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Indigenous climate adaptation sovereignty in a Zimbabwean agro-pastoral system: exploring definitions of sustainability success using a participatory agent-based model

M. V. Eitzel, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
Jon Solera, Seven Points Consulting, CA, USA
K. B. Wilson, The Muonde Trust, Zimbabwe
Kleber Neves, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Aaron C. Fisher, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, CA, US
André Veski, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia
Oluwasola E. Omoju, National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (National Assembly), Nigeria
Abraham Mawere Ndlovu, The Muonde Trust, Zimbabwe
Emmanuel Mhike Hove, The Muonde Trust, Zimbabwe


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Indigenous peoples are experiencing a wide range of negative impacts due to climate change and should have the right to determine for themselves how to adapt to these changes and define successful adaptation. These adaptations can then be culturally appropriate and grounded in Indigenous knowledge systems; however, the accelerating rate of change in social-ecological systems can be a challenge for traditional knowledge. Appropriate participatory modeling tools such as agent-based models (ABMs) may be of assistance to Indigenous groups in thinking through how systems may change in the future. Using the Zimbabwe Agro-Pastoral Management Model (a community-based ABM cocreated with farmer-researchers in Mazvihwa Communal Area), we explored how different definitions of sustainability affected the conclusions from the model, including average annual harvest and the persistence of resources (livestock, harvest, and woodland biomass) in the modeled system above minimum thresholds. For very low persistence thresholds, these two measures of success traded off against each other (with higher cropland proportions favoring harvest success and lower cropland proportions favoring persistence success); and different combinations of management interventions favored one or the other definition of sustainability. New insights came from community suggestions of higher persistence thresholds for livestock, crops, and woodland, whereby the model suggested that an intermediate proportion of cropland could be most successful. In all cases, higher year-to-year rainfall variation reduced sustainability success, regardless of the definition or thresholds used. Cocreating, cotesting, and coadaptation of the model and the use of multiple definitions rendered the findings more relevant for local application. The community in Mazvihwa has many ways to adapt to challenging circumstances, and local nongovernmental organization The Muonde Trust has used the model to work with local leaders to support collective action on land use planning to protect woodland from deforestation.

Key words

community-based research; Indigenous climate sovereignty; Indigenous knowledge systems; local ecological knowledge; participatory modeling; traditional ecological knowledge; Zimbabwe Agro-Pastoral Management Model

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087