A Micro Study of Livelihood Factors Impacting the Lives of Rural Households in the Buhera District of Zimbabwe.
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Poverty is the greatest humanitarian challenge the world faces. With a fifth of the world living below the poverty datum line, the world has a huge burden to reduce poverty. A target has been set through the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to reduce poverty by half by the year 2015. In pursuing this goal, livelihoods of poor people, especially in rural areas, play a major role. This study sought to understand the role played by livelihood assets, strategies and security in the fight against poverty in rural communities. The location of the study was Buhera District, located in Manicaland Province, eastern Zimbabwe. The district was chosen because of its huge rural population of 93.3% and accessibility to the researcher. It has a population of 250 000 people. A sample of 100 heads of households, representing 0.2% of the 50 000 households in the district were interviewed. The sample consisted of 52% females and 48% males further stratified into children, youths, adults and the elderly. Findings indicated that each household had on average 6.51 members against a national average of 4.3%. The research found out that households had a diversified physical asset base but yielding low income. The major asset was found to be livestock especially cattle. Households had on average 2.5 heads of cattle, the same finding UNICEF found in its 2002 study in Buhera. All households had good pieces of land averaging 5 hectares but not very fertile. The majority of households had little access to information, technology, markets and basic services. Infrastructure especially for schools is dilapidated, roads are eroded and the land is degraded, posing major threats to livelihoods. Financial resources at the time of the study per household ranged from US$0.50 to US$44. Livelihood strategies were found to be diversified but falling within two major categories, farm and off-farm activities. The major strategies included crop farming especially maize and groundnuts (grown by 98% of households) followed by livestock based strategies. Remittances and support from NGOs had a significant role. Food production was at pathetic levels showing an average deficit of 87% in the last season. Security factors were found to be mainly lack of rainfall, political instability, disease and land infertility. These factors acted vindictively against the efforts of the households. Due to their effects, total income per household per month was only US$52 on average against an average monthly expenditure of US$87. Households had several but hopeless ways to cope with the deficit. Most of them just consumed less food, fail to pay school fees or sell livestock. Conclusions reached included that crop cultivation is the major source of livelihood but it is under threat from inadequate rainfall and soil infertility. With dwindling crop yields families rely on livestock thereby straining their asset base which is under threat from empty pastures and lack of adequate water. To save their livestock, households rely on off-farm activities. Men leave the villages to look for work in turn improving remittances. Surprisingly, there is inaccessible government social security for vulnerable groups including large families from polygamous marriages. Resultantly, the cycle of poverty perpetuates itself. In light of these conclusions, the researcher recommends that livelihoods must be protected, promoted and rehabilitated. Water availability must be prioritized whilst social capital and community cohesion must be enhanced. To curb migration, agriculture must be made viable whilst social services must be made accessible. Behaviour change must be promoted to curb early marriages, gender imbalances and polygamous marriages. There is need for participation of villagers and provision of adequate resources from government and NGOs. Areas for further study include livelihoods of child headed households,nutrition and irrigation.