The Bemba have developed a unique shifting cultivation called the citemene system in the vast miombo woodlands of northern Zambia (Richard, 1939; Allan, 1965; Kakeya & Sugiyama, 1985; Chidumayo, 1987; Stromgaard, 1988; Moore & Vaughan, 1994; Oyama, 1996, 2005). The Bemba are also known for the military strength of their once-powerful kingdom and their matrilineal soci- ety with its high divorce rate (Richard, 1940; Roberts, 1973).
Since 1983, we have conducted socio-ecological research in the Bemba vil- lages in the territory of Chief Luchembe, Mpika District, in northern Zambia. In this paper, we analyze the processes and mechanisms of agrarian changes in these Bemba villages over the 23 years from 1983-2006 in relation to changes in economic and agricultural policies.
As our research base, we chose the village of Mulenga-Kapuli, which lies about 27 km west of the town of Mpika (Fig. 1). The village elder, Mulenga- Kapuli, founded this village in 1958, when he returned from working in the Copperbelt. Mulenga-Kapuli gathered his matri-kin, with his brothers and sisters at the core. The village of Mulenga-Kapuli has had close socio-economic rela- tionships with the neighboring village of Ndona.
In 1983, Mulenga-Kapuli was small, with 13 households of which three were headed by females. Ndona had 30 households, of which ten were female- headed. Most villagers had experienced life in the city, but they led a subsis- tence life with strong reliance on the citemene system. The basic unit of pro- duction was the household, and the level of production never greatly exceeded what was necessary for self sufficiency. The villagers maintained a distribution and consumption mechanism that promoted social leveling, while avoiding a concentration of goods. Although 1/4 to 1/3 of the households in the two vil- lages were headed by females, there was little economic disparity among the households (Kakeya & Sugiyama, 1985; Sugiyama, 1987.)
From about 1986, hybrid maize production using chemical fertilizers rapidly spread throughout the study area. We refer to maize production conducted in semi-permanent fields as faamu cultivation, according to the Bemba nomencla- ture. Faamu fields were prepared by felling and uprooting trees. By the mid- 1990s, most villagers had begun to build a stable system wherein citemene cul- tivation for subsistence coexisted with faamu cultivation for cash crops. How- ever, from the mid-1990s, the national economic policy shifted strongly toward market liberalization, and faamu cultivation ceased to be viable in the outly- ing rural areas. Moreover, the government Resettlement Project, which focused on the resettlement of large-scale commercial farmers, had reached full imple- mentation near the villages in 2000. Under these circumstances, the people held firmly to citemene cultivation as they engaged in trial and error, seeking better opportunities for cash income. These agrarian changes over the past 20 years can be classified into five periods: 1) subsistence economy based on citemene cultivation, 2) spread of faamu cultivation, 3) expansion of faamu cultivation, 4) return to citemene, and 5) search for a new livelihood strategy (Fig. 2). We discuss these five periods, their characteristics, and mechanisms of change in the following sections.