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Sustainable Livelihoods: Agriculture  

In the Limpopo River agricultural contributions to the GDP vary from 4 to 5 % in Botswana and South Africa, 15 % in Zimbabwe to 40 % in Mozambique. Monetary contributions aside, the value that agriculture provides in terms of food security, income generation, poverty alleviation and employment is essential to the well-being of many in the basin (FAO 2004). The biophysical conditions of the Limpopo River basin mean that there are numerous challenges to overcome where agriculture as a livelihood is concerned. The area is generally semi-arid and has little arable land and a very low potential for agriculture.

Traditional Land Use

“The traditional land use systems in the basin are primarily low-input systems based on extensive management and utilization of the natural resources. Observed changes and trends in recent years have been mainly in response to demographic pressures leading to more intensive exploitation of natural resources, resulting in irreversible land degradation.”

Source: FAO 2004


Subsistence agriculture in Chokwé, Mozambique.
Source: Qwist-Hoffmann 2010
( click to enlarge )


Although agriculture only accounts for around 4 % of Botswana’s GDP, 65 % of the population living within the Limpopo River basin live on agriculture holdings and derive their livelihoods from agricultural activities (FAO 2004). Most agricultural operations in the basin are at the subsistence level with an average farm size of 1-3 ha of land (LBPTC 2010). According to the 1993 agricultural census, 99 % of the arable cultivation is within the traditional or subsistence farming sectors (1993 census, GOB-MOA-CSO 1995; FAO 2004). This equates to 80 000 households participating in arable agriculture with 74 % found in the Limpopo River basin. With the increasing population in the basin there has been a corresponding decrease in the farm holding size. Smaller holdings have forced livestock farmers to switch from the traditional cattle to smaller ruminants.

In 1993, there were 253 commercial farms in Botswana, of which 122 (48 %) were located in the basin. These farms accounted for 43.5 % o the commercial cattle holdings and 69 % of the arable agriculture commercial holdings (FAO 2004). 


Agriculture is the dominant sector in Mozambique, providing work for 80 % of the economically active population, 60 % being female (LBPTC 2010). Small-holder farming, or family farming, accounts for 95 % of the land area under production. Subsistence agriculture is practiced by almost all of the families living in the basin in Mozambique and average farm size ranges from 1,1 to 1,4 ha (LBPTC 2010). Agriculture for food crops is the dominant farming system through some small and large scale irrigation schemes can be found in Chokwé.

The biophysical conditions of the basin in Mozambique mean that agriculture is very susceptible to drought and flooding making the people who rely on agriculture vulnerable and food insecure.

South Africa

In South Africa the Limpopo River basin is divided into four water management areas (WMAs). In the Limpopo WMA any land with potential for agriculture has already been developed (DWAF 2003a). Agricultural activities mostly occur in the central and southern parts of the WMA and are rainfed; however, there are also several irrigation developments in the WMA. The WMA is covered by natural vegetation used for livestock grazing, leading to overgrazing in some areas. In the Luvuvhu and Letaba WMA intensive irrigated agriculture occurs in the upper parts of the Klein Letaba River sub-basin, downstream of the Middle Letaba Dam and in the upper Luvuvhu River sub-basin (DWAF 2003b). In the Olifants WMA intensive irrigation and the favourable conditions for dryland crops and livestock farming allow for a 7 % contribution from Agriculture to the GGP (DWAF 2003c). Agriculture is an important source of livelihood to many living in the Crocodile West and Marico WMA, though it does not contribute much to the overall GGP (DWAF 2003d).


In Zimbabwe, land use in the upper Mzingwane River basin (the portion of Zimbabwe located in the Limpopo River basin) consists mostly of commercial farming while communal land and subsistence agriculture are practiced in the lower basin. Communal land plots average in size from 0,5 to 14 ha (LBPTC 2010).The communal lands are considered to be vulnerable because they are dry, have poor soils and are not suitable to rainfed agriculture. Many are consistently below the food security threshold. A high concentration of livestock, including cattle, goats, sheep and donkeys, is found in the basin.

Agriculture near Chokwé, Mozambique.
Source: Qwist-Hoffmann 2010
( click to enlarge )



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