Natural Resources and Environment

Natural Resources and the Environment




Once the world’s third-largest producer of gold, Zimbabwe holds substantial endowments of close to 40 different minerals. While the country has no known commercial deposits of oil, the country has one of the largest known coal-bed methane gas deposits in Africa. The mining industry contributed 4.5% to GDP in 2005 and employed an estimated 5% of the population. Furthermore, the industry contributes an estimated 38% of total foreign currency earnings. While gold continues to be the main earning mineral, it no longer makes up 50% of the total mining industry value. The inappropriate exchange-rate policy has meant that gold sales fell steadily from 21.9 tonnes in 2000 and 14 tonnes in 2005, to a mere 11.4 tonnes in 2006. (Economist Intelligence Unit 2008). In the first half of 2009, gold production was estimated at 861kg, a far cry from the record 28 tonnes it had produced at the end of the 1990s.


Lack of effective regulatory mechanisms and the inability to effectively monitor key mining activities and rein in illegal mining have reduced output in volume terms, in addition to wiping away Zimbabwe’s competitive advantage compared to its neighbouring states. More recently, increasing instances of diamond smuggling and a gold rush in the eastern district of Marange revealed some of the problems faced by the country’s mining industry (Mineweb, 14 May 2007). Despite these drawbacks, which exist alongside economic weaknesses and hyperinflation, the mining industry has posted growth over the past couple of years, thus attracting numerous overseas investors from South Africa, China, Australia and various European nations. The Government of Zimbabwe plays an active role in recognizing mineral resources that can bring profits to small operations. The government has undertaken this task seriously, and plans to develop this sub-segment as a mode for employment creation as well as for the social and financial strengthening of indigenous Zimbabweans. If strategically developed using latest technologies and also through beneficiation, Zimbabwe`s mining industry will be key to the nation’s development. (The Zimbabwe Mining Report: 2007[JSH1] ).




According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Zimbabwe’s total internal renewable water resources is estimated at 12.26 km3/year, of which 11.26 km3 are surface water resources and 6.00 km3 are groundwater resources. The overlap between surface water and groundwater resources has been estimated to be 5.00 km3. The country consists of the following major river systems, which form the basis of the seven river catchments the country has been divided into: namely Save, Runde, Mzingwane, Gwayi, Sanyati, Manyame and Mazowe. With the exception of the Save and Runde, the other main rivers drain into either the Zambezi or the Limpopo. The annual potential yield at 10 percent risk (resources in a dry year of a 10th year frequency) from all river basins in the country is estimated at 11.26 km3/year. This assessment excludes external surface water resources from such bordering international rivers like the Zambezi and Limpopo. Out of this potential yield, and allowing for topographical constraints and disparities between locations of storage sites and regions where water is required, the estimated exploitable yield is 8.5 km3/year, of which 56 percent (4.8 km3/year) is already committed. This leaves 3.7 km3/year available for irrigation and other sectors. (FAO, 2005)


Dams are the core of significant progress towards the full development of the country’s water resources. The government has embarked on an aggressive large and medium-size dam construction programme in the country both for irrigation and other purposes. (Government of Zimbabwe, 2004[JSH2] ) Total capacity is about 103 km3, but this includes 50 percent of Lake Kariba on the Zambezi River, which is shared between Zambia and Zimbabwe and accounts for 94 km3 of this capacity. Not taking into consideration this shared dam, total capacity is thus about 9 km3. The overall groundwater resource is small when compared to estimates of surface water resources, mainly because the greater part of Zimbabwe consists of ancient igneous rock formations where groundwater potential is comparatively low. The estimated groundwater potential is between 1 and 2 km3/year. Total water withdrawal was estimated at 4.2 km3 in 2002. Agriculture is the greatest water user in Zimbabwe accounting for 79 percent of total water use. Agricultural water uses are for irrigation, fish farming and livestock watering. Irrigated agriculture will continue to dominate the water demands for Zimbabwe in the foreseeable future. (FAO, 2005[JSH3] )


