Streambank cultivation and human-wildlife conflict in wildlife reliant communities


Compiled by Byron Zamasiya, Natural Resources Economist

In the first half of 2021, several community members in wildlife reliant communities reported attacks by wildlife. Some unfortunately lost their lives while some lost crops and stored grain. The animals that were implicated in these attacks include hippos, crocodiles and elephants. Rural district Councils such as Mbire were overwhelmed with calls from the distressed communities. One major cause of human-wildlife conflict in these areas is stream bank cultivation. This blog focuses on why communities practice stream bank cultivation and how this livelihood practice leads to human-wildlife conflict. In the several blogs to follow, I will also get to focus on other facets of human-wildlife conflict in wildlife reliant areas in Zimbabwe.

The general pattern in the country is that most wildlife reliant communities are situated in agroecological poor zones. Rainfall is usually low and unreliable. The temperatures are extremely high to sustain crop production. The prevalent soils are sandy loam which is nutrient depleted. Staple food crops such as maize are challenging to grow under such circumstances. Most farmers in wildlife reliant communities used to rely on cotton production for income, food, and nutrition. However, this dependence on cotton changed in 2014 following the challenges facing the sector. The collapse of the cotton industry has plunged most farming households in wildlife reliant areas into abject poverty. Although it makes economic sense for communities to grow other crops such as millet and sorghum that are heat tolerant, have a ready market and can do well with little rainfall, the reality is that communities are caught up in the maize poverty trap. This means that most farming households believe that when they talk about food security, they would be referring to the quantity of maize they would have harvested in a season. Given the unreliable rainfall, high temperatures and the sandy loam soils that are prevalent in these wildlife reliant areas, one then wonders why households still talk about maize production when the biophysical environment cannot sustain such production.   

Communities in wildlife reliant areas have found comfort in growing maize crops on flood plains/stream banks along major rivers that cut across their settlements. The flood plains are very rich in crop nutrients from topsoil deposits that occur during flash floods. They also retain moisture that lasts long enough to sustain maize production. Most farming households that are food secure in wildlife reliant areas grow their maize on the stream banks. It is estimated that yields from these flood plains exceed a tonne per hectare compared to less than 0.4 tonnes per hectare on dry land. Unknown to the communities is that when they establish their fields on flood plains, they do so in the grazing land for hippos. Some of the fields along the flood plains are on wildlife corridors. The closure of the wildlife corridors leads to an escalation of human-wildlife conflicts.

The problem of human-wildlife conflict induced by stream bank cultivation is also worsened by constructing nutritional household gardens along the riverbanks. The farming households target the stream banks/flood plains because of their proximity to water sources. Although household nutritional gardens are good, a major challenge with the gardens is that they are usually laid out close to each other, leaving no room for animals to pass through. Joining gardens has the risk of closing wildlife corridors or treks utilised mostly enroute to the water sources.

Wildlife such as Hippos live in water but feed on land. The construction of gardens and stream bank cultivation also tend to block the hippos’ treks on land especially in search of food. If the hippos destroy crops grown on the stream banks, the framing households retaliate by stoning the hippos. When this happens, the hippos end up attacking people in the gardens or those in stream bank fields. This is one of the major consequences of stream bank cultivation and construction of joining gardens on stream banks. The closure of treks also reduces the number of wildlife who can find their way to water sources. Before the construction of gardens, crocodiles would easily prey on some animals such as impalas, kudu, buffaloes. The crocodiles hunt actively during any other time of the year except in winter. When the hunting pattern is tempered with by constructing joined gardens, crocodiles attack people since they cannot get their preferred prey. This leads to an escalation of human-wildlife conflict in wildlife reliant communities.


Although stream bank cultivation is not encouraged and illegal, enforcement is usually a challenge due to cultural problems. Given this reality from wildlife reliant communities, what can communities do to reduce human-wildlife conflict induced by stream bank cultivation?  There are several options that farming households in wildlife reliant communities can adopt. These include:

  1. Promotion of adoption of chillies farming and marketing

The production of chillies can be an option for farming households to reduce reliance on maize production in stream banks/flood plains. One motivation for chillies production is that they provide higher income which can be used to purchase maize for food security. The average yield for chillies is 2 tonnes per hectare, and the current price of a kilogram of chillies is USD2.00. The cast-off chillies can also be used to produce chilli bricks and chilli string buffers to mitigate human-wildlife conflict. Chillies can also be sold to other farming households that are prone to human-wildlife conflict.

  • Build gardens leaving spaces for animals to access water points

Communities should build their nutritional gardens at least 30 metres from the top of a flood plain. When doing so, they should also leave gaps between gardens. This will allow other wildlife to access water sources while providing room for predators such as crocodiles to prey easily. Hippos will also have a chance to move freely from pools to feeding areas.

  • Promote the adoption of soil and water conservation practices

The use of soil and water conservation (SWC) practices can help deter stream bank cultivation. This is because the use of SWCs allows a farming household to be food secure from their dryland farming instead of stream bank cultivation. The strength of SWC is that it addresses the challenge of water scarcity and soil fertility.

The conversation continues-watch out for my next blog.

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