Sustainability of agricultural production in communal areas of Zimbabwe: case of Chionekano communal lands
In Sub-Saharan Africa, at least 70% of the population lives in rural communal areas where they make a living out of subsistence farming. The sector continues to seek for donor support to improve their farming activities with little attention being paid to viability and sustainability of their production systems. There is also sketchy locationspecific empirical evidence from research showing sustainability of communal farming practices. The broad objective of this study was therefore to evaluate the sustainability of agricultural production in communally owned farming areas. Agricultural sustainability was conceptualized in terms of biological productivity, economic viability, and reduction of production risk, environmental protection and social acceptability. Primary and secondary data were collected using a structured questionnaire. Information on socio-economic characteristics, production patterns and their environmental implications, constraints and opportunities for achieving sustainability were elicited from respondents. A total of 498 households were interviewed through a census. Respondents were drawn from a cross-section of the community made up of male, female, and childheaded households from Chionekano communal farming area in Zimbabwe. The area is characterized by average annual rainfall of 600 mm, temperature range of 15-25 0C, sparse vegetation cover and soils of less than 1% organic matter. The results revealed that the agricultural production system was below par due to degraded soil conditions which resulted in low crop yields, low returns from the livestock sector due to high incidences of stock thefts and deteriorating veld condition. Access to financial support was limited due to lack of collateral and high production risk where farmers’ production is solely based on natural and unreliable rainfall patterns and therefore unsustainable. Strategies to improve food security should receive priority to support sustainable resource management, increase access to finance and suitable inputs on credit to be worked out and soil fertility conservation to be exercised with particular focus on organic farming. Emphasis should be placed on environmental management training, production monitoring and offer financial support schemes at concessionary interest rates to spruce up their production to breakeven levels.
Keywords: sustainability, communal areas, crop/livestock productivity, Zimbabwe