Hum Ecol (2007) 35:19–31 DOI 10.1007/s10745-006-9080-7
Chronic Uncertainty and Momentary Opportunity: A half century of adaptation among Zambia’s Gwembe Tonga Lisa Cliggett & Elizabeth Colson & Rodrick Hay & Thayer Scudder & Jon Unruh
Published online: 15 December 2006 # Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006
Abstract In Zambia’s Southern Province, where a history of climatic and political fluctuation have played out in peoples livelihood choices and ecological impacts, the Gwembe Tonga people have learned to respond to uncertainty by expecting the worst. This outlook emerges from at least 50 years of experience. The building of the Kariba Dam on the Middle Zambezi River in the late 1950s resulted in the forced relocation of Gwembe people. Since resettlement in 1958, Gwembe people have lived under conditions of increasing uncertainty, both environmental and sociopolitical, that have enormous implications for environmental change. Understanding environmental change in this region demands an exploration of the social,
political and economic context of Gwembe Tonga lives. In looking for broad patterns of adaptation and response, one point emerges clearly. For the Gwembe Tonga, the most recurrent pattern, and most reliable response to living in conditions of extreme uncertainty, is an increasingly opportunistic use of the environment and other resources. This article presents ethnographic data collected over more than 50 years (through the Gwembe Tonga Research Project) in Southern Zambia. Key words Livelihoods . poverty . risk . food security . land cover change . Africa . Zambia . longitudinal studies
Introduction L. Cliggett (*) Department of Anthropology University of Kentucky, 211 Lafferty Hall, Lexington, KY 40506-0024, USA e-mail: [email protected]
E. Colson Department of Anthropology University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA R. Hay Earth Sciences Department California State University, Dominguez Hills, Carson, CA, USA T. Scudder Division of Humanities and Social Science California Institute for Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA J. Unruh Department of Geography, McGill University, Montreal, Canada
In Zambia’s Southern Province (Fig. 1), where a history of climatic and political fluctuation have played out in people’s livelihood choices and ecological impacts, the Gwembe Tonga people have learned to respond to uncertainty by expecting the worst—of the government, of other organizations and groups, and of the environment. This outlook emerges from at least 50 years of experience, influenced but not determined by living in a region of extreme climate including severe multiyear droughts, coupled with periods of flooding and pest infestation (documented for the past century). The building of the Kariba Dam on the Middle Zambezi River in the late 1950s, initiated by the colonial government in conjunction with the World Bank, resulted in the forced and very unwelcome relocation of Gwembe people. Virtually overnight, the relocation undermined the local livelihood system and resource base, and drastically altered their social world. Faced with this and continued failed external interventions, exacerbated by increasing frequency of drought cycles for the region, the Tonga people have learned to
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Fig. 1 Zambia political boundaries.
anticipate difficulties initiated from the outside and beyond local control. Almost 50 years after the forced resettlement, we find Gwembe people voluntarily moving to and colonizing “frontier” regions in different ecosystems on the plateau above their original valley home. In these circumstances it is possible to examine a long trajectory of adaptation to new ecosystems and look for patterns that repeat themselves through time and through generations. Over time we have seen Tonga people make use of whatever opportunities present themselves, and the uncertainty of the duration of those opportunities, in order to grasp what security they can at a given moment in time. The outcomes of this strategy of “make use of opportunities while they exist” include new opportunities that arise, volatile social dynamics, predictable patterns of “domesticating” regions in which they live, and negative impacts on the environment. This article presents ethnographic data collected over more than 50 years (through the Gwembe Tonga Research Project) in Southern Zambia. We argue that the most recurrent pattern exhibited during this time period, which can be demonstrated in two different regions,
is the opportunistic use of the environment and other resources resulting from living in conditions of increasing uncertainty. Surviving in the type of physical environment in which the Gwembe Tonga have lived for at least a millennium is no easy matter. Difficult living conditions may well be one reason why expatriate observers, scholars and donors once believed, and many still believe, that people like the Gwembe Tonga live out their lives within a barely changing, risk-averse and conservative traditional society. Such a conclusion is far from the truth even today when the Zambian policy environment (including austere structural adjustment measures that further marginalize the poor majority) and political economy, the AIDS epidemic, and the onset of global warming make life even more difficult. Our awareness of the context in which the Gwembe people live makes us all the more willing to explore their ability and choices to respond actively to new opportunities and constraints. The socioeconomic history of each of our four intensive study villages (and more recently the migrant frontier) has been different during the half century of the Gwembe study.
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Fig. 2 Southern Province, Zambia. Case study field sites are the Gwembe Valley, along the north west shore of Lake Kariba, and Chikanta, bordering the Southwest side of Kafue National Park.
Reasons are several, but an important one relates to the local context in which each village has found itself both before and after resettlement. These local contexts have influenced the nature of the land use system and the range of options selected in each household’s diversified production system including the relationship between crop agriculture, livestock management, and local non-farm activities and the relationship between those activities, labor migration, and permanent emigration to Zambia’s urban areas and new lands on the Zambian plateau.
