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Zimbabwe is a landlocked country covering some 39 million hectares of land. It lies between 150 40" and 220 30" south and 250 15" and 330 05" East latitudes. Although well within the tropics, the country’s climate is sub-tropical being moderated by altitude. Eighty percent of the land is above 600 metres, while the remainder is below this height. An outstanding feature of the country’s landscape is the central plateau known as the highveld which is about 650km long and 30km wide. On either side of this is the middleveld which is between 600 and 1 200 metres above sea level. The lowveld is below 600 metres.

Rainfall is the major climatic factor that influences the performance of sectors such as agriculture, forestry, wildlife and aquatic life in Zimbabwe. The rainy season stretches from November to March while the dry cool season is between May and August. Frost is not uncommon during the winter season while October and November are the hottest months. Annual rainfall varies from an average of below 400 mm in the low lying areas to 900mm over the central watershed and 1 500mm in parts of the eastern highlands. Recommended land use systems in these areas are:

Afforestation, agriculture and intensive livestock production in the high rainfall areas,

Intensive cropping and pasture production in the medium rainfall areas; and

Livestock and game ranching in the low rainfall areas.

About 70% of the country’s soils are derived from granite and are often sandy, light textured and of limited inherent agricultural potential (Grant, 1981). There is, however, a significant development of soils with a heavier clay content in various parts of the country. The extreme west of the country has large tracts of deep Kalahari sandy soils which have very low agricultural potential.


1.2 Forestry Resources

Zimbabwe is characterised by savanna woodlands interspersed with open grassed drainage lines or dambos. Impended drainage gives rise to limited areas of open grassland and a few patches of sub-tropical forests occur in the eastern districts. Although forests provide a wide range of timber and non timber forest products and services to the majority of Zimbabwe’s population, they are being lost at an alarming rate. It is estimated that about 70,000 ha of the country’s forests are lost to agriculture each year. Furthermore, although some 66% of Zimbabwe is still covered by woody vegetation, the cover in some heavily populated districts such as Chivi now stand at only 30%. There is also a strong relationship between the amount of vegetation cover and the land tenure system across the country.


1.3 The Land Tenure Systems in Zimbabwe

The land holding rights and obligations in Zimbabwe find their expression in the country’s four main systems of land tenure, namely the freehold (private), state land, communal and leasehold (resettlement) systems. The tenure systems impact and shape the property rights and natural resource access regimes that exist in the country. With the exception of the resettlement tenure system, the other three systems are largely part of the country’s colonial heritage.

The freehold tenure system is prevalent in the commercial farming sector which consists of large scale and small scale commercial farmers and occupy about 32% of the country’s land area of 39 million ha. This sector is characterised by individual land ownership. The registered land owner has exclusive property rights and full control and responsibility over the land and everything attached to it except to the extent that ownership and exclusive control over the land and some natural resources may be limited by statutory provisions. Such limitations relate to changes in land use, controls over public water courses, felling of indigenous timber resources and controls on wildlife. It is often argued that freehold tenure provides land owners with incentives to conserve and improve the natural resource base.

The communal land tenure system is governed by the Communal Lands Act and is applicable to 42% of Zimbabwe’s land area, where approximately 66% of the country’s population resides. According to the Communal Lands Act, all communal land is vested in the State President who has powers to permit its occupation and utilisation in accordance with the Act. Communal Area inhabitants thus have usufructuary rights over communal land. Rural District Councils, on the other hand, have a dispensation to allocate land to qualified persons on behalf of the State. Resettlement areas cover 10% of the country and are a product of the post independence period targeted at relieving population pressure in communal areas and have no title. It is often argued that the communal land tenure system is a disincentive to long term investment in agriculture and other key natural resources such as forests. Consequently, the highest rates of deforestation occur in the communal and resettlement areas. To address the land tenure related problems, government set up a Land Tenure Commission in 1994 to among other things, review the current land tenure systems and make appropriate recommendations (Land Tenure Commission Report, 1995). However, some of the key recommendations related to the communal land tenure system have not yet been implemented.

The State set aside 15% of the country as gazetted/protected forests (2%) and national parks (13%). These offer good examples of in situ conservation and sustainable use of Zimbabwe’s biological heritage.

A summary of Zimbabwe’s land tenure systems are given in Figure 1, while Table 1.1 shows the distribution of the country’s agricultural land by farming sector and natural region (NR). Overall, only 19% of Zimbabwe’s farmland is in NRs I and II and almost 63% of this high potential land is in the large scale commercial sector. This land distribution pattern shows that:

in general, Zimbabwe has limited agricultural potential; and

the large scale commercial areas have an inherently higher agricultural potential than the other three farming sectors. However, the bulk of the country’s population resides in the latter sectors. This has contributed to the high levels of land degradation and poverty especially in communal areas.

It is against the foregoing background of a skewed land distribution pattern in favour of large scale commercial farmers who number about 4,500 compared to over one million communal area farm households that the government has embarked on the fast track land resettlement programme. The programme will see the resettlement of about 150,000 land hungry Zimbabweans on about 5 million ha of land to be acquired from the large scale commercial farming sector by government. These settlers will naturally open up forest areas for agricultural purposes.












