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Household Economy Assessment: Chihwiti and Gambuli Informal Settlements - October 2001


Chihwiti and Gambuli are informal settlements located approximately 70km south-west of Chinhoyi, in Mashonaland West. Both settlements were first established in the early 1990s, and now house approximately 3,500-4,000 and 5,500-6,000 residents respectively. The majority of the settlers in Chihwiti originate from commercial farms, while the majority in Gambuli originate from communal areas.

Chihwiti is currently estimated to be receiving up to 100 new settlers per week; most of these new arrivals are former farm workers, displaced as a result of the current land reform programme. Gambuli is no longer accepting new arrivals as it is considered to have reached its holding capacity.

Both settlements have similar livelihood patterns, though residents in Gambuli are generally somewhat better off than those in Chihwiti. Households depend primarily on agriculture. Own food crops provide most of the families’ food needs, while piecework on farms within the settlements and on nearby commercial farms provide an important source of food and income, particularly for poorer families.

Cash incomes come mainly from the sale of agricultural products, namely cotton, maize and vegetables, and from piecework. A variety of casual labouring activities also supplement incomes.

Combined food and cash incomes are such that all groups in both settlements can be considered food secure, and will continue to be so until the next harvest. The extent of such food security, however, varies quite widely, and the poor in Chihwiti are only marginally food secure with very limited capacity to cope with any shocks. Emergency interventions relating to food are not considered necessary at this time, however the provision of agricultural input credit would be very worthwhile.

The provision of basic services on both settlements, i.e. education, healthcare, and water and sanitation, is very inadequate and there is a need for interventions in these sectors.

Sources of vulnerability in the settlements are (1) the risk of further population influxes, (2) the status of those commercial farms which provide significant employment in the area, (3) inflation, (4) the unofficial status of the settlements and (5) the risk of crop failure.

The main recommendations made are:

  • Moves already underway by the Government towards officially recognising these settlements are to be encouraged. More broadly, the Government should also give greater consideration to the issue of land tenure for commercial farm workers during the ongoing land reform programme in the country.

  • Ongoing monitoring of population changes and of the status of nearby commercial farms should be carried out

  • Support should be given to the agricultural sector in the settlements through input credit schemes and through the extension of the services of Agritex and the Department of Veterinary Services


In July 2001, the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe carried out a baseline assessment of two informal settlements in Makonde district, Mashonaland West (FCTZ: 2001b). Chihwiti and Gambuli had been reported to have received significant numbers of former commercial farm workers, said to have been displaced as a result of retrenchment and farm closures linked to the current land reform programme.

The questionnaire-based baseline survey provided detailed information on the population, children in difficult circumstances, education, water and sanitation, shelter and health services. Although some useful information was gathered regarding food production and income, FCTZ subsequently requested Save the Children’s assistance in carrying out a household economy assessment to provide a richer understanding of livelihood patterns in the settlements, and of the current food security situation.

The objectives of the assessment, therefore, were as follows:

  • To describe the conditions that the residents of Chihwiti and Gambuli are likely to face over the period up to April 2002 as they may affect household food and livelihood security.

  • To recommend appropriate interventions related to food and livelihood security in the settlements, particularly in the short term
Readers are advised that this assessment report should be read in conjunction with the FCTZ Baseline Study for a broader understanding of issues relating to these settlements.

The rest of this report provides background information on the settlements, and the methodology used in the assessment. The main findings for each settlement are then provided separately, followed by an analysis of the vulnerability of the population in the settlements to various shocks. Conclusions are then presented with a commentary on their relation to wider aspects of the problem of displaced farm workers, and recommendations for action are made.


Gambuli and Chihwiti informal settlements are located approximately 65 and 75kms south-west of Chinhoyi respectively along the road to Kenzamba. Both settlements are on state land, buffering communal and commercial farming areas. Although these settlements have attracted increased attention in recent months as information has been sought on the fate of commercial farm workers displaced due to the “Fast Track” land reform programme, a large majority of the residents of both settlements are not recent arrivals. As was indicated in FCTZ’s baseline survey, most of the population in Gambuli originate from communal areas, while a large majority of the households in Chihwiti are former farm workers retrenched over course of the 1990s.