Background to Study Site and Methods The Gwembe region and Tonga people of Southern Zambia (Fig. 2) are best known through the works of Elizabeth Colson and Thayer Scudder, which document the transformation of a small-scale society brought about through a macro-level development project (Colson, 1960, 1971b; Colson and Scudder, 1988; Scudder, 1962, 1971; Scudder
and Colson, 1981). The “before and after” study of Gwembe Tonga life in conjunction with the building of Kariba Dam on the Middle Zambezi River in 1958, quickly became a longitudinal study of continuity and change when Colson and Scudder realized that their baseline data offered a unique foundation for examining a range of social issues as Zambia gained independence from the British Colonial government, as the new nation sought to educate and employ a population previously excluded from the most lucrative and powerful sectors of society, and as the nation’s economy underwent the boom and bust of its chief export, copper (Colson, 1967a, 1970b, 1976, 1979; Colson and Scudder, 1975, 1981; Scudder, 1960, 1983, 1984; Scudder and Colson, 1981, 1982). Their studies examined the way resettlement and “development” impacted religious and kinship systems (Colson, 1966, 1967b, 1969, 1970a, b, 1971a, 1980, 1995a, b, 1999, 2000; Colson and Scudder, 1981; Scudder, 1976), and also documented in rich detail the livelihood changes, and continuities that Gwembe people experienced. The research has focused on Gwembe people’s
experience as they face challenges of a volatile political economy and natural and social environments (Clark et al., 1995; Colson, 1962, 1963, 1964a, b, 1979; Scudder, 1993; Scudder and Colson, unpublished). Since the initial work of Colson and Scudder, other scholars have carried out research in the region on issues that complement their body of research (Clark et al., 1995; Cliggett, 2000, 2001a, b, 2003a, b; Gillett, 1997, 1998, 1995; Luig, 1997, 1999; Petit et al., 2001; Scudder and Habarad, 1991; Siamwiza, 1993). In the mid-1990s an effort was made to formally incorporate a small number of social scientists (Samuel Clark, Lisa Cliggett and Rhonda Gillett-Netting) with diverse training, with a goal of carrying on the longitudinal research program into the twenty-first century (Cliggett, 2002; Scudder and Colson, 2002). Since then Cliggett has carried out a variety of anthropological research in the Gwembe Valley and the migration destinations of Gwembe people (Cliggett, 2000, 2001a, b, 2002, 2003b, 2005). Her work has most recently focused on livelihood and food security in the context of migration, with attention to access rights to productive resources, such as land, farming inputs, and labor. In 2001 Cliggett began a collaboration with two geographers, Unruh and Hay, in a study examining links between migration and environmental change in one of the primary migration destinations for Gwembe people (Unruh et al., 2005). This migrant frontier, known generally as “Chikanta,” borders one of Africa’s largest national parks (Kafue National Park). With the rapid influx of migrants to this previously unsettled region, land cover is changing at a startling pace. Although in an earlier collaboration Petite et al. (2001) linked existing ethnographic data with spatial data for one of the valley study areas, the recent collaboration of anthropologists and geographers has led to developing new and more integrated methodologies and analytical frameworks for collecting data. Using satellite imagery, the team is linking remotely sensed data with ethnographic and survey data collected through extensive periods of fieldwork (2004–2006) in order to examine both the processes and motives for land cover change. The first task for the collaborative project was acquiring a time series (1986, 2000) of satellite imagery to examine large scale patterns of land cover change. Those two images provide the visual and spatial foundation for examining the sociopolitical world of those living in the study area. Following 5 months of ethnographic data collection in 2004, the team developed a 16-page survey on demographic characteristics, livelihood activities, and land access and tenure. The survey was administered during 4 months in 2005 to 650 households (defined as a male or female headed group of coresident people engaged in agricultural activities on the same parcels of land) in the frontier study region. Part of the questionnaire included drawing a cognitive
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map of each household’s primary agricultural field, and subsequently probing for history on relations between neighbors, conflicts, and expansion activities. During data entry of the survey into MS Access, the maps were photographed digitally for incorporation into both the data base and into the spatial imagery. Linking the cognitive maps to the imagery created with ArcGIS allows for making the individual characteristics visible while scanning the landscape of the study area. As of publication of this article, data analysis and write up this specific project continue. Combined with the longitudinal data collected by Colson and Scudder, which include socioeconomic and demographic data and extensive qualitative data collected through interviews and observations, the outcome of the combined research projects is “deep knowledge” over a substantial time period for a broad swath of Southern Zambia.
The Socioecological Context of Gwembe Life Since Gwembe villagers were resettled in 1958, they have lived under conditions of increasing uncertainty that militate against conservation of resources and promote environmental degradation. This was not clear soon after resettlement, although we now know that it was predictable. Usually economic advantage is clearest during a period beginning 4 or 5 years after resettlement when a relationship still exists between population and exploitable local land and natural resources, and any infrastructure installed during resettlement is still in working order (Colson, 1971b, 1979; Scudder, 1966, 1976; Scudder and Colson, 1982). Four major factors influence the Gwembe Tonga people’s opportunistic responses to their environment over the past 50 years: two of them are related to climatic factors, while the third and fourth, and most important, arise from the rapidity with which Zambia’s changing political economy affects agriculture, rural services, and the job market, and the uncertainty brought about by the short attention span of international donor agencies. Climatic Factors The Gwembe Valley throughout the past century has known frequent hunger years due to drought, but drought years increased in number after the 1970s, some droughts persisted for several years back to back, and there has also been a possible shift in the timing of rainfall. All this makes agricultural decision making increasingly uncertain. It is difficult to know when to plant and what to plant, and every year is a gamble in which the odds may seem too high for people to be willing to invest in the purchase of seed and other inputs such as fertilizer. They are very much aware that they may lose their investment.
