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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 January 2011

ICRISAT Bulawayo, P.O. Box 776, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
ICRISAT Bulawayo, P.O. Box 776, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
ICRISAT Bulawayo, P.O. Box 776, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
ICRISAT Bulawayo, P.O. Box 776, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Matopos Research Institute, Bag K5137, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Matopos Research Institute, Bag K5137, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Corresponding author:;


The objective of this study was to investigate the user communities' understanding and interpretation of changes in rangeland use and productivity in the communal lands of Zimbabwe. While external knowledge has been instrumental in defining the drivers and effects of ecological changes hitherto, the role of local knowledge is becoming increasingly important in explaining factors that inform user community perceptions and guide their decisions on the use of rangeland resources. Data on community perceptions were collected in four villages, using Participatory Rural Appraisals in each village and household surveys with a total of 104 households. This study showed that user communities in Nkayi district differentiate rangelands among seven categories of livestock feed resources and how these have changed over time. Communities viewed rangelands not as one continuous, designated and specialized land parcel, but differentiated the land by location, productivity, management and uses in different times of the year. Although land use changes affecting these livestock feed resources were considered to be widespread and multi-directional (both negative and positive) they did not cause widespread degradation. Rangelands converted to croplands were not completely lost, but became important dual purpose land parcels fulfilling both household food security needs and dry season livestock feed requirements. The importance of croplands as a feed resource is reflected in the emergence of new institutions governing their use for livestock grazing and to guarantee security of tenure. On the other hand institutions governing the use of common property rangelands decreased or weakened in their application. The study concludes that while this situation presents ecological challenges for the rangelands, it offers opportunities to find innovative ways of utilizing croplands as the new frontier in the provision of dry season feed resources to smallholder farmers in highly variable environments. Implications for livestock water productivity need to be investigated and water saving technologies should be promoted in the land use intensification processes.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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