UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
You are in the MOST Phase I website (1994-2003).
The MOST Phase II website is available at: www.unesco.org/shs/most.

Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/CIRAN


Rural Afforestation Programme - Zimbabwe


In view of the alarming rate of deforestation in Zimbabwe's rural areas, the government has initiated a Rural Afforestation Programme which is now being implemented by state agencies, with the help of national and international non-governmental organizations. The main objective of this programme is to grow trees, mainly gum trees (Eucalyptus spp.), to provide communities with a source of fuelwood and with poles for construction. The ultimate aim of the programme is to encourage people to use gum trees for these purposes, to help save the few remaining indigenous forests. The implementation of the programme has been facilitated by the relaying of information and recommendations from government departments and research centres. In addition to these formal knowledge networks, local farmers, in their day-to-day struggle to survive, have established their own informal networks to exchange information on conservation forestry.

Despite reduced population pressure and intensified forestry extension efforts, deforestation continues to be a problem in the northeastern part of Zimbabwe. The Forestry Commission set up the Rural Afforestation Programme to tackle this problem. The Commission's mandate includes conservation forestry, forestry research and forestry extension. As the Forestry Commission is understaffed, most of the fieldwork is carried out by the Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX). In addition, several national and international agencies and NGOs are directly or indirectly involved in the programme. The formal knowledge networks connecting these agencies, through which knowledge and information are generated and disseminated, play an important coordinating role within the Rural Afforestation Programme, but they also have their weaknesses. Communication between researchers, extensionists and local farmers is generally poor, because of the top-down approach.

Equally important, therefore, are the informal networks which have evolved from the cooperation between and within various state agencies, NGOs, international organizations and groups of farmers. Farmers themselves have also set up informal networks to deal with practical production problems, resulting in multiple and overlapping networks. In the past, programmes have always faced one problem, known as the 'subordination' or 'ignorance’ syndrome. There are two sides to this. On the one hand, farmers display ignorance or subordination towards external experts like extensionists. On the other hand, the experts often approach the farmers as though they are naturally ignorant.

Contrary to common belief, indigenous farmers - like technical forestry researchers - are experimenters. For many indigenous cultivators, reducing risk is more important than maximizing production. In order to minimize risk, they develop special strategies, adapt technical recommendations to local conditions, solve specific problems, and test existing technologies or ideas. They internalize, use and adapt externally acquired knowledge to suit local conditions.

The Rural Afforestation Programme makes better use of the complementarity of the formal and informal knowledge networks. In the first place, forestry researchers at both station and national level, and other technical interveners, such as extension agents, take into account the agroecological and socioeconomic situation, local knowledge and the informal research carried out by local communities. Research seeks to address problems and constraints identified by the farmers themselves.

Stages in the programme strategy

  • researchers begin by examining the needs of local people, and what they already know
  • they then adapt farmers' own practices accordingly
  • they treat farmers as partners in the research
This participatory approach means involving local people at all stages of the technology development process, including the generation, dissemination and utilization of technology, as well as research planning, implementation and evaluation. The programme is carried out as an interactive model with strong linkages between researchers, extensionists and local farmers, a strong feedback mechanism, and active participation by all actors.




The formulation of informal networks by indigenous farmers. The farmers adapt all kinds of knowledge (including that from external researchers and networks) and use it for their own experiments and environment.

In addition to the farmers, there are other sources of indigenous knowledge, including indigenous experts, opinion leaders and village elders. Locally-generated knowledge is disseminated through farmer-to-farmer interaction, usually involving neighbours or friends (sahwira), during personal visits, at farmer group or village gatherings, in social clubs and especially at beer meetings.


Environmental sustainability: given the positive complementarity between the formal and informal knowledge networks in the conservation forestry sector, it is clear that the success of the overall conservation forestry programme in stopping deforestation and devoting more attention to local resources depends on the extent to which the two networks can be integrated.

Other types of sustainability: the generation and dissemination of location-specific, technically appropriate and socially compatible experiment results have greatly increased the adoption of techniques for establishing and protecting woodlots.


The main stakeholders and beneficiaries of the Rural Afforestation Programme are researchers, policy makers and farmers. Within the programme they initiate and implement activities.



  • The success of farmers’ trial-and-error experimentation with indigenous trees set technical forestry researchers thinking since, in their perception, farmers have little knowledge of such matters.
  • In contrast to current top-down extension approaches, with the new approach extension agents have ceased to be educators and consciousness-raisers and have assumed a new role as facilitators in farmers' own forest resource management and tree-growing activities.
  • The extension system facilitates the exchange of knowledge between researchers and innovative farmers, thereby establishing a sorely needed feedback system in forestry technology development processes.
  • Extensionists strengthen the informal networks by assisting farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange through such platforms as field trips, field days and innovative farmer workshops.

It is rather easy to transfer the practice.


B.T. Hanyani-Mlambo
University of Zimbabwe (see below)


Primary organization:

University of Zimbabwe
Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension
Box MP 167, Mount Pleasant
Telephone: +263-4-303211-1719

Cooperating partners:

    Forestry Commission
    Forest Research Centre
    HG595 Highlands
  • Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX)
  • Natural Resources Board (NRB)
  • Department of Rural Development
  • International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
  • University of Zimbabwe
  • World Development Bank
  • African Development Bank
Several NGOs, such as
  • The Netherlands Development Organization (SNV)

  • 2594 AG The Hague
    The Netherlands
    Telephone: 070-3855531
  • Africa 2000 Network
  • Organisation for Environmental and Developmental Activities (ENDA)

  • P.O. Box 3492
    Telephone: 37773
    Fax: 729204

The above information was taken from Formal and informal knowledge networks in conservation forestry in Zimbabwe, by B.T. Hanyani-Mlambo and Paul Hebinck, published in The Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor, volume 4 issue 3, December 1996
See also: http://www.nuffic.nl/ciran/ikdm/4-3/articles/hanyani.html

To MOST Clearing House Best Practices on Poverty and Social Exclusion

To MOST/CIRAN Database of Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge

To MOST Clearing House Homepage