Woodland transitions and rural livelihoods: an interdisciplinary case study of Wedza Mountain, Zimbabwe
Pritchard, Rosemary Claire
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Tropical woodlands play a key role in the livelihoods of rural communities in southern Africa, but exist in contexts of constant ecological and socioeconomic change. With research into tropical woodlands neglected compared to tropical forests, it is important to improve understanding of the consequences of tropical woodland change for rural wellbeing. The aim of this thesis is to examine the dynamic interactions between woodland change and rural livelihoods through an interdisciplinary case study of a miombo woodland landscape on and around Wedza Mountain, Zimbabwe. The thesis is organised into three parts addressing: (1) the patterns of land use intensity and provisioning ecosystem service availability around Wedza Mountain; (2) the importance of environmental resources in rural income portfolios and hazard coping strategies; and (3) the adequacy of ecosystem service literature in representing the environmental values of rural African communities. The first part of this thesis explores patterns of land use and woodland structure on the woodland cover gradient around Wedza Mountain. In Chapter 2 I characterise land use intensity in the six study villages using a new method of calculating human appropriation of net primary productivity (HANPP) at the village scale. Use of this approach indicates that previous studies have underestimated land use intensity in African small-scale farming areas, with village-scale HANPP estimates in Wedza ranging from 48% to 113% of total potential annual NPP as compared to 18 to 38% in published studies. In Chapter 3 I combine woodland survey data with a quantitative ethnobotanical assessment of the use values of woody species and demonstrate that per-household availability of provisioning ecosystem services declines with declining relative tree cover. These findings also suggest that more deforested villages have reduced diversity of ethnospecies underlying service provision, with ramifications for service resilience and livelihood option values in response to future change. The focus of the second part of the thesis is on the role of woodland resources in rural livelihoods. In Chapter 4 I quantify the contribution of environmental income to the total income portfolios of 91 households and show that lower village woodland cover is not associated with reduced livelihood diversity, in part because a large proportion of environmental income is derived from degraded woodland or non-woodland environments. In Chapter 5 I assess the importance of environmental resources for coping with hazard exposures, drawing on recall of past exposure responses and a survey exercise weighting the elements of coping strategy portfolios in response to varying shock scenarios. Synthesis of these data sets indicates that environmental resources represent an important safety net in coping with interacting covariate and idiosyncratic hazard exposures. The third part of the thesis consists of critical reflection, firstly on the adequacy of current ecosystem services research in southern Africa landscapes and secondly on this specific research project. In Chapter 6 I identify the value discourses which are most dominant across 356 peer-reviewed papers adopting an ecosystem services approach to miombo landscape research, and contrast these with the environmental values of study communities in Wedza District. Through this I show that the current ecosystem service literature is failing to represent rural African social and spiritual imaginaries of landscapes, with potentially serious consequences for the efficacy and equity of landscape management interventions. In Chapter 7 I examine some of the methodological and ethical challenges encountered during this research project through a discussion of the relationships between researcher, research assistant and respondents in an interdisciplinary field research context. Finally, in Chapter 8 I synthesise the key messages from the thesis, and conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for understanding of how future change will impact the resilience and vulnerability of savanna woodland socioecological systems.