Perceived local evidence of climate change and variability impacts on natural resources in smallholder communities of eastern Zimbabwe
MetadataShow full item record
Declining crop and livestock production due to a degrading land resource base and changing climate among other biophysical and socio-economic constraints, are increasingly forcing rural households in Zimbabwe and other parts of southern Africa to rely on common natural resource pools (CNRPs) to supplement their household food and income. This study investigated the nature and dynamics of CNRPs that are utilised by smallholder-farming communities of Dendenyore and Ushe wards (local development unit) in Hwedza district in eastern Zimbabwe, as influenced by climate change and variability. Special attention was paid to quantifying how community responses to climate change and variability have influenced natural resource use patterns and gender roles among households differing in resource endowments in Dendenyore and Ushe wards. A combination of farmer participatory research approaches, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing were employed between 2011 and 2013 to characterise the contribution of CNRPs to household food and income of these smallholder communities. Across study sites, wetlands and woodlands were ranked as the most important CNRPs. These were given highest priority because of their provisioning services by providing fruits (Mazhanje (Uapaca kirkiana) and Hacha (Parinari curatellifolia)), raw materials for crafts (Tsanga (Phragmites mauritianus) and Mutsvairo (Miscanthidium sorghum)), and firewood for energy. The extraction and use patterns of products obtained from the wetlands and woodlands varied significantly by household resource endowment, with the resource-constrained (RG3) depending more on natural resources. For example, RG3 households extracted greatest quantities of fruits such as Mazhanje approximately 35 kg per capita-1 year-1 between 2011 and 2012 compared to RG1 and RG2 households who only extracted 11 and 25 kg per capita-1 year-1, respectively. Despite their importance CNRPs, wetlands and woodlands, decreased by > 30% between 1972 and 2011. This reduction in prioritised CNRPs was attributed to a number of factors which were ranked in the order: land use changes (33% of the respondents) < less rainfall (31%) < and increasing temperatures (27%). The communities also perceived that the severe droughts of 1983/1984, 1991/1992, 2002/2003 and 2007/2008 seasons increased the rate of extraction of natural resources and this resulted in depletion of the natural resource base. For example during a drought, participation of men in extraction of water and indigenous fruits increased at least 40%, from a good (favourable season) to a bad (drought season) year. Provisional services of CNRPs are likely to be affected directly and indirectly by factors such as projected increase in rainfall variability and population increase amongst other factors. Despite their apparent decline communities in Dendenyore and Ushe are continually relying on a degraded natural resource base, suggesting limited livelihood options to adapt to climate change and variability, and other existing socio-economic and biophysical challenges. This suggests limited options for rural communities to adapt to the changing food production systems in the wake of climate change and variability and other challenges such as declining soil fertility. There is therefore a need to design adaptive farm management options that enhance both crop and livestock production in a changing climate as well as identifying other livelihood alternatives outside agriculture to reduce pressure on CNRPs. There need for active participation of communities and government agencies in proper land use planning and management of natural resources. In addition, promotion of alternative resources options to firewood (e.g. solar, woodlots) and indigenous fruit trees (e.g. orchards) among rural communities could reduce extraction of natural resources from wetlands and woodlands.