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Those living in the valley upstream of the Kariba Dam along the lakeshore also find the lake unpredictable. During the 1980s and early 1990s, droughts led to a massive reduction in the size of the lake, which had reached its maximum around 1963. As a result a number of irrigation schemes planned during the years when the lake was at its maximum failed as pumping water from the lake became uneconomic (Scudder, 1972, 1980, 1985). On the other hand, the shrinkage of the lake provided those living nearby with an unexpected bonus of new land to farm during and after the rains. This allowed them to fallow fields cleared after the 1958 resettlement whose fertility had begun to fall, or to hand these on to relatives while they themselves concentrated on the new land obtained from the lake. The lake margins also provided excellent pasturage for the growing herds of cattle which are perhaps the Valley’s most important legal generator of cash (Colson and Scudder, 1988; Scudder and Habarad, 1991). In the late 1990s and early 2000s, heavy rainfall in the Zambezi catchment area upstream, brought the lake back in flood. Those cultivating at the lakeside lost heavily as the waters rose rapidly over their fields taking standing crops and sometimes equipment left in the field. They may thus have lost a substantial portion of their agricultural acreage as well as a substantial portion of their pasture. The unpredictability of the lake margins has therefore added an element of uncertainty to the agriculture of many of the people living in Gwembe South, Gwembe Central and Gwembe North near the lake, while others in Gwembe North along the Zambezi River have had their fields inundated when the dam gates have been opened either at short notice or no notice to relieve pressure on the dam during high water periods in the lake. In 2000 and 2001 those cultivating lake or river fields lost heavily. These fields are a rich resource when all goes well, but cultivation here is now a high risk proposition plagued by uncertainty. The droughts may be influenced by man-made factors affecting the world climate. The same factors may be concentrating rainfall into fewer but more severe precipitation events. If so, they are also contributing to the erosion of the Gwembe landscape—for example, flash floods in tributary rivers taking out river gardens. This has always happened, but the damage appears to have increased over the last two decades of the twentieth century, due in part to land clearing in the hills for agriculture and the cutting of trees for firewood, charcoal, and building materials. At the turn of the millennium, Gwembe people are coping with an increasingly uncertain environment when they cannot know from 1 year to the next what their land resources will be, or for that matter when to plant or what to plant. These uncertainties affect their evaluation of the desirability of conservation or restoration measures.
The Unpredictability of Zambia’s Political Economy It is difficult for farmers to plan when they cannot predict the availability of soils, but they are also trying to plan in an environment where government and international donor policy decisions are unpredictable and have little to do with local conditions. Gwembe people cannot count on the delivery of agricultural supplies or an availability of markets. Even if they can deliver to a buyer, they have no assurance that they will receive their money before inflation wipes out any profit since payments sometimes lag 6 months or more after the crop has been picked up. Payment for last year’s crop may not pay for this year’s inputs. In the last 40 years, Gwembe farmers have been the target of many different attempts at agricultural development which have encouraged them to go in for the cash cropping of cotton or sunflower or maize or brewing sorghum or some other favored product, but since the late 1980s the marketing mechanisms for agricultural inputs and products other than cotton have been chaotic. Furthermore, it has become increasingly difficult to produce efficiently and profitably due to the inconsistency and changeability of national policies related to the rural areas. In the 1950s and 1960s the Gwembe Valley was linked to the Zambian economy by a network of newly built roads which made it possible for people and produce to move much more freely within the Valley and from Valley to the towns and markets on the Plateau (Colson, 1979; Colson and Scudder, 1975; Scudder, 1972). This encouraged some to shift from labor migration to cash crops. After Zambian independence in 1964, credit facilities became available for seeds, fertilizers, and agricultural equipment, and transport was available for the movement of crops to market and the stocking of local shops with consumer goods. Indeed this period appeared to be a boom in the local economy, and people hoped for improved living standards. With the downturn of the Zambian economy in the mid1970s, the damages inflicted during the Rhodesian war when Gwembe Valley was under attack and seeded with landmines, and then the impact of structural adjustment programs in the 1980s and 1990s, the rural economy suffered. Roads deteriorated and in some cases vanished. Agricultural inputs were delivered late if at all, and many areas found buyers unwilling to collect crops because this was uneconomical due to the bad roads. Prices for food crops were uncertain, especially when those trying to sell grain had to compete with grain imported from the south or as relief food from overseas. Government schemes for credit along with organization of crop marketing disappeared (Scudder and Colson, unpublished; Scudder and Colson, 2002) with the exception of cotton, which continued to be handled by a separate government
