Human-environment interaction on a coastal forest-savanna mosaic in southern Mozambique
Shaffer, Laura Jean
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This research investigates how indigenous Ronga residents of two rural communities (1) use the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of the landscape for livelihood activities and to manage environmental risk; (2) perceive and respond to social and ecological factors that influence their decisions about resource use; and (3) contribute to landscape processes that shape vegetation patterns. Ethnographic and ecological data collection, as well as archival research in Lisbon, Portugal and Maputo, Mozambique concerning the region’s historic occupation and use, support my interdisciplinary analysis of human-environment interaction in Matutúine District, Mozambique. Results show that adaptive strategies used by Ronga swidden farmer-foragers access and create the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of the landscape in response climate variability, poverty, and food insecurity issues. Changes to resource access policy limit adaptive capacity, increase local vulnerability to predicted future climate change, and could change Matutúine District’s landscape. Interviews concerning local climate change generated two models that highlight local ecological patterns and processes, as well as social changes, and reveal connections between parameters of change that are not obvious in regional models. Residents made observations in the context of livelihood activities where knowledge of expected climate and environmental patterns is used to make decisions about household production. Model differences between communities may be a consequence of predominant habitat within communities. Research with Ronga fire managers demonstrates that residents carefully manipulate the landscape with fire for immediate food production and to ensure a sustainable resource base for future harvest. Environmental knowledge and beliefs about climate, vegetation, and fire behavior assists decision-making about where, when, and how to build controlled fires for locally important livelihood activities. Local residents use and maintain Ronga traditional ecological knowledge to sustain their livelihood activities and respond to environmental change, yet this same knowledge is valuable to scientists and managers interested in conserving the biodiversity of Matutúine District. This study underscores the value of conducting research on human-environment interactions that contribute to savanna landscape generation, as results can be applied to the development and maintenance of sustainable practices that support both human livelihoods and conservation.