Resiliency and livelihoods inquiry in dynamic vulnerability contexts: Insights from Northern Zimbabwe

  • Admire Nyamwanza

Student thesis: Phd


Rural communities in Zimbabwe have experienced increased and reinforcing social, natural, economic and political vulnerabilities over the years with far-reaching impacts on livelihoods. Yet current livelihoods theory and inquiry has failed to keep pace in accounting for and analysing the capacity of livelihoods to adequately respond to dynamics in such environments. This study uses the case of a marginal rural community in the Mid-Zambezi Valley area of Dande in northern Zimbabwe to evaluate a 'resiliency perspective'. This comprises an understanding of four main elements: people's ability to anticipate and mitigate the effects of adversity; their ability to thrive in a context of change and uncertainty; their capacity to nurture social learning processes; and their ability to self-organise. The study generated four key findings. Firstly, worsening socio-economic and nature-related vulnerability factors have emanated from both the local and national levels. Secondly, these vulnerability factors emanate from the interplay of variables that are both long-term (e.g. increasing drought cycles) and short-term (e.g. deteriorating markets, rapid demographic changes resulting from migration). Thirdly, local community practices, entities and processes are found to assume centrality in responding to worsening vulnerabilities in the area - with individual household opportunities constricting and formal state and non-state entities' involvement in various livelihood activities either weakening or stopping altogether. Lastly is the emergence of innovative accommodative and negotiation processes among local and national players in livelihoods in the area with respect to addressing some of the vulnerability changes occurring over the years. Following these key findings, five major conclusions are drawn vis-à-vis taking livelihoods analysis forward in the context of contemporary dynamic vulnerability changes as experienced in the study area. Firstly is the need to undertake a holistic analysis of vulnerability factors, patterns and trends in contemporary environments to be able to fully comprehend the nature and development of current vulnerability dynamics and the full effects on livelihoods. Secondly is the need to utilise scale dimensions that allow for the capturing of chains, networks, linkages and flows in analysing livelihood and vulnerability dynamics in contemporary environments as provided for in the resiliency perspective which implicitly advocates for the utilisation of institutional and temporal scale dimensions in analysis. Thirdly is the need for livelihoods inquiry to shift from static, deterministic, single-time frame analyses towards a more dynamic approach to be able to understand and fully capture factors and processes behind the opportunities and constraints for response to both the slow and fast variables of change characterising contemporary vulnerability factors. Fourthly, there should be a shift from the too prescriptive outlook of ideas around the 'sustainability' concept central in current livelihoods thinking, towards a realigning of the concept with notions of social justice, place-based dynamics and cultural diversity. This allows for the identification of locally-determined criteria of sustainability and well being, hence making the concept more responsive to analysing and understanding contemporary vulnerability dynamics. Lastly is the need to abandon linear planning vis-à-vis designing development policies and practices in the context of contemporary dynamic vulnerability changes towards engaging more with accommodative processes among local and national actors in livelihoods to be able to adequately address vulnerability processes occurring. Overall, the thesis brings a new resiliency lens into livelihoods analysis, which defines a new frontier to livelihoods theory and research. It also provides evidence in support of approaches to development policy and practice designs that call for the recognition of the
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAdmos Chimhowu (Supervisor) & David Hulme (Supervisor)

Cite this