As the settlements have unofficial legal status they are accurately termed “informal settlements”. However they are very different to the well-known informal settlements in peri-urban Harare; in fact they more closely resemble communal areas than the peri-urban settlements. The very clear difference from communal areas, however, is the extremely limited provision of services in the settlements, as is clearly indicated in the baseline survey. There are very few boreholes in the area, with most families relying on unprotected water sources; there is one primary school at Kanyaga to which children from these settlements walk over 6km each day; and there are no clinics in the settlements – the nearest are in Kenzamba and Lion’s Den, each over 20km away.

On the positive side, Chihwiti and Gambuli are relatively well served by a recently re-graded gravel road to Chinhoyi, which provides good access to markets. The quality of the land is reasonable, with the settlements falling under Natural Region III, and crop production is therefore quite reliable.

Seasonal Calendar

As livelihoods in Chihwiti and Gambuli mainly revolve around agricultural production, seasonal factors play a large part in food security. Broadly speaking, households begin consuming green maize, groundnuts and roundnuts (bambara nuts) starting from March, with the main maize harvest being reaped in April. The poorest households begin exhausting their grain harvests around July, with the best off harvesting enough to carry them through to the next harvest. The cotton harvest during the winter months (June-August) provides income either through cotton sales or through employment opportunities in picking. Employment in the form of seasonal piecework is vital for poorer households to meet their remaining food needs during the year. An important factor in the economy of this area is that draught-power is not very common, and therefore there are good piecework employment opportunities available during the land preparation period, in addition to the more common weeding and harvesting periods. For the poor, the most difficult months are considered to be around January and February, prior to the harvest when employment opportunities are scarce.

Activity Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug
Lean/ Difficult Months
Land Preparation
Planting – Maize & Cotton
Weeding Maize
Weeding – Cotton
Harvest – Maize
Harvest – Cotton
Peak Seasons for Piecework
Sale of Vegetables


For this assessment, a variant of Save the Children’s “Household Economy Approach” (HEA) was used. This is a methodology for investigating the ways in which households get their income, their savings and asset-holdings, and their consumption of and expenditure on food and non-food items. In a normal HEA assessment, baseline information is gathered for each “Food Economy Zone”2 , and then the impact of a shock on households’ ability to meet their current and future food and non-food needs is determined.

As the present assessment was a rapid one and its purpose was to assess the need for emergency food security interventions within the next 6 months, this assessment focused simply on the current marketing year, from April 2001 to March 2002. Actual information was gathered on this year’s harvest, employment opportunities so far this year, and current prices. Estimates of the availability of income-earning opportunities and expenditure patterns were made by the communities based on activities in previous years, viewed in the light of current circumstances.

Information was gathered through interviews with focus groups and key informants from both settlements. Community leaders and purposively sampled groups of households from different socio-economic or wealth groups were interviewed using semi-structured interviews and a variety of PRA tools. The number of groups interviewed (10) was smaller than would normally be used in HEA, but the information gathered during FCTZ’s baseline assessment was important for cross-checking and verification of information provided. The judgement of the assessment team was also used in resolving some inconsistencies based on their knowledge of similar situations elsewhere in Zimbabwe at present.

Two teams comprising staff from Save the Children and FCTZ carried out this assessment between September 25th and 28th, 2001. The time available for interviews was further limited by the occurrence of a political rally in the area on one of the days, but otherwise there were no significant constraints in carrying out the assessment.


  1. For more detailed information on the background to these areas, readers are referred to the complementary Baseline Study (FCTZ: 2001b).
  2. A food economy zone is defined as “all the households in a geographical area where most households obtain their food and cash income by roughly the same combination of means” (Seaman et al., 2000: p38).
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