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A political ecology approach to understanding the implications for rural development in drought prone savannah: a case study of land and forest use in Chivi district, southern Zimbabwe.

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Given the role that natural resources play in the development of rural communities, there is an urgent need for a better understanding of the reasons why communities abuse the same resources that sustains their livelihoods. This thesis specifically analyses land and forest resource access and use in rural Zimbabwe through political ecology lens. Political ecology has widely been discussed globally and used even in most recent analyses of interactions between humans and the environment. The study therefore explores resource access and use in Chivi District, Southern Zimbabwe, where the communities are struggling to maintain their natural resources in a context where immediate survival needs outweigh any concerns for ecological sustainability. Deriving from this background, the main objective of the thesis is to assess through political ecology lens, the implications of land and forest access and use, for rural development in drought prone areas such as Chivi District. To achieve this objective, the study adopts Chivi District, a drought-prone area in Southern Zimbabwe as its case study. The choice is based on the fact that Chivi District is an area already overstretched in terms of natural resources, especially land and forest resources which are continuously depleting as a result of indiscriminate exploitation by local communities. The data was gathered from the field through interviews, transect walks and focus group discussions. Data was gathered from government departments, non-governmental organisations, traditional leaders, farmers, traditional artifact sellers and other community members. Data collected from the field was analysed thematically. The presentation and analysis is in the form of detailed descriptions, using narrative vignettes and direct quotes where necessary. The study established the relationship between political ecology and livelihoods strategies. The livelihood strategies adopted by the Chivi District community are influences by external influences. While most of the focus of literature on environment and development is on natural causes of vi environmental degradation, this study focused more on the linkages between environmental conservation, local communities and possible drivers of land and forest resource extraction. The study established the existence of a politicised environment in which the relationship between state actors, traditional leaders, local community, non-governmental organisations and the physical environment is conditioned by power relations. The existence of prescribed governance system in natural resources represent attempts by the state to restrict local communities from overexploiting natural resources but despite the existence of state actors and NGOs in the management of land and forest resources, natural resources in Chivi District are severely deteriorating and degrading. There are several flaws and shortcomings in the allocation of responsibility and authority over management of these resources. It also established that the destruction of resources is due to unsustainable livelihood strategies and there is competition for survival on a declining natural resource base. The unsustainable activities are firewood selling, craft industry, farm brick moulding and selling, illegal mining, stream bank cultivation, destruction of wetlands among others. These practices heavily depend on unsustainable exploitation of the natural resources and hence contribute to the destruction of its natural resource base such as gully development, siltation, deforestation and land degradation. The study further established that widespread deforestation and degradation is attributed to a number of factors that influences Chivi District to exploit resources. This thesis presents political, legal, economic, social and environmental factors as drivers of environmental degradation in Chivi District. The factors have a bearing on sustainable rural development because the people of Chivi depend on their immediate environment for survival and development. The study, thus, concludes that resource use and power dynamics in everyday interactions go beyond the local community. Political, economic, social, environmental and legal factors interacted in complex ways in bringing about the current state of land and forest resources in drought prone Chivi District.


Doctoral degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.