Conservation conflicts: land use in Zimbabwe’s Lowveld

The conservation of biodiversity in places where people also live and farm is not straightforward. The last three blogs have offered some perspectives on the dilemmas faced in the southeast Lowveld of Zimbabwe, and this blog offers an overview.

The politics of land in this region is much contested and has been for much of the last century. National parks, conservancies, hunting concessions, sugar estates, large-scale farms and small-scale farming and herding all compete for space. Beyond the irrigated estates and farms, it is a dry and hostile place, where carving out a living is difficult. This is made more challenging for those living close to areas where wildlife also live, especially as the exploding population of elephants spills over destroying crops in their wake.

All these land uses will be part of the future of the southeast Lowveld near the Gonarezhou park, but how to make sure that conflicts don’t escalate and livelihoods are not destroyed? This was the focus of the most recently published trio of blogs. Based on our recent discussions in the area, they aimed to offer all sides of the story, including those who are often not heard in conservation debates – poorer farmers and herders living on the margins of the wildlife estate.

Seeking compromises and searching for solutions that involve all parties is essential, whether over controversies about park boundaries and fences or about investments in large-scale farming, as in the Chilonga case. Ignoring local views only creates more conflict and resentment. This was the lesson learned when the CAMPFIRE concept was developed – the importance of sharing benefits so as to have a joint commitment to the future both of wildlife and of livelihoods. As the last blog in this series shows this illustrious Zimbabwean experiment has run into problems, but learning lessons from these is the route to a more effective approach to conservation, rather than reverting to the ‘fortress conservation’ models of the past.    

Since this blog series was published during Easter/Ramadan/Passover periods and readers may have missed them, I thought I would have a reprise this week, providing links to all three. Read them together and please feel free to comment on the blogs, whether you agree or disagree. The important point is to have a debate about the future of biodiversity, conservation and livelihoods.

This is a long running discussion, but one that needs more airing across different viewpoints if the ambitions of the action plan on biodiversity to be launched at the forthcoming Biodiversity COP in China are ever to be met.

In case you missed them, here are the three blogs:

The trouble with elephants: why limits on culling are bad for conservation | zimbabweland (wordpress.com)

Protected areas: national assets or shared heritage? | zimbabweland (wordpress.com)

Failing institutions: the challenge of governing natural resources in Zimbabwe | zimbabweland (wordpress.com)

This blog was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

This blog was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

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