Campfire fact sheet


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Despite developing quickly, Zimbabwe has pockets of severe poverty. Under colonial rule, much of the land with the least agricultural potential was designated as communal lands, where the country's poorest inhabitants still struggle to survive. These areas are plagued by persistent drought, with accompanying widespread soil erosion, river siltation, and loss of vegetative cover.

Binga: Portrait of Rural Life in Zimbabwe
People in Binga district, north-western Zimbabwe, live in conditions of chronic poverty, and the combination of severe droughts and recent economic recession has increased their vulnerability. A 1993 Save the Children report stated that many residents regularly do not have enough grain to feed themselves. People exist on wild foods and drought handouts, remittances from relatives working in towns, and often from selling their remaining crops and livestock.

Living in such precarious conditions means that if wildlife damage crops or livestock, it can ruin people's very livelihoods. Elephant damage is a significant factor in crop loss in many parts of the district. Not surprisingly, until CAMPFIRE project money was used to build solar-powered fences around agricultural land and villages, local residents were not interested in conserving their wildlife, which they saw as dangerous and destructive. Through CAMPFIRE, these same wild animals are now vital to rural development in the district: revenues from fishing, game hunting and wildlife tourism are used to supplement individual household incomes and for community development projects. In 1980, before CAMPFIRE, the Binga district only had thirteen primary schools and no secondary schools. By 1995 the district boasted some 56 primary schools and nine secondary schools.

'Up until 1985, we were a people without hope. Our children too were suffering as diseases took their toll. There were no schools, no wells and no clinics. Villagers continually sought help as they were engaged in a desperate struggle to survive. With CAMPFIRE, we now have rural health centres within easy reach.' Chief Sinakatenge, Binga district.

CAMPFIRE: Generating Income

CAMPFIRE provides a legal way for rural communities to harvest their natural resources on a sustainable basis, thus enhancing their income directly in several ways:

  • Leasing trophy hunting concessions. Over 90% of CAMPFIRE revenues earned by rural communities come from foreign hunters who come to Zimbabwe to hunt elephants, buffaloes, lions or other wild animals. Hunters are considered the 'ultimate ecotourists' in Zimbabwe, as they have a much lower impact on the environment than other tourists. In addition, their presence in remote areas acts as an anti-poaching deterrent, and hunters pay much higher fees than other tourists. Together with district councils and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management, CAMPFIRE community representatives determine the 'quota' or 'sustainable offtake' of wildlife available on communal lands for hunting, and lease hunting concessions to professional safari hunting companies.

  • Harvesting natural resources. Communities harvest and sell natural products such as crocodile eggs, timber, river-sand and caterpillars. Unfortunately for the communities, the CITES ban on international trade in elephant products prevents them from selling hide and ivory from 'problem animals' - individuals which persistently raid crops or threaten local residents.

  • Tourism. Tourists have visited Zimbabwe's rural areas for many years, although the local communities were rarely involved (or benefited from) tourism until a few pilot projects were set up by CAMPFIRE in the early 1990's. Most revenues from tourism in Zimbabwe's communal lands are generated through the leasing of sites for nature tourism, although in some cases local residents run basic tourist facilities and act as guides. Many more tourism plans are in the pipeline, including cultural tourism, bird-watching and access to natural hot springs.

  • Live animal sales. In areas where wildlife populations are high, district councils have begun to sell live animals to commercial game reserves or national parks. In 1994, Guruve district sold ten roan antelope, earning some US$50,000.

  • Meat cropping. Meat from wildlife is sometimes sold to neighbouring communities or towns.

A recent report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimated that CAMPFIRE has increased household income in communal areas by 15-25%. At the end of 1992, people in Hurungwe district received US$ 119,342 through CAMPFIRE. In 1993, they received $145,519. When distributed among households, CAMPFIRE revenues can provide a form of food security against the frequent droughts.

'Five years ago, Kanyurira ward was a community of no-hopers. Since the introduction of CAMPFIRE they have built a school, are building a clinic, and have purchased a tractor to plough the fields. Their managerial skills have  improved dramatically.... Community meetings are fully attended and each committee keeps good financial records.' Department of National Parks, 1994.

Improving Infrastructure

CAMPFIRE revenues have been used for much-needed community development projects, such as:

  • drilling wells to provide clean water for residents;
  • building schools and health clinics;
  • fencing arable and residential land, as well as providing funds for maintaining these fences;
  • road development and installing grinding mills

Building Capacity: Training and Employment

A significant part of rural development is empowering people to shape their own development. CAMPFIRE has not only significantly increased the number of schools in remote areas - such as in Binga district - but has also led to local organisations holding workshops and training in topics such as bookkeeping, project planning, and other managerial and employment skills;

CAMPFIRE has also created employment in remote communal lands. Local residents have gained permanent jobs in safari and tourist camps, and become part-time game scouts and tourist guides. People from rural communities have worked building village fences, clinics and schools. In Masoka village in the Dande Communal Lands, rural women were formally employed for the first time, working on CAMPFIRE projects.

Securing the Future: the Way Forward

To advance rural development efforts in Zimbabwe's communal lands, further technical assistance will be needed. They also need secure land tenure and rights over their wildlife. In addition:

  • Wildlife utilisation must be recognised as a sustainable development tool. Trophy hunting is a legitimate form of ecotourism, necessary for rural development and wildlife conservation in Southern Africa. International legislation will need to support this, not discriminate against it. For example, the ban on trading elephant products has adversely affected rural communities in Zimbabwe which have US$1.6 million stockpiled unsold ivory. If elephants cannot generate adequate incomes for rural inhabitants, they will not survive, as impoverished people will be forced to clear wildlife habitat to make way for more productive land use.

  • Research and technical inputs will enable rural communities to attain and maximise revenues from their natural resources in other ways, so that CAMPFIRE can be less dependent on trophy hunting and tourism.

CAMPFIRE: Women have their say in development

Gender issues in CAMPFIRE came to the fore during the first time that CAMPFIRE household dividends were distributed in Kanyurira ward, in north-eastern Zimbabwe. The term 'household' was left undefined, and the district council had been informed that there were 86 households, which rose to 96 by the distribution day. Women complained that some widows qualified as household heads, while others didn't. In addition a substantial number of married women wanted to be registered in their own right, since they also worked in the fields which had been destroyed by wildlife. Local women organised a meeting to resolve the issue, demanding equal rights and safeguarding their role in CAMPFIRE.

Getting women to participate adequately in community decision-making has been challenging, especially as many rural women have heavy workloads, and lack sufficient time and skills to become involved effectively. However, most CAMPFIRE areas have women on their wildlife committees. Tsholothso and Bulilima Mangwe districts are leading the way, mostly due to training activities targeted at involving women in CAMPFIRE. In Bulilima Mangwe for example, all the Ward Wildlife Committees have at least one female member, and the Inter-Ward Wildlife Committee has a female Vice Chairperson and Secretary.

Since it started in 1989, more than a quarter of a million rural Zimbabweans have begun managing their natural resources and guiding their own development through the Communal Area Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE). This fact sheet has been produced by the CAMPFIRE Association and the Africa Resources Trust on behalf of the CAMPFIRE Collaborative Group.

For more details, contact:
THE AFRICA RESOURCES TRUST, PO Box HG 690, Highlands, Harare, Zimbabwe
Tel: (263-4) 732625; Fax: (263-4) 739163
or send an e-mail message.


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