Zimbabwe is located in a region where water is a scare resource, with 70 percent of the regional surface shared between two or more member states. Along with other countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Zimbabwe is prone to devastating droughts which all leave a trail of misery in their wake, drastically affecting humans and animals alike. In the next 20 to 30 years, three or four SADC states will be facing serious water shortages mainly due to effects of climate change. It was in recognition of the importance of a coordinated approach to utilization and preservation of water that the SADC member states signed the Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems at the 1995 Summit in South Africa. The protocol provides the basis for the management of international rivers in SADC. (International Water Law Project, 2007; available at:


Environmental Issues


Zimbabwe`s National Environmental Policy is closely linked to its overall development policy and plans. Until about 2000, large-scale commercial farmers occupied most of the fertile highlands, while the majority of the population lived in the less productive communal areas. The skewed distribution of population, which is a legacy from the colonial era, has had major and long-term environmental consequences. Communal lands, which encompass almost half of the country`s land area, have suffered from severe environmental degradation, mainly due to increasing land shortage and poor resource management practices, which include overgrazing, deforestation and soil erosion. Another major threat to the country’s environment is the uncontrollable growth in the country’s elephant population. Zimbabwe signed the CITES Convention which bans the sale of ivory, and yet the country has a surplus elephant population and a growing stockpile of ivory (Zimbabwe Herald, 1 June 2007). At the same time, Zimbabwe’s industrial sector, particularly the mining sector has damaged the environment. For example, mining has created large waste dumps, and run-off from these has contaminated soil and inland water bodies.


Although a number of laws to protect the resource base are in place, existing regulations are fragmented and difficult to enforce. The most important piece of legislation is the Natural Resources Act whose main objective is to control the use of resources. However, it cannot be applied in the communal areas, which cover about half of the total land area of Zimbabwe, since it is enforced via legal title to land. The land tenure system in the communal areas is based upon traditional usufruct rights, which makes the act ineffective in areas where it is needed the most. A number of other acts were originally made for the commercial areas, and are thus not suitable for the communal lands.


Notwithstanding the above, in many respects, Zimbabwe is one of the leading countries in Africa in terms of work on the environment. [JSH4] This is reflected in the management of the wildlife sector. Although some species are endangered due to habitat destruction and drought, the country has promoted sustainable utilization of wildlife and could serve as a model for other countries. Environmentally sensitive areas have been designed and gazetted as national parks and forest reserves. However, the resource base in the communal and resettled areas is threatened. The government has tried to ease the pressure on communal areas through land reform and resettlement.[JSH5]


The country also has the expertise to monitor natural resource degradation, yet it lacks the resources to monitor the regulation of industrial pollutants in the atmosphere and in water bodies. The implementation of the relevant acts (Hazardous Substances and Articles Act, Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act and the Water Act) is dependent on accurate monitoring, which the government has not been able to carry out systematically due to lack of qualified manpower (Zimbabwe National Policy. Available at:


Land Utilization


Land has been a source of political conflict in Zimbabwe since colonization, when the country was known as Rhodesia, both within indigenous black communities and especially between white settlers and the black rural communities. Under British colonial rule and under the white minority government that unilaterally declared its independence from Britain in 1965, white Rhodesians seized control of the vast majority of good agricultural land, leaving black peasants to scrape a living from marginal "tribal reserves." (Palmer, 1977) An end to white minority rule came after a protracted war of liberation in which land was a major issue, but was ultimately negotiated through talks brokered by the British government that led to a settlement known as the Lancaster House Agreement of 1979, and then to elections in 1980. Robert Mugabe, leader of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU -PF), the dominant liberation movement, won a resounding victory. However, the new government was bound by "sunset clauses" in the Lancaster House Agreement that gave special protections to white Zimbabweans for the first ten years of independence. These included provisions that the new government would not engage in any compulsory land acquisition and that when land was acquired the government would "pay promptly adequate compensation" for the property. Land distribution would take place in terms of a "willing buyer, willing seller" policy. (Riddell, 1981)


