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Traditional Authority in Community Based Natural Resource Management(CBNRM): A Critical Investigation of the Role of Traditional Authority in Fisheries Management in Gache Gache Communal Lands of Kariba, Zimbabwe

Munyaradzi Mawere1*, Christopher M Mabeza2 and Thokozani Shava3

1Pedagogical University -Gaza, Mozambique, Zimbabwe

2Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cape Town, South Africa

3Bachelor of Arts General, University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe

*Corresponding Author:
Munyaradzi Mawere
Pedagogical University -Gaza
Mozambique, Zimbabwe
Tel: 242-109-3080
E-mail: [email protected]

Received date: February 18, 2014; Accepted date: April 23, 2014; Published date: April 30, 2014

Citation: Munyaradzi M, Christopher MM and Shava T (2014) Traditional Authority in Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM): A Critical Investigation of the Role of Traditional Authority in Fisheries Management in Gache Gache Communal Lands of Kariba, Zimbabwe. Fish Aquac J 5:093. doi:10.4172/ 2150-3508.1000093

Copyright: © 2014 Mawere M, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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In the recent years, debates on rural development and sustainable management of natural resources in Zimbabwe and many other African countries have emphasized the importance of Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) systems as the main driving force for sustainable development in rural communities. This is to say that central to CBNRM has been generative discussion around issues of decentralisation, administering of the commons in the rural areas, and community empowerment through the securing of resource rights. Yet equally important is the key question around issues of community resources (the commons), particularly on who owns and manages the commons and for what purposes (Murphree 2002). In the light of these observations and realizations, this paper makes an attempt to explore the relevance of CBNRM to development practitioners and policy makers in view of the commons in Zimbabwe. The paper adopts fisheries management in Gache Gache Communal Lands of Kariba in northern Zimbabwe as its case study. The choice of Gache Gache Communal Lands as a case study is not accidental but premised on the fact that it is one area where CBNRM is being deployed in managing fisheries in the area.


Traditional leadership; CBNRM; Gache Gache communal lands; Kariba; Zimbabwe


The current study was born out of the realisation that in Zimbabwe as in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, traditional authority represents the earliest and most resilient community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) initiatives which is commonly known as organic CBNRM [1,2]. Yet with the advent of colonialism and Western scientism in Africa, and the equally Western biased post-independence states, there has been a tendency to sideline traditional authorities in issues of management and conservation of natural resource in rural communities. This justifies the reason why in many formally colonised societies especially in Africa, the emergence of ‘modern’ institutions in natural resource use where traditional institutions already exist has engendered situations of conflict [3]. Put differently, externally led community based natural resource management (CBNRM) as now practised in many parts of southern African region has met with great controversy and resistance as it has been viewed by many local communities as a threat to traditional collective management regimes over natural resources, that is, CBNRM as always practised by the indigenous African people. This has been noted by a number of scholars researching around issues of resource management in rural communities. Ribot [4], for instance, observed that the advent of decentralization brought with it various institutions in natural resource use and undermined traditional collective management regimes over natural resources which resulted in the breakdown of traditional authority and community regulation of resources. This is because in indigenous societies, compliance to natural resource use was regulated through traditional norms and values which the colonialists and Western biased post-independence governments despised and relegated to the periphery as unscientific and irrational. Daneel [5], makes the same observation when he argues that people in pre-colonial Africa believed their ancestors set forth regulations for governing the use of natural resources and transgression of ancestral codes of behaviour would surely result in the withdrawal of the bounty of the land and its resources, but colonialism reversed all this thereby weakening natural resource management systems in rural communities. For Mukamuri, “historical interviews and records clearly demonstrate that communal life in Africa has never been sustainable since the dawn of colonialism [6].The communal system has always been disturbed and challenged by colonial state’s latifundialization, pauperisation and declined standards of livelihood;” hence undermining resource management in rural communities.

In Zimbabwe, the 1984 Prime Ministerial decree on decentralization through the formation of Village Development Committees (VIDCOs) and Ward Development Committees (WADCOs) laid the foundation for decentralized natural resources management [7]. This decree thus resulted in policy provisions that facilitated the creation of new institutions to coordinate rural development [8]. It is worth noting that the new institutions ran parallel to the traditional institutions already in existence thereby creating possibility for competing jurisdictions in the rural areas. In fact, decentralization introduced a new politics of governance in the rural areas of Zimbabwe, particularly the power configurations in natural resource management [9]. Overlapping jurisdiction on resources between new institutions and the traditional institutions is one of the dynamics of interest that emerged from the decentralization process. This is particularly interesting because “voice, power and contestation” are at the core of environmental governance [10]. The way decentralization proceeds and the institutions established during the process have implications on the effectiveness of decentralization in terms of meeting the goal of decentralization such as sustainable development and management of resources [3]. Similarly, the credibility of institutions based on local determinants on what is to be considered right and moral constitutes the legitimacy of government structures in a particular locality where the institutions are deployed [3].