organization until that was purchased by a private company in 1994 during Zambia’s privatization program. Under both arrangements credit, the supply of inputs, and collection and payment for produce at the time of pickup continued to be handled relatively effectively. But little or nothing was done by the government to sustain the production of food crops. Prior to this recent improvement in arrangements for cotton, the volatile conditions for agricultural production have favored the growing of a crop which is of high value, easily transportable, and requires few inputs. This is true of marijuana, which also has the advantage of being drought resistant. We do not have adequate information on production, but there is good reason to believe that Gwembe production of marijuana has increased dramatically over the last 30 years even though the crop is illegal under Zambian law, as it was under the colonial regime. Returns are high enough to justify the risk. Recent research documents the ways that some Gwembe producers have marketed the high value crop via the Kapenta fishing industry on Lake Kariba (Malasha, 2003). Another response to the production and marketing uncertainties has been to concentrate on subsistence agriculture with a minimum of investment (Cliggett, 2005; Colson, 1979; Scudder, 1983, 1984). Continued high birth rates among Gwembe people facilitate this return to subsistence farming by providing the labor necessary for agricultural activities. Villagers have also invested in livestock, especially herds of cattle, for these are used as draft animals, produce milk, and serve as a store of value since they can be sold when the need arises and driven to market if necessary. Uncertainties in the Relationship to Land Given the uncertainties in both climate and markets, investment in maintenance of soil fertility or other forms of intensification are seen as likely to be unprofitable. At the same time, in many areas, Gwembe people complain of a shortage of arable land, both for those now farming and for their children. The birth rate is high, and surplus population can no longer be siphoned off to the towns given the stagnation of the Zambian economy since the mid-1970s and the increasing number of unemployed. Uncleared arable land is no longer available locally. Shifting cultivation is also not an option in most areas because potential fields have either been claimed and are in use, or the land has been abandoned as overused and no longer sufficiently fertile for farming. In the 1970s and 1980s, resettled villages had already pioneered land within nearby hills, wherever pockets of soil existed and water was available. This led to the dispersal of homesteads and villages, complicating any programs for the provision of
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schools or extension services, and adding to the difficulties of road maintenance or crop collection. In Gwembe Central, for instance, the area between the Chezia and Chiabi Rivers that was bush country full of game in the 1960s is now occupied by small settlements. In Gwembe South, the villages of Siameja neighborhood have also fragmented, with people moving either to the lakeshore or into the hills, where they cultivate hill fields for a year or two before they must move on, leaving an eroding slope behind them. In no year, whatever the rainfall, do Siameja people grow enough grain to feed themselves through the year. At Siameja, each year grain must be imported whether through private purchasing or NGO and government assistance. But only in officially recognized hunger years is it distributed through various programs including foodfor-work projects. The Siameja village economy is highly dependent on employment in nearby amethyst mines or in their own small-scale gemstone mining which is regarded as illegal by the government. They also rely on the sale of cattle, and during a period from the 1970s to the early 2000s, some Gwembe South villages produced handicrafts (especially wooden stools and drums, and baskets) for the tourist market. This had its own environmental impacts. Trees suitable for carving were increasingly in short supply and by the 1990s basket-makers were importing some of their materials from the Plateau due to over exploitation in the valley. Then markets dried up. As of 2004, the handicraft purchasers from the plateau found that transportation costs into the Valley were too high to continue purchasing visits, and consequently there is currently no outlet for valley producers. This example captures the profound fluidity between economic booms and busts for local people, and the extreme uncertainty of opportunities. We do not know to what extent the amethyst miners of Gwembe South are also agents of deforestation in cutting trees for mining props. Some deforestation here as in Gwembe Central and Gwembe North is due to cutting trees for drying racks and firewood needed for the Kapenta fishery. Increasingly throughout the region, and especially in Gwembe North, which has good road access, the charcoal trade has taken its toll on woodland areas. Land resources may be thought of as finite, although the changing Kariba Lake basin has proved that at times land availability may increase for periods. Resources may also be radically reduced as far as residents are concerned, for allocation of land is subject to political decisions that deprive the local population of access to desirable land. From many points of view, Gwembe land is desirable, especially in Gwembe North where the road system is in better shape than in Gwembe Central and Gwembe South. Water is available in the Zambezi River and in Kariba Lake. There are good soils already being cultivated by local
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people. There is now the promise of electricity. In recent years, land near the Zambezi River in Gwembe North and along the lake in Gwembe Central and South have been handed over to Europeans and Zambian (especially nonTonga) elite, for plantations, crocodile farms, and game ranches and other tourist activities. Much of the lucrative Kapenta fishery, which includes valuable lake shore property, is in the hands of expatriates. Aerial photographs from different periods can document the creation and demise of the Gwembe infrastructure: roads, small dams, buildings, etc; the extent of erosion; and village fragmentation and dispersal through the hills. What they cannot show is how people have responded at a number of different levels. Responses depend upon the factors people take into consideration as they plan their crops, decide to emigrate, or turn to exploiting other existing resources within the Valley. They also are affected by the political impact of village fragmentation on the authority structure, the ability to mobilize people for public works, and the feasibility of enforcing such regulations as exist with respect to conservation or reforestation, or controls on the Kariba Lake fisheries. Through the 1990s and at the beginning of the twenty-first century, outlying settlements have been demanding recognition as legal villages under their own headmen. There is some evidence that this reflects the economy of drought years, when people rely upon food-for-work and other relief programs for grain, which are distributed by village, without taking population into consideration. But village fragmentation is also taking place within a political environment in which power over local affairs has been handed back to chiefs and headmen throughout Zambia, beginning in 1991.
