3.3.1. Changes in Livelihood Strategies and Activities
The highly negative economic and policy drivers in Zimbabwe since 2000 combined with the two recent droughts were viewed to have pushed many villagers in Marwendo to diversify into a range of ‘self-reliant’ income earning activities. These included the commercialisation of garden produce (tomatoes, vegetables and onions) and woodland products (firewood, wild fruits, baobab fibre goods, and thatch grass), brick moulding, casual labour, and migration in search of employment. Some of these ‘new’ activities were supported by NGOs and were focused on improving rural livelihoods and adapting to changing climatic conditions. Participants in this village also mentioned they had adopted strategies and practices such as conservation farming, use of small grains and drip-system irrigation in order to continue farming. These technologies have been useful in negotiating livelihoods through the changing climatic conditions and deteriorating crop yields, due primarily to heat and water stress, that participants mentioned. In 2002, an NGO introduced community nutrition gardens and fruit tree plantation projects, mainly for women, which led to improved nutrition and substantial income increases through the sale of produce. However, when we visited during the middle of the drought in 2015 little cultivation at all was happening. In addition, development projects also presented opportunities for local residents to be provided with “food-for-work” employment opportunities through road maintenance and gully reclamation projects. Road maintenance and construction was said to have increased accessibility in the village, supporting easier movement of garden produce and facilitating commercial activities in the village.
While, the above adaptations could be consider a positive response to dealing with negative drivers, some of the self-driven diversification activities such as brick moulding have potentially negative feedbacks on key ecosystem services (i.e., water as river banks are mined for clay) increasing both human and ecosystem vulnerability in the long term. The use of baobab fibre for weaving is another example. This activity could affect the health of baobab trees, undermining access to an important emergency food resource (baobab fruit is used for making a maize or small grain porridge substitute during drought). The reversal in free schooling also caused difficulties for many participants in the focus groups who mentioned struggling to pay the fees. This has resulted in withdrawal of children from school, which again has significant long-term consequences for vulnerability and adaptive capacity.
Like the opportunity created by the nearby diamond discovery mentioned above, electrification also opened the door for small enterprises such as welding and retail in both villages:
“It is better in our village with electricity. I started my welding business in the village repairing and making a wide array of things. Since I am no longer much into farming, my welding business has helped me and my family to survive … My eldest son helps with welding and marketing our products. Since there are not many people involved in this kind of work, everyone in the village comes to us…For now I continue with welding”.
[Male participant, Tshivhulani village]
In the above case, diversification of this family’s livelihood activities is a strategy that can be considered as both opportunistic and reactive. The respondent’s choice to diversify is an example of a coping strategy for dealing with fewer options, especially with the increased risk associated with farming, as well as a response to the opportunities created from having access to electricity. New livelihood strategies and activities are often the product of the interaction between choice and constraint [59
] but may emerge through the interaction of different drivers. Despite the positive livelihood outcomes of such commercial activities, some participants mentioned they also brought moral and cultural problems. They mentioned increases in crime, school dropouts and teenage pregnancies. The diamond mine close to Marwendo was said to be particularly problematic in this respect even though it facilitated small enterprise development. In terms of electricity the benefits were also not necessary forthcoming for all. The majority of participants emphasised problems of high costs, slow progress and selective reach to households, and power cuts as some of the negatives associated with the electrification programme.
Migration into neighbouring South Africa in search of jobs was also noted as an important livelihood change in Marwendo and was said to have increased around 2008/9, as at this stage it was mentioned as the most effective way for young men to earn the money needed to get married (i.e., to pay the lobola or bride price).
While there was some livelihood diversification in Tshivhulani, the main changes related to a decline in field-based arable agriculture and to a lesser extent livestock production, and greater reliance on social grants as well an expansion of vegetable gardens. The abandonment of field cultivation is not an unusual finding in the communal areas of South Africa and has been written about in other parts of the country, especially the Eastern Cape (see [16
]).While multiple drivers have been ascribed to this decline, having access to social grants to purchase food means it is no longer essential to farm fields for staple food substances under what is seen as increasingly risky climatic conditions [63
]. The cost of investment as local conditions change and as labour needs increase (due to a decline in free labour and work parties) is also seen to not necessarily be worth the returns [66
]. The greater number of vegetable gardens in Tshivhulani reflects a shift from fields to manageable homestead gardens partly due to the availability of piped water. Survey results revealed that a large percentage of respondents (46%) have been leaving cultivated land to fallow (Table 2
). Focus group discussions reflected similar findings; participants mentioned that although they are still holding on to their fields they are not actively involved in cropping them year in and year out. This was also evident from the transect walks where large areas of unused arable fields were a common feature, especially areas more distant from the village. One participant in the focus group explained:
“We still hold on to my field … this is our family inheritance . we take pride in the fact that we have a piece of land to our name although we do not crop in it year in and year out … it still remains our asset … we have a small garden in our yard where we mainly grow vegetables mainly for consumption. The home gardens are very much easier to maintain as compared to distant fields … we can easily water and weed them with very little labour required”.
[Male respondent in Tshivhulani village]
By contrast, most villagers in Marwendo had little choice but to continue with agriculture, and to adapt this by bringing in more small grains (sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet) to minimise the risk of crop loss from drier and hotter conditions and more frequent droughts. The addition of conservation farming and micro-irrigation approaches has also assisted in making cultivation more resilient. It is of note, however, that fewer households in Marwendo (66%) had access to land than in Tshivulani (97%), despite being more dependent on cropping for food security (Table 2
). Regarding livestock the results show the reverse; 86% of respondents in Marwendo owned livestock compared to 31% in Tshivhulani; this is even in the context of the majority of the respondents in Marwendo believing livestock numbers had declined (Table 2
). One respondent explained how he ended up losing most of his livestock:
“As the head of the family and in line with our culture, it’s every man’s ambition to accumulate wealth through acquiring livestock, especially cattle … By the late 1980s I had a herd of 19 cattle, but 12 perished during the infamous 1992 drought … I started again to rebuild my stock using money from my piece jobs. By 2000, I had significantly recovered … but again the 2002 drought struck and coupled with Foot and Mouth disease my herd was severely affected … Now I remain with five cattle”.
[Male respondent in Marwendo village]
The perceived decrease in livestock numbers can be partly explained by the significantly high proportion of survey respondents in Marwendo who confirmed that they had sold livestock in the last five years. The major reasons mentioned included the need for cash income to buy food and pay school fees, and to recover from a shock such as death of a family member, and expensive events, among others. This suggests that in Marwendo, villagers are compelled to sell livestock for cash since it is one of the few options available to them. The quote above illustrates how many villagers are also unable to restock following livestock loss or sale.
As mentioned, in contrast to field cropping, small-scale, intensive vegetable gardening has continued to be important in both sites (some 65% of households have vegetable gardens) with homesteads being the primary location for these in Tshivhulani, while in Marwendo this includes NGO supported community gardens. However, some barriers to continued growth in gardens were identified. In the focus group discussions and interviews in Marwendo, respondents raised the issue of a recent ban by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) on cultivating vegetable gardens along natural water sources (i.e., the Tanganda River that flows through the village). This has resulted in abandonment of gardens.
In both villages, there is a sense of an increasing level of vulnerability within farming systems and concerns that in the near future it is likely that further adverse climatic events may lead to further declines in crop and livestock production, ultimately impacting food security. Already in the year of the study (which was a drought), people in Marwendo mentioned greater utilisation of wild foods such as baobab fruits to meet local needs. Without improved local natural resource management even these food sources may become increasingly vulnerable through overutilisation and climate impacts in the future.
3.3.2. Changes in Livelihood Assets, Local Self-Sufficiency and Quality of Life
Household physical asset accumulation and erosion can be a good indicator of livelihood vulnerability and adaptive capacity, as assets are often sold in response to shocks and on-going stressors, while assets purchases are often the result of more disposable household income. Household physical assets can include productive assets such as solar panels, wheelbarrows, farming implements, tools and domestic goods such as televisions, radios, paraffin stoves and furniture. From the survey, we found that the 46% of households in Tshivhulani indicated that their physical asset base has been increasing over the past 30 years (Table 3
). In contrast, almost half of households in Marwendo noted a decrease in their total asset base, due to a combination of factors such as being forced to sell livestock and various goods due to economic hardships, food insecurity, and the need for cash. With respect to the last 5–10 years, which has been a period of greater hardship in Marwendo in particular, we found that 40% of households in Marwendo mentioned selling physical assets, whereas the corresponding number in Tshivhulani was only 8%. Overall, Marwendo has seen a significant erosion of household and farming assets.
Given the changes in livelihoods observed, we were interested in whether households are shifting from being largely self-reliant, especially for food, to being more cash dependent and what this means for vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Results from the survey indicate that, in terms of reliance on purchased goods (over the past 10 years), most respondents in both villages agreed that they now rely more on purchased goods than crops from their garden/fields for food (Figure 2
). This livelihood trend was seen as creating increased hardship in the lives of a majority of households in Marwendo (Figure 2
), primarily as a result of scarcity of income and the need for cash leading to asset erosion. One respondent was quoted as saying: “kana usina mari hauna upenyu
”, which means “if you do not have money you do not have a life”. However, mixed responses were observed in Tshivhulani, with 49% of households agreeing that their lives were made a little easier by relying more on purchased goods due to availability of cash from social grants. Social grants provide a regular source of income pooled within the household and are important to food security as illustrated by the narrative below:
“The whole family survives on a state old age grant from our grandmother whom we stay with … no-one in the family is employed formally … the other three grandchildren in the family also receive child support grants … We normally use this money to buy food and clothes … If our grandmother were to pass on it will be very difficult for the family to survive because next year one of the grandchildren will be too old to be eligible for the child support grant”.