That said, this study seeks to gain an understanding of the potential roles of traditional institutions in management of resources in a changing environment with a focus on how decentralization has impacted on the legitimacy and empowerment of traditional institutions in some parts of rural Zimbabwe. In particular, the paper focuses on the role of traditional leadership and CBNRM (as externally driven or otherwise) in fisheries management in Gache Gache Communal Lands, Nyaminyami District (also known as Kariba rural) in Zimbabwe.

Problem Background to Resource Management in Zimbabwe’s Rural Communities

The disempowerment of chiefs in the post-colonial period in many African countries and in particular Zimbabwe left a power vacuum in the sustainable natural resources management in rural areas where despite being community leaders, traditional institutions are not legitimized in natural resource management. Disempowerment came partly as a way to decentralise resource management, ensuring even development in rural communities, and as punishment to chiefs for siding with the colonialists during the liberation struggle [9]. By and large, the VIDCO-WADCO source of planning was meant to facilitate a bottom up approach where local people were supposed to actively participate in the compilation of the village and ward plans [11].

Yet in terms of decentralization, it is of utmost importance to note that decentralization brought various institutions in the field resource management in rural communities which marked what Metcalfe describes as the demise of customary tenure systems through the alienation of land to private and state sectors which in turn undermined the traditional management of the common natural resource base [12]. Turner aptly captures this when writing on Community-Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) in Southern Africa, he avers:

During the colonial era, many African societies had their indigenous systems and structures of common property resource management disrupted, perverted or destroyed by externally imposed administrations. South Africa experienced extreme forms of this interference. Indigenous political structures were perverted to ensure that chiefs did not foment opposition to the colonial regime; and indigenous resource management systems were overridden by ‘betterment’ land use planning programmes to conform to European norms of sustainability and spatial structure [13].

In Zimbabwe, Policy frameworks to re-position traditional leadership such as the Traditional Leaders Act (1998) have been put in place, but challenges continue to persist unabated. In fact, these legal provisions ironically represent traditional leadership because they duplicate the roles and interests of rural district councils (RDCs) and Wildlife and Parks. As observed by Dore, the authority of traditional leadership over management of resources in rural communities lies only on paper, whilst technical control lies with statutory agencies [14]. For this reason, Dore argues that communities feel that the post-independence state just like the colonial government has taken over their resources compromising their livelihoods strategies; hence problems such as poaching will continue.

In view of this realization by many rural communities in Zimbabwe, the formation of modern institutions namely Village Development Committees (VIDCOs) and Ward Development Committees (WADCOs) following the 1984 Prime Minister directive became a major source of conflict at the village level as they were interpreted by traditional leadership as grabbing their power [15]. VIDCO is the lowest level of government administration in the rural areas consisting only of one village and a total of about 100 households. On the other hand, WADCO consists of six or more villages [16]. With regard to natural resource management, the Communal Lands Act (CLA) of 1982 currently vests control over land in the President of the country, but devolves administration to RDC. The 1988 RDC Act (Revised edition of 1996) gives power to RDCs as an appropriate authority to control the utilization and management of natural resources, including trees, conservation of natural resources, control of bush fires, grazing land and agriculture in communal areas [15,17]. Also, the same Act empowered the Minister of Local Government (MLG) with the mandate to enact conservation and land-use planning by-laws for RDCs which the latter can employ to override any customary claims [18].

It is therefore no secret that the creation of bureaucratic government has not only met with controversies and criticism from traditional leadership but also from scholars. Scoones and Matose, for example, argue that RDCA accords all power to the state and limit that of the local people – traditional leadership – to participate and exercise authority and control in the management of natural resources in their communities [19]. This is seconded by political analyst, Makumbe, who criticized the formation of VIDCOs and WADCOs in 1984 as being part of a process to disempower traditional authority and punish it for its role in collaborating with the colonial government during the liberation struggle that ended in April 1980 [9]. Some critics such as Hammar criticized them [VIDCOSs and WADCOs] for being used as the then ZANU (PF) ruling party committees instead of being committees to spearhead democracy and development in rural areas [20]. In his words, Hammar had this to say of VIDCOs and WADCOs: “VIDCOs and WADCOs have remained local ZANU (PF) party committees and cells carried over from the liberation war but whose partisan and authoritarian practices pervaded both popular participation and democratic developmentalism” [20].

