CAMPFIRE and Government Policy

The majority of Zimbabwe's rural population (76%) lives on Communal Land. Much of this is a marginal environment (Natural Regions IV and V), representing 42% of the total land area of Zimbabwe (390, 760 sq km). In most of these agriculturally marginal natural regions, the recommended land-use is extensive livestock and/or wildlife production. This makes wildlife management the centerpiece of the Community Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE)'s wide range of natural resources management interventions and the improvement of the social and economic status of rural communities.

Pre-Independence Legislation on Conservation

During the 1940s and 1950s there was expansion of commercial agriculture in Zimbabwe. Two conservation problems emerged; (a) extensive soil erosion and degradation on private land; and (b) decimation of wild animals such as cheetah, lion, baboon, leopard, and hyena by white commercial farmers while protecting their crops and livestock. The Natural Resources Act was passed in 1941 to improve the linkage between land ownership and the generation of benefits from natural resources on the land. The Act had two important provisions: (a) commercial farmers were given control over natural resources on their land and rights to benefit from them, and (b) the setting up of delineated Intensive Conservation Areas (ICA) in farming areas. ICAs became units of collective action to regulate soil conservation measures. Each district had at least one ICA, which exercised peer-based regulation among its members. Communal areas had what were known as Natural Resources Conservation Subcommittees (NRCSs). ICAs were commonly associated with heavy handedness and lack of community consultation over conservation measures in rural areas. A Wildlife Conservation Act was passed in 1960, to allow for game ranching in white commercial farming areas under special conditions. This was to be replaced in 1975 by the Parks and Wildlife Act [Chapter 20:14] which provided rights to land owners to freely utilize wildlife on their properties.  An unsuccessful attempt was made in 1978 to include rural areas in wildlife conservation by distributing wildlife meat to communal people living around national parks through the Wildlife Industry’s New Development for All (WINDFALL) programme. The advent of CAMPFIRE after independence resulted in elephant populations increasing steadily, while populations of other wildlife species were largely maintained even through many drought years, despite the human population doubling between 1980 and 2000. Broader environmental challenges outside the realm of CAMPFIRE and wildlife management however remain a challenge in most communal areas.

Post-Independence Changes in Legislation

1982: Amendment of the Parks and Wildlife Act. The amendment provides the same legal rights over the utilization of wildlife previously granted to white commercial farmers to Rural District Councils (RDCs), then known as District Councils, on behalf of communities in whose areas viable populations of wildlife are found. This resulted in experimentation of elephant trophy hunting in Mahenye ward, Chipinge. Communal areas in Zimbabwe are administered by RDCs, which are the lowest level of government in communal lands. RDC’s are therefore the mechanism for the implementation of the government’s policy of ‘conservation by utilization’ of natural resources, which was first practiced through the granting of Appropriate Authority (AA) status to private land owners under the Parks and Wildlife Act from 1975.

1992: Policy for Wildlife in Zimbabwe. The policy aims to improve the value and sustainability of land use through more equitable apportionment of benefits from the proper use of wildlife resources, and forms the basis of CAMPFIRE.

2006: Following changes in land ownership and the need to strengthen environmental protection, the Natural Resources Act was repealed and effectively replaced by the Environmental Management Act [Chapter 20: 27]. Importantly, this Act repeals Section 61 of the Rural District Councils Act [Chapter 29:13], which provided for a "Natural Resources Conservation Committee" at Council level, and substitutes this with an "Environment Committee", which operates Environment Subcommittees at ward level. Currently there are in excess of 100 democratically elected and constituted village and ward CAMPFIRE/Wildlife committees performing similar functions to those of Environment Subcommittees in various districts. Councils are in the process of aligning these CAMPFIRE committees with the prescribed "Environment Subcommittees" in their districts. In terms of the Section 61 of the Rural District Councils Act as amended, the Council may delegate all or any of it's environmental protection and conservation functions to an Environment Subcommittee as appropriate. CAMPFIRE Association has so far supported the establishment of Environment Subcommittees for all wards in Tsholotsho district, and one ward in Hwange district.  


CAMPFIRE, an acronym in which ‘Communal' has recently been changed to ‘Community' in order to focus on communities instead of the geographic spread of the programme, was formed in 1988 for long-term development, management and sustainable utilisation of natural resources in communal areas.

Guides on the operations of CAMPFIRE, first developed in 1991, are under review to ensure greater compliance to the conditions for the granting of AA and to improve benefits accruing to communities.