Released from the constraints of the Lancaster House Agreement in 1990, the Zanu-PF government amended the provisions of the constitution concerning property rights. Compulsory acquisition of land for redistribution and resettlement became possible. In 1992, the Land Acquisition Act also gave the government strengthened powers to acquire land for resettlement, subject to the payment of "fair" compensation fixed by a committee of six persons using set (non-market) guidelines, including powers to limit the size of farms and introduce a land tax. A 1994 land tenure commission also recommended that the best way to achieve vital redistribution was through a land tax, though no tax was in fact put in place. (Rukuni Commission, 1994) Despite the new laws, the government land acquisition and resettlement in practice slowed down. In the first decade of independence, the government acquired 40 percent of the target of eight million hectares, resettling more than 50,000 families on more than three million hectares. By the end of the second decade of independence, the pace of land reform had declined. Less than one million hectares was acquired for distribution during the 1990s and fewer than 20,000 families resettled. (COHRE, September 2001). Budgetary allocations showed that land acquisition was not a government priority during these years. By the end of what became known as "phase one" of the land reform and resettlement program in 1997, the government had resettled 71,000 families (against a target of 162,000) on almost 3.5 million hectares of land. (Government of Zimbabwe, 1998 para 2). Only 19 percent of this was classed as prime land, the rest was either marginal, or unsuitable for grazing or cultivation. (Chitiyo, 2000: 16) About 400 black elite farmers were leasing 400,000 hectares of state land, and about 350 black people had bought their farms. (Moyo, 2000: 7)


There were positive and sustainable results from the resettlement process, though problems beset the resettled communities who lacked infrastructure and support networks, whether governmental or from their previous communities. Moreover, population density in the "communal areas," the former tribal reserves, actually increased. More than one million families still eked out an existence on sixteen million hectares of poor land. Despite wealth in one sector of the economy, Zimbabwe remained one of the most unequal countries in the world.


The Zimbabwean government formally announced the "fast track" resettlement program in July 2000, stating that it would acquire more than 3,000 farms for redistribution. Between June 2000 and February 2001, a national total of 2,706 farms, covering more than six million hectares, were gazetted (listed in the official government journal) for compulsory acquisition (Government of Zimbabwe, 2001). According to the Commercial Farmers` Union (CFU), which represents the large-scale commercial farming sector in Zimbabwe, more than 1,600 commercial farms were occupied by settlers led by war veterans in the course of 2000, though others have questioned the number, and some were occupied only for a short period. Not all of these occupations were accompanied by violence (Moyo, 2000).


In April 2001, the objectives of the land reform and resettlement program were, among other things, said to be to acquire not less than 8.3 million hectares from the large-scale commercial farming sector for redistribution (an increase from the five million hectares stated in 1998) (Government of Zimbabwe, 2001). In October 2001, the government announced that it intended to list for acquisition 4,558 farms, covering 8.8 million hectares. (AFP, 31 October 2001). In the same month, based on a survey of its members, the CFU estimated that 1,948 farms had been physically occupied and that the number of people occupying farms had risen to 104,000 from an estimated 25,000 at the end of 2000, with an overall average of fifty-three occupiers per farm (AFP, 19 October 2001). By the end of 2001, about 250 farmers out of the CFU`s total membership of 3,500 had left their farms over the previous year, (CFU, 13-15 January 2002) and the Ministry of Land, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement had recorded that 114,830 households had physically moved and resettled on 4.37 million hectares. By January 2002, up to 6,481 farms had been listed for acquisition. Of these, 918 had been removed because they were counted twice, and 689 were de-listed after litigation or negotiation; leaving a total of 4,874 listed farms, or 9.23 million hectares of land (UNDP, January 2002).


The fast track resettlement programme was also seen to endanger food security for the rural population. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in December 2001 that "the already tight food situation has deteriorated as a result of reduced cereal production and general economic decline...705,000 in rural areas are at risk of food shortages. In addition, 250,000 people in urban areas are experiencing food difficulties due to a sharp increase in food prices, while some 30,000 farm workers have lost their jobs and are left without means of assistance." (FAO, December 2001) The Commercial Farmers` Union estimated that close to 250,000 head of cattle (nearly 20 percent of the national commercial herd) had been forcibly "de-stocked" by late 2001, and that over 1.6 million hectares of grazing land had been burnt out, while commercial maize planting was down to 45,000 hectares from 150,000 hectares in the 1999/2000 season. Export crops such as tobacco were similarly affected. (CFU, 13-15 January 2002) The above developments, coupled with successive and severe drought, high inflation and economic sanctions have exacerbated food shortages and food insecurity in Zimbabwe up to the present.


Generally, the section on land needs to be beefed up, and it must be put into context – i.e. why was reform fast-tracked at that particular point in time, what was the extent of the violence, etc.


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