We should point out at this juncture that traditional leadership in the case study for this paper, Gache Gache Communal Lands, has not been spared by decentralization and advent of Western modernist institutions. In circumstances as those paraded above, traditional institutions in Gache Gache had to find ways of making themselves relevant while rival institutions engage in counter strategies to legitimize themselves as well. This has impacted negatively on natural resources management, particularly fishery management in the area. It is in view of these highlighted problems and challenges that researchers of the present study were motivated to carry out a research such as this around issues of traditional leadership and CBNRM (of fishery) in Gache Gache Communal Lands.

Study Area and Methodological Issues

The present study was carried out in Gache Gache Communal Lands in Nyaminyami Rural District (also known as Kariba rural) of northern Zimbabwe. Gache Gache along with Kanyati and Omay makes tripartite communal lands that fall under Nyaminyami Rural District Council, north of the country. The district comprises twelve wards but this research focused on ward two which covers Gache Gache communal lands. These are communal lands that were largely settled by Korekore people from Hurungwe, Karoi and Siyakobvu after the completion and opening of Lake Kariba around 1965. Five different chiefs who originally stayed in the area represented with their headmen sent their people back to Gache Gache from surrounding areas which include Karoi, Hurungwe to benefit from the utilization of fish after the dam was opened, a resource they believed was provided by their ancestors. Gache Gache comprises five villages which bear names of their respective chiefs namely Nyamhunga, Nematombo, Musamba, Mudzimu and Dandawa (Figure 1). There are also few migrants from Mozambique and Zambia who constitute part of the population. It is a semi-arid area characterized by low and erratic rainfall patterns of about 450 to 600mm per annum and very high temperature patterns. Goats are the main domestic livestock for the locals while fishing is the main source of livelihood for most of the households with which they do barter trading with traders from as far as Harare. Below are the Maps showing the nine provinces of Zimbabwe and Nyaminyami (the district in which Gache Gache Communal Lands is found) (Figure 2).


Figure 1: Map of Zimbabwe showing the 9 provinces including Mashonaland West Province where Nyaminyami District (of which Gache Gache Communal lands) if found Source: Kariba REDD poject, 2012.


Figure 2: Study area – Gache Gache Communal Lands (Ward 2) of Nyaminyami District.

In terms of methodological processes used to capture data relating to factors that influence and determine the potential roles of traditional institutions in fisheries management in the midst of new institutions in Gache Gache, various qualitative and quantitative methods and approaches were employed. These included interviews, observations and focus group discussions. Different research methods and techniques were used in data collection to allow mutual checking of information (i.e. compare, contrast or verify) and timely access large body of knowledge [21]. This helped to minimize biases and exaggerations, hence different methods enhance quality and validity of data collected. Open-ended interviews, for example, were used to capture in-depth data on approaches and sacred norms and values related to natural resource management in Gache Gache.

Before carrying out the research, a representative sample from each of the five villages in Gache Gache Communal Lands was identified. Participants were carefully chosen from the village records of all the villages provided by headman Musamba who was the chairperson for the headmen during the period when the present study was conducted. To ensure that these village records were accurate and up to date, the researchers confirmed from headman Mudzimu who provided the duplicate of the updated records with the assistance of VIDCO members. Records which were used in the study in January 2011 were last updated in December 2010. The total number of households in each of the villages is shown in Table 1 below:


Table 1: Households Demographics at Village Level.

Key informants for this study were drawn from the study area, particularly the five headmen, RDC game scouts, community elders, Zimbabwe Parks Rangers and Charara ward manager, WADCO acting chairperson representing CAMPFIRE as well and VIDCO members for Musamba Village. In order to come up with the village sample size, we calculated the whole study area population using the formula below:

The village population of 350 households, thus, was derived from the total number of all village households whilst the researchers’ target population (60 households) was a total of all the village sample sizes. The target population from which the quantitative and qualitative information was gathered through questionnaire survey and focus group discussion is shown in Figure 3 below:


Figure 3: Total sample frame and distribution of participants by village.

To select participants in the household questionnaire, systematic sampling was used. As Black explains, systematic sampling is a statistical method involving the selection of elements from an ordered sampling frame [22]. For Black, the most common form of systematic sampling is an equal-probability method whereby progression through the list is treated circularly, with a return to the top once the end of the list is passed. The sampling starts by selecting an element from the list at random and then every kth element in the frame is selected, where k is the sampling interval (sometimes known as the skip). This makes systematic sampling functionally similar to simple random sampling. Systematic sampling is calculated as:

Where n is the sample size, and N is the population size.

