Declining crop and livestock production due to a degrading land resource base and changing climate among other biophysical and socio-economic constraints, is increasingly forcing rural households in Zimbabwe and other parts of Southern Africa to rely on common natural resource pools (CNRPs) to supplement their household food and income. Between 2011 and 2013, we combined farmer participatory research approaches, remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) to (1) understand the contribution of CNRPs to household food and income in Dendenyore and Ushe smallholder communities in Hwedza District, eastern Zimbabwe and (2) assess changes of the CNRPs in both space and time, and their implications on climate change adaptation. Across study sites, wetlands and woodlands were ranked as the most important CNRPs. Extraction and use patterns of products from the different pools differed among households of different resource endowment. Resource-constrained households (RG3) sold an average of 183 kg household⁻¹ year⁻¹ of wild loquats fruits (Uapaca kirkiana), realising about US$48, while resource-endowed farmers (RG1) had no need to sale any. The RG3 households also realised approximately US$70 household⁻¹ year⁻¹ from sale of crafts made from water reeds (Phragmites mauritianus). Empirical data closely supported communities’ perceptions that CNRPs had declined significantly in recent years compared with two to three decades ago. More than 60 % of the respondents perceived that the availability of natural resources drawn from wetlands and woodlands, often used for food, energy and crafts, has decreased markedly since the 1980s. Classification of land cover in a GIS environment indicated that CNRPs declined between 1972 and 2011, supporting farmers’ perceptions. Overall, woodlands declined by 37 % in both communities, while the total area under wetlands decreased by 29 % in Ushe, a drier area and 49 % in Dendenyore, a relatively humid area. The over-reliance in CNRPs by rural communities could be attributed to continued decline in crop yields linked to increased within-season rainfall variability, and the absence of alternative food and income sources. This suggests limited options for rural communities to adapt to the changing food production systems in the wake of climate change and variability and other challenges such as declining soil fertility. There is therefore a need to design adaptive farm management options that enhance both crop and livestock production in a changing climate as well as identifying other livelihood alternatives outside agriculture to reduce pressure on CNRPs. In addition, promotion of alternative sources of energy such as solar power and biogas among rural communities could reduce the cutting of trees for firewood from woodlands.
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