Exploiting indigenous knowledge commonwealth to mitigate disasters: from the archives of vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe

Lunga, W. and Musarurwa, C., 2016. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge

Original research (primary data)
View External Publication Link


This research explored the relationship between vulnerability and the use of indigenous knowledge in mitigating disasters particularly those linked to food security and preservation of forest resources in some communities in Zimbabwe. This focus on provision of food was important since food issues have an immediate impact on communities and for vulnerable communities forest resources are also linked to food security. Data was collected through both formal and informal interviews, and group discussions with the elderly and traditional leaders in Matebeleland and Mashonaland provinces of Zimbabwe, hence a qualitative research approach was used. Although the findings are unique to the communities involved, it is important to note that vulnerable communities do possess a wide range of indigenous measures to mitigate disaster risk. Firstly, it is the realisation that technology does not necessarily refer to modern or objective science, but solutions that lead to sustainable livelihoods for local communities, which include environmentally based early warning signs which allow them to take precautions before a disaster like drought, flood, pests, etc., occurs as well as measures to reduce the impact of such a disaster. Secondly, production, harvesting and conservation have always been inbuilt in the farming techniques of these rural communities and mushrooms that form a regular part of the diet and provide protein for rural communities are a good example. Since time immemorial they have always been preserved within their natural habitats and women who have always been able to distinguish edible mushrooms from toxic ones have always known how to stimulate their growth by applying crop waste or ash as fertilizers to the ground on which they grow. Lastly it is natural for some indigenous techniques to lie dormant as if they are extinct. This is because every generation makes its own contribution to improvise and adapt the knowledge system in line with the ever changing climatic conditions. The article recommends that since the proportion of non-sustainable practices in traditional knowledge systems is much smaller than the benefits accrued through its use in the contemporary modern life and belief systems, there should be development, use and adaption of technologies that have links with indigenous knowledge systems. Developing contextually relevant educational processes that identify and build upon local knowledge and expertise for disaster risk reduction is needed and where possible, expressed in local language and context. In short vulnerable villagers should have more legitimate authority over natural resources for they are more responsive than local government authorities.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-070-1
  • Intervention type: Combination
  • Intervention description:

    Management: Communal forests… “Another taboo was and is still used to protect medicinal herbs in communal forests. People have been made to believe that some herbs cure only when consumed at point of location and not carrying any home. The idea was to preserve the medicine from commercialization and to ensure that it is available at all times to the rest of the community members; losing such herbs completely from overharvesting would be disastrous to the communities concerned. Other common taboos prohibit cutting down wild fruit trees and trading in wild fruit. Wild fruits act as a reserve granary for the community during times of distress, particularly droughts that are common in the southern Africa region.” Protection: “Thus deforestation has been reduced as communities see value in forests as provide forage for their bees. Trees useful for beekeeping are planted, retained, and well tended. Thus the conservation of trees and honeybees is central in sustaining their hive products. Forests are also protected from deforestation and fire hazards by use of beekeeping Taboos.”

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: No
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Loss of other ecosystem goods  Positive qualitative assessment from interview statements and participant observation 'deforestation has been reduced as communities see value in forests as provide forage for their bees'
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    Hwedza and Lupane Districts

  • Country: Zimbabwe
  • Habitat/Biome type: Tropical and subtropical forests |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: effectiveness assessed qualitatively based on interviews and participant observation. no comparator/baseline/counter-factual
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: Yes
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Positive
  • Ecosystem measures: forest conservation benefits and prevention from deforestation no direct measure but stated from interviews with participants
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: Yes
  • Impacts for people: Positive
  • People measures: provision of honey for medicine and traditional ceremonies
  • Considers economic costs: No
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Qualitative
  • Is it experimental: No
  • Experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Empirical case study
  • Study is systematic: