The Communal Lands—occupied by peasant farmers—of the upper catchment of the Sabi River (which drains the southeastern portion of Zimbabwe) are severely deforested, overgrazed, and eroded. Siltation of the river channel has increased the risk of overbank flooding at a downstream irrigation scheme, and a rise in annual outflow from the catchment over the last three decades has additional implications for irrigation development, as well as for the availability of ground-water reserves in the areas of dryland peasant farming.
In a study area within one of the Communal Lands, the average rate of soil loss from fields of gentle slope is estimated to be such that the next generation of peasant farmers will be unable to achieve crop-yields above a very low ‘subsistence’ level. The degraded environment is the inevitable consequence of the expansion of a primitive system of cultivation—in a region of low inherent potential for crop production—under the pressure of rapid population growth. While the peasants are aware of many of the consequences of their exploitative methods of land-use, and recognize the importance of basic conservation measures such as erosion-control terraces, they generally feel that remedial action is beyond their means.
The effective implementation of available technical solutions to the deterioration of the land resources, will depend upon the provision of greater financial incentives for intensified production, as well as upon more positive political influences, than exist at present. The eventual stabilization of the situation is achievable only if population growth is reduced; but much might be done to improve production, and promote conservation, through field research into appropriate farming systems for peasant agriculture in the Sabi catchment and similar environments.