structure of land administration makes the rural areas arenas of power struggles between traditional institutions and new institutions.

For many years, the human population in Mbire district in the mid-Zambezi valley of Zimbabwe has been expanding rapidly and has encroached gradually on large wilderness areas with abundant populations of wild herbivores and tsetse flies with concomitant clearing of vegetation for crop cultivation. The increase in human population is mainly attributed to in-migration as households from overcrowded districts move into areas perceived to open opportunities for improved agricultural production. Tsetse fly eradication made it possible to keep cattle in the district and revenue from cotton production was an important source of money to purchase cattle. Water is a limiting factor that influences settlement and agricultural productivity, which explains human settlement along the riparian zones of the major rivers. Riparian areas provide good grazing for livestock but are also the areas where the threat from tsetse flies, ticks and helminths are the greatest. Riparian zones are also important for wildlife; as habitat and a source of forage, and rivers as a source of water.

Mbire district thus represents a region of contrasts and conflict; traditional authority versus state administrative land authorities; migrants versus autochthons; wildlife versus livestock; wildlife versus crop; and, crop versus livestock. In light of these competing jurisdictions and competing land uses, it is critical to gain an understanding of livestock related competing claims on natural resources. To be able to understand these livestock related competing claims we need to understand how ecological, social and political boundaries are defined and formalized; to identify determinants of land value; to identify how livestock keepers, non-livestock keepers, and wildlife access and use riparian ecosystem services; and, to assess future land use options. The outcomes can provide the basis for systems and institutional innovations for livestock production in a situation of multiple interests and competition for natural resources.