Land use planning and human-wildlife conflict in the Zambezi Valley


Compiled by Byron Zamasiya (Natural Resources Economist-Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association)

01 July 2021

Illegal alterations to land use patterns are among the significant causes of Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) in Zimbabwe among wildlife reliant communities. Although, in some instances, the alterations are done with a good intention, the resultant effects pose a significant threat to livelihoods, human life and livestock. This blog highlights the causes of illegal alterations to land use plans and how this practice escalates HWC. The lessons presented in this blog are drawn from my interactions with communities in Mbire and Binga districts in Zimbabwe.

Population growth

Human population growth is one of the significant causes of land use patterns in reliant wildlife areas. In most cases, households in wildlife reliant areas have bigger family sizes and smaller fields. The arid to semi-arid conditions that prevail in most wildlife reliant communities make it difficult to realise high crop yields from small pieces of land. Therefore, most households believe in extensification to compensate for the low yields. The customary laws in Zimbabwe’s rural areas provides that when a boy child has become of age (married), his father weans him off from the family by giving him his piece of land to till for his family. As such, the field owned by the father becomes smaller to apportion to his sons. Under such circumstances, a child is usually allocated land in the forested area. Due to the scarcity of arable land that is not forested, some children end up being given forested land as their fields. When this happens, the wildlife habitat will be destroyed. The destruction of the wildlife habitat will escalate HWC.

Settlement of people in wildlife corridors

In some wards, new households are settled right in the heart of wildlife corridors. Wildlife corridors are bridges, and they allow for the safe passage of wildlife from one area to another. Settling people in wildlife corridors is usually done by the village heads without consulting the Village Development Committees. The Rural District Councils and the Traditional Chiefs are generally not consulted when people are settled in the wildlife corridors. When the new households clear their fields, they will cut down trees and burn grasses. This decimates the wildlife habitat and increases pressure on the remaining forests and grasslands. Some wildlife may migrate, leading to ecological imbalances. Unfortunately, settling in a wildlife corridor exposes households’ crops, property and livestock to attacks by a host of animals, including elephants. Usually, elephants remember very well their treks or those used by their ancestors. Once a household settles in a wildlife corridor where there is an elephant trek, that household will experience human-wildlife conflict. This was the case in Sinansengwe ward, where about five families settled themselves in a wildlife corridor.

Expansion of fields for crop production

Another common practice in reliant wildlife areas is clearing forests and grasslands to expand agricultural fields. The smallholder farmer may use fire or the axe to open up the new field. This practice usually happens without the approval of the village head and the Traditional Chief. Under these circumstances, a household will slowly expand its field, hoping for a better harvest from the expanded area. When this happens, forests which are the habitat of wildlife, are destroyed. As the forest’s density decline, wildlife becomes homes to attack people, crops and livestock.

A typical example is ward four in Mbire, where the community has expanded their fields right into the wildlife habitat. The expansion has reduced the forests where the wildlife can graze, habitat and hunt. Resultantly, there are now high levels of HWC in the ward.

Absence of buffer zones

Mbire is home to five wildlife conservancies. The conservancies share borders with communities. However, in most cases, there is no buffer zone between communities and the conservancies. A buffer zone is usually 1km wide. It allows communities to graze their cattle, extract non-timber forest products, and act as general protection between domestic animals and wildlife. However, the absence of a buffer zone implies a high interaction between humans and wildlife and domestic livestock. The resultant effect is that communities will lose their livestock to wildlife, crops are destroyed, and human life is risked.

Given these realities, how can communities and authorities address the problem of HWC induce by alteration of land use patterns?

There are several options that communities and stakeholders can pursue to address this challenge. The key issues are as follows:

Adherence to land use patterns

Every RDC has a land-use plan. When communities are issuing out land to new households, the councillor should ensure that the traditional leaders adhere to the set regulations and laws. This can help to ensure that the land use plan is followed. The RDC’s Environmental officers should ensure that when a new household is settled, it adheres to the land use plans. This can help in ensuring that no households are settled in wildlife corridors or buffer zones.

Creation of buffer zones

The importance of a buffer zone in reducing HWC cannot be emphasised. As such, it is advisable for communities to leave a buffer zone between them and the wildlife conservatives. The buffer zone can help reduce the incidences of HWC. The RDC should ensure that the demarcation of a buffer zone is conducted in a participatory manner. This can help communities to respect the boundaries with the conservancies.

Intensification of agricultural production as opposed to extensification

Traditionally, the crops grown in areas adjacent to wildlife areas require vast tracts of land for a household to get the meaningful benefit. The most common crops are cotton, finger miller and sorghum. To address the issue of extensification, stakeholders may promote intensification practices. Such practices may help the farmers extract more from their current fields without expanding into wildlife habitats.

Diversification of livelihoods

An alternative to crop-based farming could be the diversification of household livelihoods. This may include the introduction of better livestock breeds to the communities. The improved breeds may fetch higher money than the local breeds. This then takes away the need for land expansion for crop-based livelihoods. Stakeholders may target wildlife reliant communities with programs that promote improved breeds for cattle and goats.

Raise awareness on land use plans

Environmental sub-committees are usually tasked with the responsibility to enforce environmental land use plans. It is important that community members are made aware of the land use plans in their area. There is a need to alter the land use. It is vital that consultations are made with the appropriate authorities such as the Rural District Council, Environmental Management Authority, and Forestry Commission.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.