Gwembe Tonga Diversification and Livelihood Change Little is known about the prehistory of the Gwembe Tonga. What is known, however, is that they made radical changes in their agricultural economy when New World crops such as maize and tobacco were introduced. Those in turn probably led to a major shift in land use whereby more emphasis was placed on flood recession agriculture along the Zambezi which probably allowed for the first time the double cropping of a cereal staple since the retreat of the annual flood favors maize as opposed to sorghum and bulrush millet. The cultivation of river bank gardens also favored tobacco, which along with marijuana had become the principal cash crop when Colson and Scudder commenced their joint research in 1956. Another major development was the incorporation of labor migration into Gwembe economic strategies. Some Gwembe Tonga men became labor migrants to the mines and cities south of the Zambezi in the late nineteenth
century before the introduction of hut taxes. In 1956 at least 50% of the active male population was absent during the dry season. As the Gwembe study progressed into the 1970s, Colson and Scudder came to realize that during a single generation approximately 50% of households were involved in major risk-taking economic experiments. Another 20–25% was willing to implement those strategies that worked. Many failed because of external environmental and policy factors over which households had little control. Gwembe people thus have had a very long history of opportunistic use of the local ecological and social environment as well as of whatever external opportunities were available at different points in time. One livelihood change that a majority of Gwembe households had recently completed by the time Colson and Scudder arrived in the Middle Zambezi Valley in 1956 involved a major change in land use during the 1940s and 1950s. During that period population increase was placing increasing pressure on the preferred cultivation of Zambezi and tributary alluvial soils. At the same time, other factors — including reduction of large game and the introduction of cattle for traction—made it possible to cultivate “bush gardens” in previously uncultivated Karroo sediments several kilometers inland from the Zambezi. Aerial photography dated the commencement of inland bush clearing in Gwembe Central to the second half of the 1940s when only a few fields had been opened up, the pioneers being men with inadequate holdings of alluvial gardens along the Zambezi. By 1956, bush cultivation of Karroo sediments had created an almost continuous band of fields behind the Central Gwembe villages with which we were most familiar. The preferred crop was bulrush millet which had become the number one cereal staple. Even before the development of what the Gwembe Tonga called the temwa (bush fallow) system on Karroo soils, a shift from hoe cultivation to ox traction had begun in Gwembe South. Elsewhere, the introduction of cattle was checked by the prevalence of tsetse fly, carriers of bovine trypanosomiasis, until the late 1940s when control of the disease by prophylactic drugs was undertaken by the colonial government. The resettlement years were accompanied by a major program under the colonial government of tsetse fly clearance, insisted upon by the people’s District Council. By the mid-1970s, only a small minority of households in Gwembe still relied on hoe cultivation. In 1962, upon return to the Gwembe Valley for the “after” portion of the original study, the commercial Kariba fishery was the most important source of income for thousands of Gwembe people who were in the process of colonizing the entire Zambian frontage of the lake and islands of the 3,000 km2 reservoir. Large fish camps played a major role in integrating women (who had begun to
commercialize the sale of beer within their respective villages) into a market economy. Some took up residence in the fish camps to brew beer. Others came from surrounding villages to sell eggs, fowl and other produce. The quick response to the fishing boom is yet another example of the ways Gwembe people respond to new opportunities while they last. The history of the later stages of the fishing industry on the lake demonstrates, again, the range of uncertainty in the Gwembe context. The fishery collapsed in the mid-1960s as the reservoir’s initial productivity dropped and the number of fishermen increased. In spite of that the 1963–1973 period was one of rising living standards among a majority of the Gwembe Tonga, resettlers and hosts alike. Part of the reason was related to Zambian independence in 1964 with the influx of donor assistance (the World Bank, for example, financed investments in secondary school education) and departure of colonial officials, and the “Zambianizing” of government and businesses. Secondary school leavers were able to secure “middle class” jobs. A small minority eventually joined the Zambian elite. Some moved with their families to Lusaka where they and their descendents may remain today, although some have returned to the Gwembe Valley in their retirement. During the mid-1960s savings from fishing and compensation money paid for houses and loss of productivity due to resettlement, capitalized the purchase of cattle, with ox traction playing an important role in the Gwembe Valley becoming Zambia’s most important area for smallholder cotton production in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With ample grazing and water supplies along the reservoir margin, cattle numbers increased. Those with larger herds began to sell off-take as a cash crop. The fishery also for a time was the most important source for school fees and for the capital that underwrote small commercial stores, tea rooms and beer halls. From Boom to Bust Zambia’s economy collapsed in the mid-1970s. Inflationary pressures in Lusaka and along the line of rail were such that even some with jobs in the formal sector were retrenched (fired), and returned to life in the Gwembe Valley. There Gwembe people continued to experiment with new activities. Especially important were a whole range of informal sector activities that increasingly involved women. In two of the study villages in Gwembe North, women traveled nearly 50 km to a township market at the edge of the Kariba reservoir to sell milk and village-grown vegetables. A few women and men also began to participate in cross-border trading to and from Zimbabwe. A few Gwembe North men poached game in Zimbabwe. Others, as in Gwembe South, began for the first time to participate in cattle transhumance
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by driving their cattle to the Lake Kariba foreshore when inland grazing proved inadequate. Institutional changes were also initiated at the village level by adapting the committees initially proposed by Zambia’s first government to village organization, including developing village capacity to deal with new donor initiatives such as food-for-work programs and reforestation. Currently the Zambian political economy shows little sign of recovery, while the AIDS epidemic continues to worsen. The adverse conditions under which the Gwembe people have been living since the time of Kariba resettlement continue. Quite possibly the next wave of livelihood change will be due to the penetration of fundamentalist Christian churches. This could well be partially a response to the economic downturn and to displacement of the former dominance of the Gwembe’s cult of the ancestors by witchcraft, seen as the major source of misfortune (Colson, 2000; Price and Thomas, 1999). The role of the fundamentalists in downplaying reliance upon the ancestors includes their preaching that the dead no longer matter or have become evil demons. In either case, the shift in a spiritual base which underwrote extended matrilineal family relations may have repercussions on how Gwembe people identify family, mobilize their labor, and make their living. However, the biggest livelihood change since the early 1980s has involved the emigration of thousands of Gwembe households to new areas due to land pressure, environmental degradation and social conflict. A few sought out any existing pockets of land within the Valley or in a neighboring downstream district. The majority moved, voluntarily, as pioneering settlers to new lands on the adjacent Zambian plateau. There they had to leapfrog over the settled areas between the Gwembe Valley escarpment and line of rail to new, sparsely settled inland frontiers where they joined kin who, having earlier settled on the Eastern Plateau were again moving further west in the search for more and better land. The most important farming frontier in the 1980s and 1990s was the Chikanta area on the borders of one of Zambia’s national parks (Kafue National Park). Their reward was higher rainfall, better fields, better crops, abundant wood, and lots of wild game. This was enough to offset the need to cope with initial isolation, inadequate water supplies, lack of infrastructure (including roads and social services), threats from the abundant wild life and livestock diseases including bovine trypanosomiasis.
