Assessing Importance of Forests in Smallholder Farming Areas

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Published on International Journal of Forestry & Plantation
Publication Date: August, 2019

Kugedera Andrew Tapiwa
Gary Magadzire School of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Department of Livestock, Wildlife and Fisheries, Masvingo, Zimbabwe

Journal Full Text PDF: Assessing Importance of Forests in Smallholder Farming Areas (A case of Chivi District, Zimbabwe).

The objective of the study was to assess the importance of forests in smallholder farming areas of Chivi. The study was carried out in ward 7 and 8 of Chivi North in Masvingo Province located in south-eastern part of Zimbabwe. The area receives low rainfall (400-500 mm) per annum with uneven distribution. The area is located in 20.2364ºS and 30.4577 ºE of Zimbabwe. Data was collected using questionnaires, interviews and focus group discussions from a total of 120 participants randomly selected from six (6) villages. Data was analysed using IBM SPSS version 25. The results show that biomass, firewood, poles and pastures were the products which most participants across six village indicated that they mostly obtain from forests. The results also show that there were no significant different (p>0.05) between what participants from six villages indicated as products commonly obtained from forests. Results also show that forests provide environmental benefits such as controlling soil erosion, windbreaks and shelter belts. Ecologically forests improve ecosystem biodiversity, improve soil fertility and helps in the nutrient cycling as well as energy flows. In conclusion, smallholder farmers benefit a lot from forests as they obtain fruits for sell and raise income to pay fees and buy groceries. Farmers are recommended to harvest forest products sustainably so that they can be used by future generation and to allow regeneration of trees and other plants obtained from forests.

Keywords: Assessing, importance, forests, smallholder, farming & Chivi.

1. Introduction
Forests are one of the major concerns in smallholder farming areas as they provide a lot of resources to farmers. Most smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe depends on local forests for many resources such as wood, non-timber forest products (NTFPs), edible worms, fruits, firewood, wild meat, water and pastures(Mokgolodi et al., 2011). Forests in smallholder farming areas are common resources which are governed by traditional leaders. Each and every community manages its forests and traditional leaders grant permission for the harvesting of resources such firewood, poles and fruits. Many forests in smallholder areas are dominated with Miombo woodlands with other woodlands such as Acacia, Terminalia-Combretum and Mopnai woodlands. These woodlands are characterised by many fruit trees (Shackleton et al., 2005) such as Sclerocarya birrea, Ziziphus mucronata, wild loquat, Syzigium cordatum and many more with economic value to farmers such as Thespesia garckeana (Snot apple/ Mutohwe), Azanza garckeana and Adansonia digitate. Most of these trees provide fruits to farmers which can be added value to produce products for sale (Orwa et al., 2009). Forests are of importance to farmers as they provide a variety of resources throughout the year. Some of these resources are expensive and help them to bring in foreign currency. The objective of the study was to assess the importance of forests in smallholder farming areas of Chivi.

2. Methodology
2.1 Study area
The study was carried out in ward 7 and 8 of Chivi North in Masvingo Province located in south-eastern part of Zimbabwe. The area receives low rainfall (400-500 mm) per annum with uneven distribution (Kugedera, 2019). The area is located in 20.2364ºS and 30.4577 ºE of Zimbabwe. The area is characterised with mixed woodlands but dominated with Mopani wood lands in ward 7and Terminalia-Combretum woodlands in some parts of ward 8. The soils ranges from clay loam soils to sand-loamy soils with poor nutrient content. The woodlands are dominated with scattered S. birrea, T. garckeana and A. garckeana.

2.2 Data collection
Objectives of the stud were first explained to traditional leaders and other key informants such as Agritex officers to seek permission for the study. Permission was granted to visit different villages. Six villages were randomly selected from a total of 40 villages in these two wards. A list of smallholder farmers from these villages was produced by writing all household heads from the selected villages. A total of 120 participants were selected for the survey. Data was then collected using questionnaires, interviews and focus group discussion. Questionnaires used were mainly containing closed ended questions and few open ended questions. The questionnaires were pilot tested before the survey started and this was done to villages which were not selected for the survey. Pilot testing was done to allow enumerators to be familiar with questions and to correct some questions. Questionnaires were written in both vernacular language and English. Interviews were done to get direct responses from participants and prepared interview questions were used for uniformity. Focus group discussions were also done do allow farmers to debate and point out clear answers to some questions. Ground trothing was later done by visiting the forests to identify tree species and common fruit trees which were indicated by farmers to be available in the forests.

2.3 Data analysis
Data was analysed using IBM SPSS version 24 for analysis of variance (ANOVA) and least significant difference was used to identify means which were significantly different. Excel was used to produce graphs.

3. Results and discussion
3.1 Household characteristics
Most of the participants were females (62.5%) who were involved in the survey. The majority of the participants (45.8%) were in the age range of 16-30 years with few participants (4.2%) in the age range of 71 years and above. The results indicated that most of the participants were married (47.5%) followed by widowed (27.5%), singles (16.7%) and lastly divorced (8.3%). Majority of the participants (65.8%) were having secondary education, followed by 21.7% with tertiary and lastly by 12.5 % of the participants with primary education (Table 1).

