Success Story

Reclaiming Rangeland and Restoring the Environment One Village at a Time

Members of Siamwele village in Hwange District, Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe, have cleared two hectares of land that were covered by an invasive species that threatened livestock health and food security in the community. The effort was devised during community discussions as part of the USAID-funded Amalima Loko activity’s Community Visioning approach.  

Siamwele is situated in the driest part of Zimbabwe, where low rainfall (300-450 millimeters per year) and infertile Kalahari sands limit the growth and spread of grasses while extensive conservation efforts such as at Hwange National Park limit the availability of grazing land for communities. Around the village, Lantana camara, a noxious woody and mono-cultural shrub originally introduced to the area as a flower in the 1990s, has taken over 70 hectares of what was already limited grazing space, including a large swath of the once-lush Lukunguni vlei, a low-lying marshy area which collects water during the rainy season. The invasive species has out-competed local herbaceous species leaving livestock little choice but to eat it, leading to skin and eye irritations, reduced livestock fertility and in some cases premature death. To avoid the Lantana camara, livestock are forced to graze further from the village and closer to Hwange National Park, exposing them to threats from wild predators and to exotic zoonotic diseases. 

“Growing up, there was no Lantana camara,” Khulu Ncube, an elder from Siamwele, shared. “I would herd our cattle along the vlei (marshy land with shallow pools), play and swim in the dam with my friends while the cattle grazed along the valley.” 

Food insecurity in the area is exacerbated by economic stagnation, increasingly unpredictable climatic conditions and environmental degradation. To tackle this community members were eager to participate in Community Visioning discussions, a foundational element to the Amalima Loko activity, which seeks to address community-identified issues underpinning food insecurity. In July 2022, community members took part in a village planning process guided by a hazard mapping exercise. This was a participatory discussion through which communities identified, ranked and planned to address key drivers of food insecurity in their area. It was through these discussions that Siamwele community members identified the invasion of Lantana camara as a key driver of livestock disease and death and expressed their ambition of restoring the vlei and productive grazing land. 

To commence the removal process, a diverse group of 75 indidivuals formed and joined a Community Action Group chaired by Khulekani Ncube, a male youth from the community. After forming, the group worked weekly over a period of four months under a Cash for Assets arrangement supported by Amalima Loko, under which community members were given very modest compensation for their labor cutting, stumping, filling and burning the spiky Lantana camara shrub. The work is hard and slow as stumped roots must be filled with dirt and branches to stabilize the soil, reducing soil erosion and water flow out of the area, which in turn protects germinating grass seedlings for the rainy season and so promotes new growth. The group used their own tools for the job: machetes, axes, picks, slashers and hoes, with Amalima Loko also contributing gloves and some additional shovels and picks.  

“Removing Lantana camara is very difficult,” Village Head David Moyo said. “But seeing the enthusiasm from each other and yearning to see lush vlei again has cultivated the zeal to continue working.”  

Prior to the removal process, Amalima Loko staff trained the community on best practices to eradicate the plant. The training covered a range of practices, including removing the plant before fruiting, removing the plant’s roots and burning the plants after they have been removed to prevent dormant seeds from germinating. Community Action Group members were also jointly trained by Amalima Loko and the Zimbabwean Environmental Management Agency on safe fire usage and control. 

“We applaud the Community Action Group’s work mobilizing neighbors, tools and linking with the Environmental Management Agency and Amalima Loko,” said Moyo. “We would like to see more young people participating [in] and leading [the] collective action. As traditional leaders, we are committed to supporting them.” 

The community plans to continue the clearing process after the farming season (which runs from November-April), and their efforts have inspired neighboring communities along the vlei, notably Silibinda, Chewumba and Musani B villages, to start removing Lantana camara as well. 

“The knowledge we have obtained has made us see that [this] invasive species is dangerous to our grazing lands,” Busi Mpala, a community member, shared of the Community Visioning and invasive species removal processes. “And this is knowledge we will share with our successive generations.”  

The Amalima Loko activity is funded by the USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance and is implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA). It is designed to improve food and nutrition security for more than 67,000 vulnerable households in rural Zimbabwe through increased food access and sustainable watershed management. The activity’s Community Visioning process has reached 42,000 people of diverse genders, ages, abilities and social groups in more than 500 villages.