Recurring Patterns As outlined above, ecological, social, and political economy circumstances shape the range of choices available to Gwembe people. Their strategies for settling in the migrant
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frontier provide other evidence on how they engage with natural and social environments. In effect, joining our understanding of Gwembe life in the valley together with what we are learning of how they have settled in the migrant frontier, we can demonstrate how Gwembe people have “domesticated” two different environments over time, and isolate recurrent processes. Background to the Migrant Frontier In 1979, the Zambian government announced on the radio, the “de-restriction” as wildlife management areas, of six “previously uninhabited” regions that were now open for settlement (in fact some areas had been inhabited until the early 1950s when attempts to control human trypanosomiasis—“sleeping sickness”—led to relocation of villages outside of what became Game Management Areas). Any Zambian wanting more land was free to settle in any of those areas. Many farmers from the Gwembe Valley saw this as an opportunity to improve their living conditions and escape the environmental and social constraints in the valley (Cliggett, 2000). Since 1980, an increasing stream of Gwembe migrants have settled in an area known as “Chikanta”—part of the Bbilili Springs buffer zone to Kafue National Park, Zambia’s largest national wildlife park, in Central and Southern Provinces. Upon arrival in the region farmers implemented their extensive farming systems on land that was uninhabited (at least for the past 30 years), and covered in dense Miombo woodland. Upon settling in a new area, migrants first clear a portion of the forest, and then, using cattle-drawn plows and, increasingly, tractors, and family labor, they cultivate their fields to grow maize which they sell within the national market. It is these “emergent farmers” who provide the majority of Zambia’s maize, the nation’s food staple, for national consumption. The signs of this increasing rate of in-migration in Chikanta show up in decreasing forest cover and expanding agricultural land, as seen from the ground, and on satellite images and aerial photographs. Recurring Practices of Resource Exploitation In the Zambian frontier we see the passage of time through forest clearing, changing land tenure systems, host–migrant relations, kinship cooperation and dispute, and the ebb and flow of government/donor participation in local economic activity. There is something familiar about these processes when we look at them from a longitudinal standpoint. Over the almost 25 years that migration into the region has taken place, we have seen a range of social processes that echo post-1958 relocation life in the Gwembe Valley. In the Chikanta region, people have moved into heavily wooded areas incrementally, heading west towards the
national park border, particularly evident on a composite of satellite imagery combining an image from 1986 with one from 2000. People tell us that as the wild game moved farther west, people followed and settled closer to the Kafue Park boundaries, largely because the game became less of a threat to their crops, but also because at least some people made part of their living through hunting. On the other hand, though local headmen in the region claimed in 2004 that no land remained for new settlers, recent migrants have been leaving one village in particular because of their inability to stop wild game from damaging their crops. With the expansion into bush areas of both Gwembe and Chikanta, increasing population densities have had an impact on local economies as demonstrated by growth of market centers. As Gwembe saw growth in teahouses and shops after resettlement, from the 1990s to 2003 in Chikanta, a vibrant local market system developed for town traders bringing secondhand clothing, cooking utensils, and other town produced goods for exchange with maize, and, although not well-documented, bush meat. Recent NGO and government efforts to stop poaching, as our research revealed, has led to a decline in local market activity because of the potential costs of being caught with bush meat. Local residents predicted, however, that if the NGOs and government groups withdraw from the area (as is expected to occur in 2005 when some of the project contracts end) trade in bush meat will increase again and the local market will return to the vibrancy of the late 1990s. Along with local male entrepreneurs, women also have had a chance to engage in a range of marketing practices— beer brewing, sale of garden produce, and some locals tell us that many women participate in the bush meat trade. Also, given men’s increasing access to cash and trade goods, the sex industry in the region has experienced a boom, increasing women’s access to income, but also everyone’s exposure to HIV/AIDS. The number of suspected AIDS related deaths in the migrant frontier rapidly increased over the past decade. Obviously, some diversification strategies are profoundly costly and tragic. Mobility has been a primary strategy for Gwembe people to cope with environmental change, population growth and social–political dynamics. When shifting to areas closer to central villages no longer offered the kinds of options Gwembe people wanted, some ambitious farmers moved to the plateau frontiers. Their reasons for shifting usually centered on issues of resource access: both environmental changes impacting farming in the valley, and conflicts over control of key resources (Cliggett, 2000). Additionally, many of the frontier settlers have relocated from urban regions, either following urban retirement, or in response to increasing costs of urban life and the difficulty of making a living wage. Rather than return to “home” villages that offer little to no hope for a vibrant farming life,