This procedure was used to ensure that each element in the Gache Gache Communal Lands had a known and equal probability of selection. Systematic sampling was found to be more efficient in selecting participants given that Gache Gache population was logically homogenous. Thus using this procedure, it was ensured that after the first household, the next household was chosen based on a specified interval depending on the total village population. Different intervals based on the selection of respondents for the five villages in Gache Gache are shown in Table 2 below:


Table 2: Interval based respondent selection.

Key informants were chosen on the basis of their position in the community using snowballing sampling. On arrival in the Gache Gache Communal Lands, one of the researchers made an appointment with headman Nyamhunga who was the acting vice-councilor for the WADCO committee and a svikiro (a spirit medium) for all the headmen during time when the study was conducted. Through snowballing, the researchers were then referred to the chairman of the headmen for all the village records from which the researchers derived the sample as shown in Table 2 above. Representatives were picked from each institution involved in the management of fisheries. Participants for the focus group discussion were chosen using convenience sampling whereby they were picked at times convenient to them to avoid interrupting with their usual fishing activities. The researchers were aware that essentially, focus group participants should be contacted in advance after soliciting their interest to participate. Thus, focus group discussion was conducted at Mudzimu Shopping Centre during times when participants were gathered for recreational purposes.

Closed questionnaire administration

During research, participants were assured of their confidentiality besides that they responded to questionnaire items individually and voluntarily. The questionnaires were both open and closed items (open questionnaire and closed questionnaire) and were administered to the participants in the different areas they were found during break sessions and other times of the day during which respondents were free to participate in the research. Both questionnaires (open and closed) were used because in practice, a good questionnaire should contain both open and closed forms of questions so that responses from the two forms can be checked and compared [23]. The open questionnaire, for example, was used to enable the respondent to a fuller and richer response as it possibly probes deeper than closed questionnaire by moving beyond statistical data into hidden motivations that lie behind attitudes, interests, preferences, wishes, hopes and decisions [23,24]. Responses from closed questionnaires were tabled to augment data collected from open questionnaire and focus group discussion. Table 3 below shows interview question guide and responses to closed questionnaires.


Table 3: Responses to closed questionnaire items

Traditional Leadership and Fisheries Management in Gache Gache: Discussion Based on Research Findings

The results in Table 3 above show perceptions of the Gache Gache Communal Lands members on traditional leadership, the approaches, and sacred norms and values related to natural resource management in their area. The majority (100%) of the respondents agreed that natural resources are important in socio-economic development of Gache Gache community. This view of the Gache Gache community resonates with other scholars’ observations on issues around resource management [25,26]. Dzingirai, for example, cites Nemarundwe who observes of communal areas management programme for indigenous resources (CAMPFIRE) in Masoka village, Zimbabwe, that “until recently CAMPFIRE was contributing to the Masoka’s village [25,26]. CAMPFIRE funds were invested in business, the school, clinic, housing, roads and tractors, the latter being important in village agriculture”. This entails that external development organisations, the government included, should promote sustainable utilization and management of natural resources so as to allow socio-economic development in rural communities. This is somehow contrary to what is transpiring in Gache Gache Communal Lands where instead of promoting sustainable utilization and management of resources by the rural communities, external development agents are being largely viewed as imposing on rural communities, particularly on how resources should be utilized and managed.

On whether rules are necessary on the utilization and management of resources, majority (approximately 88%) of the respondents agreed that rules were necessary. As one respondent in one of the focus group discussions remarked: “without rules we are like animals in the jungle. We will never have assurance that our resources will be sustainably used and managed, so rules are in fact a necessity in the utilization and management of natural resources in our community”. This vignette was echoed by many others during the interviews and focus group discussions. In literature, there are also many other scholars who support the same line of thought [1,6,27]. As for Marongwe, the fortune of CBNRM lies in the ability of rural communities to enforce taboos, norms and values governing natural resource management in rural communities [1].

