previously published in the Zimbabwe Herald 10/10/96
The quest for survival in Hwange and Victoria Falls, threatened by looming environmental degradation, has taught the villagers new techniques of sustainable development.
Tired of living in the shadow of tourism projecting facades of leisure centres, for tourists with little or no retainer for the providers of the services, the villagers guard their land jealously against further degradation.
A recent field visit to the Matetsi Project, 22 km from Victoria Falls and about 15 km west of Hwange communal lands, organised by a local non-governmental organisation, revealed the sad and yet so comforting story of a community committed to restoration.
Several villages in the remote outposts of the tourist resort centres have discovered the technique of holistic management, a decision-making process, which ensures that simultaneously each decision made ecologically, economically, and socially contributes to long-term stability and sustainability.
The technique is defined as a whole new management approach helping people and communities--urban and rural--to improve the quality of their lives and generate real wealth, while simultaneously restoring the environment and enhancing biodiversity.
Holistic management is based on the theory of Holism, a concept first recognised and articulated in 1926 by South African philosopher and statesman Jan Smuts in his book, Holism and Evolution.
Holism is the idea that nature only functions in wholes, rather than "interconnecting parts" and that nature will never be understood by studying the "parts." Land and other resources cannot be managed in isolation from the humans tied and dependent on these resources.
It is therefore a technique which manages whole situations, whole farms, whole villages and whole communities. This means it covers people, their resource base (land) and the wealth that can be generated from the land.
Seven villages around the Victoria Falls and Hwange are now effectively involved in holistic management. The seven--Mvutu, Mpumelelo, Ndlovu, Chewumba, Musenyika, Chishanga and Ndimakule--are now actively involved in planned grazing schemes.
Unlike the Agritex rotational schemes, planned grazing focuses much on the cattle density and encourages the grazing of as many cattle as possible before driving them to the next grazing lands. This allows the vegetation to recover.
The holistic goal here is to maintain a balanced ecological system without overgrazing. The planned grazing technique is not systematic. Out of the land marked for grazing, some areas can be grazed more than others depending on the revitalisation process.
Communities meet in their wards and villages to draw up charts of their grazing space. They agree and plan on which areas will be green and ready for grazing.
The idea is to avoid overgrazing of plants and keeping them closely bunched as much as possible. The process begins to cover bare soil and restore biodiversity.
Introduced by the African Centre for Holistic Resource Management, founded by Zimbabwean, Mr Allan Savory, in 1984, holistic management has also introduced a sustainable form of tourism or ecotourism in the form of cultural exchanges.
In Ndlovu, villagers have opened a bank account to save money for the construction of a chalet to entertain tourists.
The regional representative and director of the centre, Ms Joy Chidavaenzi, said in an interview that the technique had given the communities a weapon and shield to defend themselves against ideas that may be imposed on them.
"The Hwange communal lands training programme in holistic resource management has definitely lived to its expectations for far--that of empowering the communal farmers to set their own holistic goal that encompasses the quality of life desired, how that quality of life ought to be achieved and a description of the future resource base (land) and how it can be improved or restored."
Ms Chidavaenzi said the process had brought the community together with a common purpose.
"Community leadership feels that the process of holistic goal setting makes their jobs easy because the community has already decided on their development goal and vision as well as how they want to achieve that vision," she said.
Physically, the land had already started showing some significant signs of improvement through the use of cattle and animal impact as tools to reverse land degradation.
Ms Chidavaenzi said the success story in the making had already aroused tremendous interest locally, in the Africa region and beyond. She said the key points to the success of the technique in the Hwange communal lands were the training of local farmers into trainers themselves and the practicals that had been appreciated by the farmers.
Various Government departments and non-governmental organisations had found holistic resource management complementary to their work rather than competitive, said Ms Chidavaenzi.
"Holistic management teaches people to pinpoint and address the interdependent causes of social, biological, and financial deterioration rather than applying 'quick fix' methods," said Ms Chidavaenzi.
She said the technique was "very controversial" in that it went against the common belief that overstocking with both livestock and wildlife had led to the bare ground and the resulting desertification.
As a result, cattle numbers were reduced by understocking and thousands of elephants and other game culled.
Ms Chidavaenzi shares the same conviction with Mr Savory, the first local advocate of the technique, who also believes that desertification is not caused by overstocking, overgrazing, overpopulation or weather change.
Mr Savory believes that desertification is "simply caused by the way governments and people make decisions in resource management."
Early this year, Mr Savory observed that land degradation caused by soil erosion, increasing droughts and poverty were Zimbabwe's greatest long-term problem and danger.
He found holistic management as the answer to the country's desertification woes but regretted that the infrastructure suffered from inert bureaucracy not progressive to the new thinking.
Holistic management, a largely Zimbabwean concept, is also being exported.
Last month, an international group of people from Australia, Argentina and the United States graduated in the certified educator in holistic management programme at the centre in Matetsi, Hwange. They had undergone two years of intensive training overseas.
The group joined other trainee educators from Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The course is being coordinated by the centre with the assistance of its international wing in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Mr Savory said the international group chose to graduate in Zimbabwe because this is where the technology was originally developed.
"It [holistic management] is proving encouragingly successful wherever used and is the only known way for people to reverse the massive desertification, poverty, degradation, and unemployment Africa and increasingly developed countries are suffering," said Mr Savory.
One graduand, Mr Bruce Ward from Australia, said the Hwange project was a special model which would be adopted by other countries.
"It's absolutely incredible as the only way of reversing land degradation sustainably," he said.
The centre is also offering training for the Africa region.