they have opted to pioneer a new region that, for the moment, has great potential for profitable farming. In these ways, migration, mobility and resettlement (whether voluntary or forced) constitute one the most important forms of livelihood diversification for Gwembe people over multiple decades. Settlement into a frontier requires particular techniques of resource exploitation, especially in terms of land clearing and forest management. Gwembe people who lived through the 1958 resettlement and those who subsequently shifted into the uplands surrounding the resettled villages engaged in extensive forest clearing, and this new generation of migrants on the plateau is most likely resurrecting practices they learned about from their parents’ generation. In effect then, diversification in this context occurs generationally. In addition to the actual labor and physical techniques of clearing, the institutions which facilitate new migrants’ access to land, and freedom to clear forest (or protect it) are fundamental to the migrants’ ability to exploit local resources. The intersection of new migrants and the earliest pioneers in the region comes most crucially around the institutions of land tenure. This forced encounter of potentially differing systems triggers a broadening of strategies to ensure land access, and livelihood security. The most common practice we see in the migrant frontier is rapid felling of woodlands by recent migrants in an attempt to clearly demarcate and “protect” their claim to land, while older residents have more freedom to keep portions of their land in primary forest cover. These clearing practices occur despite recognition among the population that local institutions of identifying and claiming land without clearing exist. Obviously the inconsistency between the institutional existence and the behavioral practice has profound implications for landscape change. Recurring Patterns of Class Differentiation and Social Change Diversification also occurs at individual, household and social network levels, not just at categorical levels of “migrant,” “host,” “young,” and “senior” generations. Individuals, families, households, and different social networks diversify their livelihoods by combining selfprovisioning with cash cropping agriculture; engaging in resource extraction for sale through multiple markets (thatching grass, forest products, fish, game meat, etc); combining animal husbandry with agriculture, and cottage industries. In the migrant frontier we have seen some families embrace new crops, such as cow peas and sunflower, as well as opportunities to produce crafts for the anticipated growth in tourism for the area. These activities have all appeared in conjunction with different development group efforts in the region. Such experiments with new crops, sunflowers in particular, have occurred throughout the
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valley area during different time periods, and were also tied to external interventions. Others who lack the connections to NGOs promoting new livelihood options prefer to diversify their livelihood repertoire with activities that depend on local markets, such as fishing, growing vegetables for sale, carpentry, brick laying and other construction skills, self-provisioning with maize, and for some, building skills for healing and local medical treatments. The range of diversification choices varies among individuals and groups and with the types of social networks to which they have access. Increasingly in the areas bordering the Kafue Park we see government and development groups injecting resources and ideas for “natural resource management,” improving “food security” and promoting “sustainable livelihoods.” While the professed goals of these activities include benefiting the total population of the region, and conserving natural resources in and around the national park, the dispersal of resources does not reach the population equally. Consequently, local populations here, just as in the Gwembe Valley, experience great variety in access to benefits from government and donors. The uneven distribution of assistance and “development” result in vastly different mentalities about livelihood diversification among populations living in the park border zones. The local elite—a mixture of “wealthy host population” and wealthy longer term resident migrants from the Gwembe Valley—tap into both the employment opportunities and “development endeavors,” which include distribution of new seed varieties, new breeds of cattle for studding to improve livestock in the region, and medicines for animals and people. For those outside the network of local power holders, access to these benefits is not guaranteed. For the less privileged, exploiting natural resources, such as game and forest products, offers valuable additions to the primary dependence on maize and cotton farming. In both the Gwembe Valley and in the migrant frontiers on the plateau we see very similar patterns of diversification, resource use, and response to opportunities. From one perspective, the patterns seem almost cyclical. Following relocation in 1958 there was a boom in the local economy triggered in particular by the new fishing industry on the lake, as well as the agricultural expansion into previously unfarmed areas on the uplands. In the migrant frontier, we are currently seeing a similar economic boom. Clearing in new woodlands offers vast fertile lands for farming. Living in the border land of a national park offers plentiful game for hunting, despite the ebb and flow of enforcement against the activity. In both the Gwembe Valley of the 1960s and the Chikanta region of the 1990s and 2000s, livelihood activity tied to natural resources gave way to vibrant local markets where other economic activities
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thrive. Local entrepreneurs open shops to sell imported town goods such as secondhand clothing, kitchen wares, and some industrially produced foods.