Table 1.1 Distribution of Zimbabwe’s agricultural land by farming sector and Natural Region (NR)


Natural region*

Farming sector



Communal (000 ha)

Large scale


(000 ha)

Small scale


(000 ha)

Resettlement areas

(000 ha)

I & II

























Natural Regions are largely based on annual rainfall (in mm) as follows: NR I, over 1000; NR II, 800-1000; NR III, 650 - 800; NR IV, 450 - 650; and NR V, less than 450 (Vincent and Thomas, 1960)

Source: Zimbabwe Agriculture Sector Memorandum, 1994

Table 1.2 gives estimates of wood stocks of indigenous forests and woodlands by land tenure category in the country. Of the total estimated wood stock of 636 million tonnes, 42%, 40% and 16% are found on the wildlife estate, commercial farming areas and communal areas respectively. It must be noted that despite having the largest land area, communal lands have the least wood stock levels compared to the other two sectors. This is attributed to rampant deforestation that occurs in the former sector.

Table 1.2 Estimates of total wood stocks of indigenous forests and woodlands in Zimbabwe (excluding exotic plantations)


Land tenure category

Land area (000 ha)

Wood stock (million tonnes)

Communal land

Resettlement areas

Commercial farming land

Wildlife estate

Gazetted forest areas














These timber volume figures suggest that the country’s forests store and sequestrate considerable amounts of carbon. Consequently, there is scope for the country to use this global carbon sink function to access financial resources from the Kyoto protocol and invest them in forest conservation, management and afforestation programmes.


1.4 Current national reafforestation efforts

As indicated in Section 1.3 deforestation is a major problem in the communal and resettlement areas than in the other farming sectors and land use systems. It is against this background that the Forestry Commission (a parastatal under the Ministry of Environment and Tourism) in collaboration with various government departments and Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), has been spearheading rural afforestation since 1983.

The first rural afforestation programme (RAP 1) which ran from 1983-1989 was based on a perceived fuelwood crisis in the communal areas where over 65% of the country’s population resides. RAP 1 was targeted at afforesting these areas using fast growing exotic trees in order to relieve pressure on indigenous woodlands. The programme focused on the establishment of individual and communal woodlots supported by 73 central nurseries for seedling production. Through RAP 1, eucalyptus seedling production and planting increased from 0.2 million in 1982/83 to 4.2 million in 1989/90. However, post establishment survival rates were generally low due to livestock and termite damage; water stress; and poor post establishment-management and protection.

It later became apparent that the concept of "centralised nurseries" during RAP 1 was very expensive and that the emphasis on eucalyptus did not give beneficiaries interested in multi-purpose tree species much choice. This led to a shift in emphasis during the second phase of the rural afforestation programme (RAP II) which ran from 1990-1998. This phase broadened its content from eucalyptus woodlots alone to include agroforestry and indigenous woodland management with emphasis on poverty alleviation and food security. Some of the major achievements of RAP II were the diversification of the nursery product mix from 100% eucalyptus to about 85% with the remainder consisting of exotic fruit trees and indigenous tree species. There was also a marked increase in seedling production from 3.2 million in 1990/91 to 9 million in 1998. Seedling survival rate was around 67%. About 1,470 agroforestry sites were also established during this period. With respect to woodlands, 803 sites measuring a total of 64,000 ha were set aside for deliberate management.

Since 1999, the rural afforestation programme is being implemented within the context of the Agricultural Services Support Programme (ASSP). The ASSP recognises the link between agriculture and forestry in communal area land use systems and within the livelihood of rural people. The programme has the following objectives:

To increase the quantity and quality of tree and forest resources through tree planting and woodland management. Specific activities being undertaken include awareness campaigns, training workshops, field days and the production of extension materials such as posters and pamphlets.

To increase rural incomes from timber and non timber forest products through the promotion of forest based enterprises. Activities undertaken include the establishment of pole treatment tanks, beekeeping, craft production and the processing of indigenous fruits.

To build local level capacity for the sustainable management and utilisation of tree and forest resources. Activities undertaken include the establishment and training of natural resource user groups in leadership, by-law formulation and in technical aspects of forestry. Since the launch of the ASSP in 1999, some ten million seedlings have been produced; 501 woodland management sites have been identified and deliberately managed; and 1134 agroforestry sites have been established. Key statistics on the achievement of RAP II and the ASSP are presented in Table 1.3.

Despite the highlighted successes, a number of constraints are being faced within the rural afforestation programme. They include:

Low seedling survival largely due to lack of water. To minimise this problem, emphasis is being placed on locating tree planting sites near water points such as gardens and boreholes.

Tree damage by livestock due to lack of protection. This is being minimised by concentrating tree planting in niches that have some measure of protection such as areas around the homestead, field boundaries and in gardens. Ways of assisting communities access funds (e.g. through a revolving fund) to purchase fencing materials and other necessities are being explored. During RAPs I and II, a support fund was set up for such purposes. However, apart from being seen as buttressing dependency, the provision of such a fund has proved to be very expensive.

