Villagers Use Grazing System to Protect Their Land

Livestock and beekeeping


Do you want to have more food and water for yourself, your family and animals? Are you looking for a working and lasting solution to infertile land?

Listen to this story which Mutizwa Mukute, a member of the Farm Information Network of East and Southern Africa (FINESA), shared with us. Learn how the people of Ndlovu Village in north-western Zimbabwe are working together to help their community thrive. They use animals in a system that restores soil fertility and a cover of vegetation, especially grasses. The perennial streams and cool water that once flowed in their village are flowing all year round again. And they have increased crop yields. You can learn from their experience to increase your food and water supply.

First, you’ll hear about how the people came together to plan the changes in Ndlovu village. Agreeing on what they wanted to achieve, and how they would reach their goals, has helped them to succeed.

Then, you’ll learn about some of the techniques the villagers used such as a herding method called “bunching”, which kept the grazing areas green and productive.

Here is their story.

The Ndlovu Village is in Hwange District, in the north-western part of Zimbabwe. The people there manage animals in a way that limits soil erosion and water shortages in their area.

First, the village people met to decide what they wanted: prosperity, unity, good health, fertile land and full-time work. This shared vision shaped their plans and activities.

After agreeing on the quality of life they wanted, they discussed what they could do to achieve it. For example, they could use their farm produce, carvings and cultural centres to make money and achieve prosperity.

Then they described the way they would like their land to look in thirty years. They wanted healthy, productive land where rivers would flow all year round. They wanted fertile land where plants and animals could be healthy.

The villagers all shared a grazing area, but they were grazing their animals separately and this was destroying the land. They had patches of land where no plants or grasses would grow. They needed a system where animals were grazing one section at a time so that grass in other areas could grow back. They decided that managing their cattle together was one of the best ways to heal their land.

To begin, they wanted to take stock of what they had available in the community. So they drew a map of the village showing the permanent features of their area. They marked all the boreholes, rivers, roads and schools in their community. This village map helped them to develop a complete picture of their land. It also showed how they could weave in their new plans.

After the map was completed, they made a plan for grazing. They worked out when and where to graze their animals. They would graze their animals in the forest area in the rainy season when water was easy to find. The animals could graze the wetland in winter when it was no longer waterlogged and muddy, but still green. They knew the fields needed fertilizer too, and could benefit from the dung of grazing animals. So they decided to graze their cattle in the areas where they grow crops in the dry season.

The villagers talked to agricultural extension officers to get an idea of how much grass one cow needs. They learned which types of grass and how much grows in the different areas.

The villagers divided their common land into many grazing areas that they called units. They let the animals graze only one unit at a time. They did not need to fence these areas. Their good herdsmen kept imaginary boundaries. Now, they allow animals to return to a grazing unit only when the grass has grown again. And the cattle stay only as long as there is enough to graze. Usually, grass takes 30 to 90 days to grow back. If it is grazed before it recovers, the grass will not grow back properly. This is how overgrazing happens, and how land becomes dry and infertile.

Through their project, the villagers of Ndlovu Village learned that overgrazing did not mean that too many animals are grazing an area, but that animals are left to wander over a broad area of land without being watched. Overgrazed land means that the same plants are eaten again and again before they have sufficient time to recover. The recovery period depends on the time of year. During the rainy period, for example, plants grow fast, so they can be grazed more frequently. By planning their grazing units carefully, and by keeping animals in small areas for a short period of time, the villagers avoided overgrazing their land.

The villagers herded their animals together and followed their plan as closely as they could. They also tried a herding technique to help grass grow on bare land. This technique is called bunching. Bunching is grazing animals very close together. The cattle’s hooves dig into the ground and litter, and this creates an ideal condition for grass seed to germinate. The stubble left in the field, such as maize stalks, gets trampled by the cattle and mixed into the soil. Water collects in the many tiny holes dug by hooves. The animals also leave lots of dung and urine in a small area. This provides the necessary nutrients for healthy plants to grow.

The villagers learned that another advantage of bunching is that it helps a large mix of grasses to grow on the land.

The villagers of Ndlovu noticed something wonderful after they had put their grazing plan in action. There was plenty of grass where the animals had grazed, and a lot of green where the animals were still to go. The streams and cool water began to flow again.

One of the reasons that Ndlovu project has been so successful is the cooperation of the people in the village. They are still working together to improve the land. For example, they now plan to integrate donkeys and goats into their grazing plan. They have also had problems herding cattle in winter because animals from other villages come and mess up their plan by grazing in the wrong areas. For the best results, they will need to work with other villages as well.

What can you learn from the experience of the people in Ndlovu village?

Remember what they did:

First, they met and agreed on some common goals that would serve everyone’s needs. They outlined their values and designed a detailed plan to help them achieve the way of life they all wanted. They planned the activities they needed to do over the next thirty years to maintain healthy, fertile land around their village.

Next, they made a map of their land showing the permanent features and important resources. The map showed the different activities that happen on the land.

Then, they talked to agricultural extension agents to find out about the amount and the types of grasses that grow in their area. They worked out a grazing plan showing when and where they would graze cattle. Some villagers learned a grazing technique called bunching which helped make the land more fertile. They taught the lessons they learned to others.

Villagers herded and watered their cattle together. They followed their plan, and used the technique of bunching.

Mutizwa Mukute and his fellow villagers continually watch their progress and make the necessary adjustments to their plan.

What is the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification?

It is an agreement signed by countries around the world to share the responsibility of fighting the effects of desertification. Its goal is to help regenerate the soil in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid regions. The Convention came about at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, where many developing countries, led by African countries, asked for the world’s help in fighting desertification as quickly as possible.

In Paris, 1994, 87 countries signed the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Today more than 115 countries have signed the agreement. Once the governments of 50 countries have fully confirmed their participation the full course of action will begin. A plan for urgent action has been adopted to encourage immediate efforts in Africa because it is the part of the world which suffers the most from desertification.

What causes desertification?

Desertification is caused by changes in climate and by human activities. Drought sometimes makes soil dry up and crack, or makes the soil problems that already exist even worse. But there are four main ways that people make deserts: by overcultivating the soil, by allowing animals to overgraze the land which removes the covering of vegetation that protects it from erosion, by cutting down or burning trees, and by using improper watering methods which turn cropland salty.
What kind of action will be taken under the Convention?

One of the key elements of the Convention is what is called a “bottom-up approach”. This means that people in small communities and their leaders will be consulted before decisions or actions are taken. The people in these communities will be involved in projects to stop desertification in their area. The Convention recognizes that people in affected communities, non-governmental organizations, experts, and governments must work together to fight desertification effectively and to find long-term solutions. That means farmers and scientists should share ideas about what the most appropriate farming techniques are. These ideas can be discussed with government and non-government organizations so that funds can be properly allocated.


  • Information for this script was provided by Mutizwa Mukute, Information Officer, PELUM (Participatory Ecological Land Use Management) Association, P.O. Box MP 1095, Mt. Pleasant, Harare (or Box CY 301, Causeway, Harare), Zimbabwe. He is a member of FINESA (Farm Information Network of East and Southern Africa).
  • This script was reviewed by Daniel Gudahl of Heifer Project International, P.O. Box 808, 1015 South Louisiana, Little Rock Arkansas, Arkansas 72202.