Conclusion Apparent throughout this discussion are at least two patterns of socioeconomic fluctuation in the temporal frame—what we might call “chronic uncertainty” and “intermittent collapse.” Chronic uncertainty captures the enduring socioecological challenges Tonga people face, such as regular “irregularities” of rainfall (droughts and floods), local, regional, and national political economies that help to create conditions of persistent poverty, and the inconsistencies of outside interventions that alternately inject and then withdraw resources and support for local populations. Intermittent collapse, which could also be characterized as “cyclic booms and busts,” occurs initially as a product of socioeconomic activity at the local level that makes use of periodic opportunities—whether ecological periods of abundance or sudden injections of external resources. Examples of this pattern in the Gwembe Valley include the fishing industry following initial relocation in the late 1950s, and the repercussions for valley people of the strong national economy in the late 1970s. In the frontier, the current availability of previously unfarmed land and the periods of poorly enforced hunting regulations offer similar moments for economic benefit. Following the moments of opportunity, and through a mixture of changing ecological resources combined with external interventions, and local social dynamics triggered by increased social differentiation, booms have spiraled into demise, with a few people holding onto some profit from the venture, but overall, poverty, and “chronic uncertainty” returns as the general characterization of people’s lives until the next opportunity appears. The economic stagnation in the Valley starting in the mid-1970s, and persisting today, combined more recently with growing limits on farming due, in part, to increased loss of soil fertility, indicates not just a cyclical downturn, but a continually deepening trough. Yet amidst the chronic, or baseline, uncertainty, moments of entrepreneurial expansion occur, again making use of moments of opportunity despite the overall chronic uncertainty and poverty. In effect, while chronic uncertainty can worsen (e.g., erosion, total collapse of fertility on some plots of land, loss of stock due to disease outbreaks such as east coast fever, chronic illness and death targeting large extended families, loss of resources due to risky investments, fires and other “natural” events, and intentional acts from others caused by jealousy, etc) and effect almost everyone in a community, individuals and small groups can
momentarily escape the pattern by, sometimes literally, “jumping” at a chance. In 1994, during the inheritance rituals following the death of a wealthy senior man in the Valley, three sons literally threw themselves on top of the property they wanted to ensure stayed in their, and their mothers,’ hands, rather than go to matrilineal relatives. Although new national inheritance laws, passed in 1989, established children’s and wives’ rights to property upon the death of a husband, rural populations had not yet incorporated them into regular practice. The ‘traditional’ matrilineal inheritance system transferred all property of a deceased person primarily to brothers and nephews of the deceased, usually leaving wives and children to be cared for, or not, by the primary inheritors. In this case from 1994, the literal leap to claim property that might otherwise have been grabbed by matrilineal relatives, ensured the sons’ chances to farm independently for the foreseeable future, and gain real profits from their labor, rather than pay rent to relatives. The property claim also gave the boys’ mothers, the widows of the deceased, more independence to choose between being incorporated into their sons’ families, or into the families of their husband’s relatives. This example indicates just how brief moments of opportunity can be, and how alert people are to the need to utilize them. The distinction between a majority living with chronic uncertainty, while a minority manages to profit at particular moments in time, suggests another kind of heterogeneity in the landscape—the socioeconomic differentiation of local people that allows them unequal access (or exposure) to opportunities and losses. For example, a family with a particularly fertile plot of land who produced a surplus of maize during the past year and owns a large herd of cattle, will find themselves able to sell maize at a good profit to village neighbors during a bad drought year. While the majority of a community may have access to marginal plots of land and may not have social networks that allow them to compensate for decreasing harvests, the few individuals and families with some surplus increase their income, and standing, within the community. Consequently, when other opportunities arise, they are in a position to take advantage of the moment. In this way, the chronic uncertainty and cycles of boom and bust contribute to increasing social differentiation over time. Thus, in addition to the temporal heterogeneity of different socioeconomic fluctuations, those within one community experience those same fluctuating patterns with different resources to optimize them. The range of adaptations to environmental, political, economic, and social change that Gwembe people have enacted over the past half century vividly demonstrates their creative ability to respond to opportunities and adversities as they arise. Given the macro structures of global climate change, national political maneuvering and
an increasingly globalized economy, Gwembe people have developed highly resilient adaptive strategies in the face of great uncertainty. With each new context we see them draw from their repertoire of knowledge, given their past experiences, and build on that knowledge with new responses. Most important in the Gwembe people’s “adaptive repertoire” (Wilk, 1991), are migration and mobility (as seen in pioneering new woodland areas), economic diversification (as seen in mixing agriculture, pastoralism and small business), and natural resource exploitation (as seen in farming lake shore and tributary land, hunting, and rapid forest clearing). Part of Gwembe adaptation involves using known solutions from the past such as reliable drought-resistant seed varieties, social networks, and intensive garden intercropping. New techniques and strategies are also experimented with and employed: farming new crops for cash (cotton, sunflowers), experimenting with new businesses (fisheries, hunting, marketing of town goods), and developing new institutions to manage resources (changing land tenure, marriage payment and inheritance patterns). Some of these adaptations, whether old or new, will have greater visible effects on the environment than others. However, just as the Gwembe people build their adaptive repertoire in response to change, we as social scientists have been building our repertoire of strategies to understand these changes. This edited volume brings together another development in our ability to examine the vast range of change occurring throughout Africa. The Gwembe Tonga adaptations, while specific to a particular region, at a broader level, do echo change occurring in other regions of the continent, as the other cases studies here indicate. And very importantly, through changes (adaptations) in our own methodology— specifically the linking of ethnography and imagery analysis—our ability to document, examine and understand these adaptations is improved.
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