[Female respondent in Tshivhulani village]
As part of the survey, we asked respondents to reflect on changes in their overall quality of life and how, based on this, they conceived the future. Most respondents in Marwendo (72%) agreed that their lives were better 30 years ago or during their childhood compared to over the last five years with 86% saying their lives have worsened due to the multiple negative drivers of change in the past 30 years coupled with the continuous erosion of livelihood assets and the inability to rebuild these. In contrast, in Tshivhulani, 60% of the respondents said that their lives have become better in the last 5–10 years. This coincides with the increase in social grants, which are described by Shackleton and Luckert [16
] as creating a window of opportunity, as well as various developments in the village. Social grants were said to be crucial in contributing to food security and children’s education. In addition, the infrastructure improvements in the village (electricity, piped water, rural development houses, and road construction) have facilitated access to the town, markets and information, thereby increasing the range of available livelihood options. Studies from elsewhere in the world have also documented how basic rural development can help improve the overall standard of people lives [31
Respondents’ perspectives on the future were linked to their concerns and their quality of life assessments. Just over half of respondents in Tshivhulani village (55%) were optimistic regarding their future (Figure 3
) reflecting the improved living standards for most people in this village. However, 44% of households had mixed optimism about their future (unknown—26%; bleak—18%). In contrast, 43% of respondents in Marwendo were very pessimistic about their future and another 34% of households were unsure of how their future will turn out. Only a few households (14%) in Marwendo village were positive about their future. Households with a more positive outlook are likely those that have managed to diversify their income sources to include off-farm activities, or those who were receiving remittances from their children or relatives.
3.3.3. Outcomes for Livelihood and Social–Ecological Vulnerability
The human–environmental timelines constructed for this paper show that considerable changes in livelihoods and landscapes have taken place in Marwendo and Tshivuhlani over the last 30 years, amidst continuity in certain ways of life. These changes are linked to and influenced by the wider political and economic context within which particular drivers operate. The situation is complex, as multiple drivers and changes interact to both create and constrain livelihood options and subsequent ability to respond to changes such as more climate extremes.
Rural development initiatives such as electrification, piped water and road construction, which can be thought as supporting so-called generic adaptation [70
], have opened up opportunities as well as countered some of the negative effects of ecosystem service degradation in both villages. Key responses have been new commercial activities and more vegetable gardening. However, the ability to exploit these opportunities is not even, and requires access to cash or credit. Households in Tshivuhlani with access to social grants are much more able to establish alternative livelihood activities when opportunities arise than those in Marwendo.
In both villages, farming has been affected by climate drivers with responses again differing. In Tshivuhlani, cash from social grants that allow the purchasing of staples has meant that extensive field farming is not essential nor necessarily worth the investment and so it has declined, as is the case for other parts of South Africa [16
]. By contrast, in Marwendo, villagers have had to adopt more climate-resilient approaches to farming as they have few other choices available to meet their basic food needs. The social welfare system in South Africa has thus provided a safety net for people both for their daily living and when faced with shocks, whilst in Marwendo villagers are often faced with no option but to continue to engage in risky farming activities or in potentially maladaptive practices (e.g., woodland product commercialisation, brick moulding or asset sales) to get through difficult times. Thus, in this village, climate-related shocks and socioeconomic hardships have combined to erode the household and community asset base impacting on household adaptive capacity. In the long term this could contribute to spiralling vulnerability as described in Shackleton and Shackleton [14
]. That said, one could argue that the development interventions and social protection (food for work) brought by NGOs have helped to counter some of the impacts of negative drivers, although the solutions would need to be scaled up to make a difference in the long term.
If we refer to the well-known typology of livelihood trajectories [38
], we could argue that in Tshivuhlani most households are on a “stepping out” (diversification) trajectory, although there is also the danger of becoming too reliant on social grants that may not always be available to households as pensioners pass on and children grow up [16
]. In contrast, Marwendo households are either “hanging in” (coping) or potentially entering what we have termed a “losing out” (erosion) trajectory, although small-scale development support by NGOs has helped to offset this to some extent. More social protection, like the food for work opportunities provided by NGOs or state social welfare or drought relief systems, may be needed in Marwendo in the long term to prevent a downward spiral into a poverty trap. Only a minority of households in each site could be viewed as “stepping up” (accumulation), and these are likely to be households that have locally secure employment, and have managed to diversify their income sources to include off-farm activities or are receiving remittances (also see [54
Based on some of the current livelihood activities—for example, the commercialisation of natural resources in Marwendo and the over-reliance on social grants in Tshivhulani [71
]—we argue that the vulnerability of villagers in both study areas may increase in the future (with Marwendo being worse off). This will result from the impacts on local natural capital in the first case, and a narrowing of livelihood options, flexibility and self-reliance in the latter. The decline in local arable production has possible future consequences as food prices increase with climate change impacts on agriculture globally [16
]. This will be further exacerbated by the likely increase in exposure to shocks and stressors of both people and ecosystems, and the current susceptibility of presently pursued livelihoods to both climate extremes and slow onset changes, especially in Marwendo where livelihoods are primarily based on natural resources.