KANYEMBA, Zimbabwe’s Underappreciated Region

Kanyemba is in Mashonaland Central in the north of Zimbabwe on the border with Zambia along the Zambezi River. It is in Ward 1, Mbire district and is under Chief Chapoto who has been chief for the past 6 years. The community in Kanyemba comprises of the rural locals, the Madomha people who live in the forests of Kanyemba and Safari operators. In Kanyemba they speak two local languages, Shona and Chikunda which is also spoken in parts of Zambia.Mach central   zambezi 9

The areas in red is Mbire district (Dande) with Kanyemba on the top edge.

Living with wildlife

Living along the Mighty Zambezi the people of Kanyemba have to deal with wildlife on a daily basis but hunting is forbidden so they survive on farming. Only safari operators are allowed to hunt as they get a certain quota of animals they can hunt from the Wildlife Authorities (e.g. 2 lions/season).

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I got to interview some of the locals and they say wildlife is a daily worry. They can not have gardens for vegetables because they are eaten by hippos, buffalos, elephants and other animals. In one village lions come every night and try to take their goats. The villagers have learnt to put thorn bushes around the goats kraal to prevent the lions from breaking in.


Everyone has to be in the house by 6pm just before it gets dark because at that time lions start prying around. If lions are successful in entering the goats kraal they usually kill as many goats as they can, sometimes wiping out all the villagers goats.

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The villagers are angry because they can not do anything about these lions, if they do they would have to answer to the Wildlife Authorities and could be jailed for poaching. There have been incidents where people have been eaten by lions. The people feel that they are not protected enough and wildlife is given preference over them.  There is also the issue of CAMPFIRE, a wildlife management organization set up in Zimbabwe for the people to benefit from the wildlife and resources in their area. Money from tourism and hunting in the areas is given to CAMPFIRE for it to be used for the development of the area. Large sums of money in the thousands have been handed over to the community but due to lack of knowledge of what to do with such large sums it has been mismanaged and sometimes entering the wrong hands.


Conflict with Safari Operators

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There is conflict over land between the locals and the safari operators. It is alleged that the village leaders in the past were tricked into giving up some of their prime land to safari operators. They were taken on boat rides on the Zambezi and treated by white safari owners, which was something new and exciting for them. But during that excitement they were talked in giving up some of their prime territory. zambezi 11

In Zimbabwe we call it ‘Pulling a Lobengula’, (the former king of Zimbabwe was tricked into signing away the country to the British Empire in the late 1800′s) locals are tricked into giving away something precious for something that fascinates them which is not equivalent. As time passed and the population of Kanyemba grew and more fertile land is needed to give to the people. There is nowhere to expand with the river being a natural boundary so the new generation of village leaders realise their fathers were tricked and are trying to reverse the situation. As it stands the case is with the Rural District Council in Mushumbi but it is going to take some solving because the safari operators have been given that land officially by the RDC.

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A lodge in Kanyemba and tourists on a safari drive.

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Cotton Farming

Cotton is the main crop grown in Kanyemba because it is best suited for the hot climate there. Prices of cotton used to be over $1/kg in the early 2000’s but now it is as low as 30c/kg. So one could work 3ha for 6 months only to get about $200. Of coarse the locals are not happy with this price but they have no choice in the matter. Cottco is the dominating company in this area and they hold the farmers to contracts. This means farmers are given inputs (seeds, fertilizers, chemical sprays) which are deducted from the net produce, leaving the farmer with very little. The farmers also complain some of the inputs are outdated or arrive late after the rains have started which affects the whole cycle. Due to the climate in Kanyemba farmers have no options to grow anything else commercially. Some farmers grow nuts, maize and sorghum but they are not for commercial sale but food for the families. The cotton companies blame the reduction in price on the sanctions put on Zimbabwe but no matter the reason a lot of people are putting in a lot of time and labor into cotton farming with very little returns.  One bale of cotton (230kg) produces about 1200 t-shirts, if we sell these at $10/ t-shirt the company makes $12,000 of one bale. More money is generated from the cotton seeds which can be used to make various products (e.g. oils). But famers are getting as little as $70/ bale, DAYLIGHT ROBBERY. Also the contract does not allow farmers to sell their produce to anyone else besides the input providing company, meaning the price is dictated to them. Contract famers cannot change to Free Farming because it is hard for them to purchase inputs. Companies buy out all seed and available inputs from all nearby stores forcing the farmers to come to them for inputs. If you do manage to buy inputs as a free farmer, the companies make it hard for you to sell your produce, so in a way farmers are forced to join contract farming.  The farmers in Kanyemba are getting the short end of the stick and something needs to be done to change this situation because they are also people and should be paid for what they put in.


Cotton field after harvesting


The Madonha People

The Madonha People live in the forests of Kanyemba and have been exposed to very little contact from outside world. They still live a hunter gatherer life, they own no possessions and live in little wooded huts. Their children do not go to school so they hunt to survive and are also exploited by the other locals for cheap labor (maricho). It is possible one may work a field all day only to be paid with plate of mealie meal. It is a case of the poor exploiting the poor. Not much is known about these people and how they live as they have been sidelined by the community. The people of Kanyemba consider the Madomha people to be an embracement and a shame to the area, they are not included in any development plans. It is reported a Belgian researcher is living with them and studying their way of life. His work will be vital for the future of these people because at the moment the world is moving on without them.


Living beside the Mighty Zambezi River

The Mighty Zambezi River is the 4rd largest river in Africa. It stretches all the way from its origins in Zambia, through Angola, then borders Namibia and Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It eventually flows through  Mozambique spilling its waters in Indian Ocean. In Kanyemba there are a total of 16 safari operators that generate their income from tourism and hunting along the Zambezi River. In September every year there is a Tiger fishing tournament with competitors coming as far as South Africa. The locals also fish in the river along side hippos and crocodiles, it is a part of everyday life in Kanyemba.

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Waking up beside the mighty river is so breath taking that I feel that the people in this region do not appreciate how blessed they are to be living beside such a great river. Tourists enjoy Kanyemba more than the locals, the people of Kanyemba should be benefiting more from tourism in their area like the Masai do in Kenya. With Zambia on the other side at least people from Kanyemba are free to move in between the two countries.

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I appreciate Kanyemba, it is definitely one of my favorite places to visit and I recommend it to anyone who loves to travel and explore different places.

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That’s me standing beside the Zambezi River


This is what we call “Development Tourism”



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