Open access to woodlands which makes it difficult to implement sustainable management and utilisation regimes. To address this problem, emphasis is being placed on building and capacitating local level institutions so that communities as a whole can take collective responsibility over the communally owned resource.

Limited markets for the resultant forest based products such as exotic and indigenous fruit trees, honey and craft work. To reduce this problem, ways of directly linking the affected communities to appropriate markets are being explored.

Table 1.3 Seedling production, tree planting, woodland management and agroforestry statistics for RAP II (1990-1998) and the ASSP (January, 1999-Oct, 2000) at the national level




Afforestation programme



Seedlings produced (No.)

Trees planted (No.)

Woodland management:

No. of sites

Area (ha)

No. of agroforestry sites











1.5 International agreements and national environmental policy frameworks

Zimbabwe is a signatory to several important international and national policy frameworks for sustainable natural resource use, the majority of which emerged from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. These include the Convention on Biodiversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification, the Montreal Protocol and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES). Regarding the implementation of the country’s obligations to some of these conventions, the following has been done:

A national Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan document has been produced in line with the requirements of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

A national communication on the Climate Change Convention has been produced.

A National Action Plan on the Desertification Convention is now in place.

However, despite the foregoing progress, the country has not yet benefited from funds from either the Global Environment Facility (GEF) or the Kyoto Protocol to implement specific forestry projects emanating from these initiatives. In fact the national desertification fund created by government some two years ago still lies empty. Given that public sector funding into the forestry sector will continue to decline in the future, there is need to put in place strategies that enable the country to access funds from forestry related conventions to which it is a signatory. Other international initiatives in which the country is now going into, albeit to a limited scale are: the development of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management; and forest certification with emphasis on the export market.

In 1987 the country prepared a National Conservation Strategy based on the World Conservation Strategy. The main objective was to ensure that natural resources are used on a sustained yield basis. The strategy document has become a useful reference guide book for sustainable development in Zimbabwe.

Significant progress has also been made in the area of environment policy and planning since 1997.

In late 1992, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism held a national conference to merge national and global (post Rio) environmental and development priorities. The conference report contained a matrix of issues, objectives and responsible agencies, which upon reflection indicates that most of the objectives have been addressed. For example, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism has developed a National Environment Impact Assessment policy. The Ministry is also leading a law reform process to deal with problems associated with the administration of at least 18 pieces of legislation on the environment which are housed in nine different ministries and departments. In this regard, an Environmental Management Bill will be tabled in Parliament in early 2001. Furthermore, the country has adopted the District Environment Action Plan process (DEAP), in order to integrate environmental conservation issues into the planning process at the local level.


1.6 Objectives and format of the country outlook paper

This country outlook paper aims to provide a concise account of the general direction of the development of Zimbabwe’s forestry sector up to the year 2020. It is based on a critical assessment of internal and external factors that drive change in the sector. The paper highlights options available to the Government of Zimbabwe with respect to enhancing the contribution of the sector to sustainable development. It will provide a key input into the development of sub-regional and regional forestry outlook reports for Africa whose presentation is being coordinated by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). More importantly, these outlook studies will serve as a basis for priority setting for financial assistance in the forestry sector by donor agencies, national governments and the private sector.

Chapter 2 of the paper discusses internal and external factors that impact on Zimbabwe’s forestry sector. They include population growth; social and cultural issues, poverty; the macroeconomic environment; policy and institutional issues; energy use; and infrastuctural and technological developments. A visualisation of the nature of the forestry sector in 2020 based on issues raised in Chapter 2 and changes that are required to achieve the desired state are given in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 presents a summary of the key findings and recommendations of the assessment.


1.7 Methodology followed

A team of seven national experts under the leadership of the National Focal Point was assembled to prepare the country paper. Five of the experts were drawn from the public sector and one each from the private and non governmental organisation (NGO) sectors. To initiate the process, the National Focal Point held a meeting with the team whose objectives were to:

Explain the Forestry Outlook Study for Africa (FOSA) project in general and the preparation of the country paper in particular; and,

Agree on responsibilities for team members and develop a work plan for the preparation of the country paper.

The following work plan was agreed upon and implemented:

Literature reviews, consultations and report writing as per agreed country paper format were undertaken. Team members were assigned specific topics based on their comparative advantage. Individual submissions were then amalgamated by the National Focal Point. A consolidated report was sent to team members for review and comments.

A one day workshop for the team was held to brain storm on the consolidated paper with emphasis on the conclusions and recommendations made. The National Focal Point subsequently incorporated these inputs into the final draft country paper.


In addition, the country paper preparation process greatly benefited from outputs of an international consultancy that was commissioned between October and November 2000. The objective of the consultancy was to make recommendations on the restructuring of the State Activities wing of the Forestry Commission, the state forest authority, with respect to its new mandate, organisational structure and revenue base. The consultancy team interacted with a wide range of stakeholders who included; Forestry Commission personnel at all levels; the private sector; relevant government and non governmental organisations; representatives of the donor community; and independent experts from the forestry, environment and finance fields.



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