Despite the recognition of the importance of forests on livelihoods, there is diminutive empirical assessment of their contribution to rural livelihoods. Community involvement in forest resource management has received acceptance over the past decade in Zimbabwe. However, evidence of their impact on rural welfare and livelihoods still remains indistinct. Both qualitative and quantitative data were gathered along 6 kilometres transects at 2 kilometres intervals. Focus group discussions and structured interviews were the major methods used to collect data from 360 respondents within the radius of 6 kilometres away from the forest boundary. Thematic, cost-benefit, Principal Component Analysis (PCA) and SPSS version 21 were used to analyze both qualitative and quantitative data. The results revealed that communities in Chibuwe forest depended on the forest for their daily sustenance. The findings signalled positive effects on the livelihoods of respondents living adjacent to the forest, although the cost and benefits dwindled with distance from the forest edge. The results also revealed that poor governance, land tenure security, socio-economic constraints and problems related to ineffective law enforcement were the major factors hindering effective exploitation of forest resources in the study area. Thus, this study recommends that improved outcomes in terms of rural livelihood enhancement and poverty reduction can be realized if pro-poor forest-related activities are well thought-out in the planning and management of Chibuwe forest. Furthermore, stakeholders should work closely towards addressing the challenges affecting participatory forest management in the study area.
Keywords: Participatory forestry management, forest user groups, rural livelihoods, forest products, Zimbabwe.