Table 1: Demographic characteristics of participants

3.2 Forest products important to smallholder farmers
The results show that there are a variety of products that are important to farmers in selected villages. Results indicates that products such as firewood and poles had an overall of 100% as indicated by participants indicating that all participants obtain their poles and firewood from the surrounding forests. Results also show that most participants get fruits from the forests as indicated by an overall value of 90.8 %. Products such as pastures for animals had an overall value of 87.5% showing that most smallholder farmers own animals which graze and browse. Of all the participants, 82.5 % obtain juice from forests after extracting fruits such as S. birrea fruits and 74.2% of the participants indicated that they get medicines from the forests for their own use, sale and some for use to cure animal diseases. Most surrounding forests have water sources such as weirs and perennial tributaries which provide water for domestic and animal use as indicated by 67.8% of the participants. Wild meat had the least overall value of 36.7 % followed by edible worms with 59.2 % indication from the participants (Table 2). From all the products obtained from forests, fruits were ranked number 1 by all participants as these can be sold after adding value to raise income for school fees and groceries. The results also coincides with results by Maroyi (2013) who reported that trees such as S. birrea and other indigenous trees provides fruits, shade, firewood and medicines to smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe. These results also concur with findings by Shackleton (2005) who reported that the use of indigenous trees as forests can be used to alleviate poverty and improve human livelihoods. Shackleton et al. (2002) also indicated that non timber forest products from Marula and other trees can be used for domestic use by humans to generate income.

Table 2: Important products obtained from forests by smallholder farmers

The results show that participants from village N (100%) mostly obtain their biomass from forests which they use in their gardens and cattle kraals. Participants from village N show that they do not normally obtain biomass from forests as indicated by low frequency (33.3%) (Fig1). All other participants from all villages indicated that they obtain firewood from forests except few participants from village A (8%) who did not mention forests as their sources of firewood. All participants indicated that they obtain poles from forests for various uses (Fig 1). There were no significant different between villages (p>0.05) on the products obtained from forests such as firewood, pastures, poles and fruits. There was a significant different (p<0.05) between village F and all other villages on products such as water where few participants (30%) indicated that they obtain water from forests with 705 of participants remained silent on the product (Fig1). The results were also supported by Chivaura-Mususa et al. (2000) who reported that mature trees in forests have greater value to smallholder farmers as they get poles, timber and income after value addition of these products. Fig 1: Products obtained from forests as indicated by participants from different villages 3.3 Environmental importance of forests Forests are very important to the environment as they create biodiversity of flora and fauna. Most forest had a variety of plants and animals with most plants playing part in beautifying the environment, controlling soil erosion, purification of water and rehabilitating degraded lands by depositing foliage which releases nutrients promoting growth of grasses and trees which reduces surface runoff and increase infiltration. Forests controls wind erosion hence they act as windbreaks protecting blowing away of soil particles, damage to crops and properties. Forests have an important part of creating microclimates which reduces temperatures in the environment where they are found and this promote human and animal activities. Forests create different ecosystems in the environment thus increasing resource availability to local people. The results also concur with reports by Kelly (2007) and Lal (2007) who reported that carbon sequestration by trees may help to improve environmental temperatures and promote growth of trees as a result of photosynthesis. Trees also control desertification and improve outlook of the environment (Lal, 2001). 3.4 Ecological importance of forests Forests play a major part in the ecological system. Forests provide natural habitats to micro and macro-organisms which also play an important role in nutrient cycling. Foliage from forests decomposes releasing nutrients in the soil, thus improving soil fertility. Improved soil fertility increases plant biodiversity which provides a variety of feed resources to browse and grazers. Forests create ecosystems which are diverse depending on tree species or type of woodlands available. Since trees provides habitat and feed resources to animals, this increases organism diversity and population. Foliage from trees creates a layer on the soil surface which acts as a mulch. Mulch increases soil surface cover which reduces soil erosion, increase infiltration and promote plant growth. This also increases microbial activities which help in energy flow and nutrient cycling in the ecosystem. According to Lal (2004) and Lal (2005) forest soils improves ecosystem and nutrient cycling due to decomposition of foliage from trees. This also increases microbial activities. These results also coincide with work by Kelly (2007) who indicated that forests may rehabilitate soil and improves their quality and value.

4. Conclusion
Smallholder farmers benefit a lot from forests with farmers obtaining products such as firewood, poles and biomass for their uses at home. Farmers use biomass to improve quality of cattle manure and soil fertility in their gardens. This also improves nutrition for smallholder farmers especially from homestead garden where they grow vegetables. Smallholder farmers also obtain fruits from forests which they eat as raw fruits, as snacks and some are even boiled to improve their quality. Fruits are also sold to obtain income. Some fruits such as S. birrea fruits produce juice which is fermented and sold as wine. Nuts from S. birrea are used to produce cooking oil and butter, whilst the skins are used to manufacture soda. Most smallholder farmers own cattle which obtain their pastures from forests. Forests also act as windbreaks and shelter belts. Trees in forests produces foliage which covers soil and reduce soil erosion and conserve soil moisture. Forests also lead to ecological diversity which brings in biodiversity.

5. Recommendations
Smallholder farmers are recommended to harvest products from forests sustainably so that same forests will produces resources for use by future generation. Harvesting of resources must also be done in such a way that regeneration of trees and other plants will occur to increase tree or plant population. Farmers are also recommended to control bush encroachment reduce effects of invasive weeds and other trees such as Lantana camara which competes with other valuable trees.