Supported by TSURO
In the Chimanimani District in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe, four villages are working towards regenerating their landscape. Saurombe, Tomeke, Zihuu and Chibvuma
villages have 236 households with an estimated total population of 968 people. The project area covers 2201 ha and includes mountains, grazing and crop areas, forests, rivers, residential areas and gravel roads. The people from these four villages are called the Varombe and Chief Saurombe presides over them.
The villages are supported in their efforts by the local organisation, Towards Sustainable Use of Resources Organisation (TSURO). TSURO staff provide facilitation and agroecological expertise and training to the communities.
The Varombe people were driven from the fertile Charter Forest area in the 1950’s by the colonial government and settled where they are now. This area has less fertile soil and the surfaces are rocky and sandy. Saurombe is in Zimbabwe agroecological region 3 which receives 700mm of rain annually and is characterised by mid-season droughts and sporadic floods. The area was severely affected by Cyclone Idai in March 2019, and this tragedy exposed the area’s vulnerability.
Two streams, Zhombweni and Chidirira flow through the community, while two perennial rivers Nyanyadzi and Biriiri form the northern and western borders of the Saurombe community territory. Cyclone Idai caused both the Nyanyadzi and Biriiri Rivers to overflow their banks, sweeping riverine trees and farmers’ fields/gardens into the water. In some places the course of the rivers were changed and huge gullies created that run right through villages. Vital infrastructure was also destroyed and many lives were lost.
The landscape challenges within Saurombe community include: gullies in the landscape, water scarcity, human-wildlife conflict, shortage of pastures for animals, depletion of some indigenous trees, sparse vegetation, soil erosion, overgrazing, crop failure due to droughts and inadequate nutrition in the community.
It is important to restore the landscape and river watershed damaged by Cyclone Idai and for people to work together and engage with government and business for support to jointly regenerate and rebuild the area and the communities.
The long-term vision for the Saurombe communities is to regenerate their degraded landscape and ensure sustainable use and management of community water and other natural resources to support improved livelihoods.
They aim to strengthened traditional leadership’s knowledge and ability to govern their natural resources and environment. Through community dialogues they have been documenting the area’s traditional rules and bylaws on harvesting of trees, veld fires, and sacred places as well as on planting and harvesting rituals.
The objectives to achieve the vision include building the capacity of local communities in landscape custodianship; implementing water management technologies at landscape level; reclaiming degraded landscapes; implementing improved grazing, and facilitating farmer-to-farmer learning and documentation of results.
The proposed actions include: soil erosion control, water harvesting, contour ridge construction, reforestation, and adoption of agroecological farming practices. This will require TSURO and participating households to actively promote agroecology in farmer fields, ensuring that jointly their farms form a buffer against further degradation of the ecosystem. A next key step will be to create by-laws to govern the restoration of the riverbanks and the use of rivers by livestock. As a result of the cyclone damage, the rebuilding of important infrastructure by the community is also seen as a priority.
An in-depth consultation with the communities and stakeholders to assess their interest, was followed by a participatory visioning and landscape mapping process at community level. In addition to participatory mapping, the process included: an introduction to Participatory Action Research (PAR); a transect walk; stakeholder mapping plus an analysis of the policy environment. The mapping identified existing features and their connections within the landscape. At the end of the process the Saurombe communities developed a long-term vision for up to 2030.
A first step was community dialogues in all four villages to include and prepare everyone in the community for the process. The Participatory Landscape mapping process that followed resulted in a vision, baseline and work-plan. Dialogues and training workshops were held with the communities and important stakeholders to develop an understanding of what landscape and ecosystem management would require from them.
Traditional leadership was put on the forefront in managing landscape natural resources. A dialogue meeting was conducted with them on natural resource governance to promote a common understanding and strengthening of customary governance of landscape natural resources.
Farmers were trained on soil conservation and water harvesting, constructing swales and producing biofertilisers. Fodder grass was planted to improve the rangelands. A tree planting nursery and community nutrition gardens were established. The community rebuilt a footbridge that was lost in the cyclone. They have started reclaiming gullies.
The strategy these communities chose is to use community facilitators selected from the target villages (one per village). The role of the facilitators is to mobilise communities, facilitate activities and monitor and report on activity progress. The facilitators work with traditional leadership and other existing structures that focus on natural resource management such as the climate change action groups (CCAGs) and work to bring aboard other key stakeholders. Training on holistic livestock management practices is an important next step. This is expected to be challenging because of competing interests within the community.
Strong governance ensures that agreed plans are implemented, rules are set and adhered to, and social justice underpins the execution of planned activities so no one social group is overburdened with work more than others- burdens and benefits are shared equitably. Traditional leaders are key to this as they always play an important role in enforcing by-laws regarding natural resource governance.Thus much as we want to fix ecological degradation, we also need to pay attention to improving weak governance systems.
The participation of marginalised social groups like women and youth are critical – without them it is difficult to successfully bring about change.
Stakeholder involvement changes over time, so plans need to be flexible so that more people feel included.
Working at a landscape level should evolve organically and be seen as a fluid process. Opportunities and challenges can arise unexpectedly and change priorities.
Resource mobilisation at community level is very important. It is also helpful to remind people to focus on what they have rather on what is not there. It is always important that communities own the process and are reminded that they are the owners of their landscape and resources within it.