In terms, of traditional norms and values attached to natural resource use from mountains, rivers, lakes and forests in Gache Gache, approximately 72% of the respondents agreed that the norms and values existed. The same number of respondents confirmed that such rules were enacted and enforced by traditional leadership such as headmen and chiefs. Based on the researchers observations, there was evidence that some traditional rules were followed in Gache Gache one could see dense forests around burial places and other such places as hills tops. Besides, it was reported that there are some areas where people are not allowed to fish as these areas are believed to be home to njuzu (mermaids). However, there was evidence that some people (approximately 23%) did not respect the traditional norms and values related to utilization and management of resources. The researchers attributed this to immigration, the influence of Christianity, and the loss of respect of traditional leadership especially since independence in 1980. The first two factors have been echoed by scholars like Matose who argue that “immigrants are less likely to follow sacred practices of settlers given their differences in ethnicity and culture [28]. Likewise, different religious groupings, particularly Christians, generally do not follow the sacred practices of settlers and sometimes even contest them”. On the other hand, the latter factor has found support in scholars such as Marongwe, who argue that “the plight of the traditional authorities in reclaiming their role in natural resource management is threatened not only by their social and political image but also their universal acceptance as the essence of good governance” [1]. Marongwe’s argument reverberates with Sharma’s who argues [29]:

The history of chieftainship in Africa from the pre-colonial period to the present has been a story of gradually declining powers, authority and functions. Nonetheless, the traditional leaders have maintained cultural, social and juridical functions at local and village levels in many countries.

Besides, the resistance of traditional authority by some local community members could also be attributed to the increased calls for decentralisation and democratisation in modern government institutions as well as external development agents such as non-governmental organizations.

In as far as sources of livelihood in Gache Gache Communal Lands are concerned, it was revealed that the main sources of livelihood in the area are fishing and trading. This was confirmed by majority (approximately 67%) of the respondents. The reason for relying on trading and fishery was believed to be the abundance of fishery as a resource and also to low levels of education in Gache Gache. Where levels of education are low, people tend to occupy themselves on the exploitation of the locally available resources to sustain their families. During this survey, it was confirmed by the majority of the respondents (70%) that most of the community members in Gache Gache did not study up to secondary and tertiary levels – a factor that could also help explaining why in many cases in the interview question guide (Table 3) there were instances of uncertain in the respondents’ responses. These findings auger well with UNDP and SARPN-Zimbabwe’s findings in the same area which covers Gache Gache as they reported that Kariba rural (or Nyaminyami district) is ranked as the least (77 out of 77 districts) developed district in all of Zimbabwe [30,31].

On whether modern institutions such as the government and external development agents (NGOs, RDC, ZimParks and Police) should take over management of natural resources from Gache Gache traditional leadership, the majority (65%) were against the view. This means that although 30% of the respondents revealed some loss of faith in traditional leadership on issues to do with resource utilization and management in rural communities, majority still supported traditional leadership. It was observed that majority of those who had lost faith in traditional leadership were the youths and the educated elite. However, 70% of the respondents believed that Gache Gache community will benefit more if there is mutual collaboration between traditional leadership and external development agents in natural resource utilization and management in Gache Gache.

Towards Sustainable Use and Management of Fishery in Gache Gache: Some Recommendations

If this research is anything to go by, there is a point in which it can be argued that traditional leadership though have its power eroded over the years, it still has influence on the utilization and conservation of natural resources in Zimbabwean rural communities such as Gache Gache. In view of this observation, it is recommended that effective policing of fisheries [in Gache Gache] requires coordinated effort to pay particular attention to the potential roles of traditional institutions in the field. To legitimize their potential roles, traditional leaders need substantial decision making powers over natural resources supported by both the government and other external development agents such as non-governmental organizations. This could possibly be achieved through the following ways:

The non-specification of traditional leaders roles in the Traditional Leaders Act (TLA) (1998) need state intervention to be defined. The Legitimacy of traditional institutions’ potential roles can be improved when the TLA is amended to show specific roles of chiefs in defined resources, as the Parks and Wildlife Act (1975) which confers the mandate over wildlife management to Parks.

Awareness campaigns could also be carried out to familiarize traditional leaders and communities with the Traditional Leaders Act (1998) whilst plans to amend it are underway.

Collaborative management of fisheries between new institutions (or modern institutions) and traditional institutions based on clear legal instruments would be recommended. A communal quota system which confers some authority to traditional leaders over fisheries management could possibly be set to improve their legitimacy. This would enhance sustainable management of fisheries because the shoreline may be difficult for Parks to control on its own. Apart from that, successful co-management requires incentives for users to participate effectively. In this regard, community development quotas would be instrumental, particularly in societies such as Gache Gache where local communities feel that external stakeholders in natural resource management (NRM) such as Parks have grabbed their God given resources. Partnership with state bodies such as Parks would give the traditional institutions the opportunity to be recognized and respected by all community members in the management of fisheries. Apart from that, partnership with the state in fisheries management would give chiefs essential legitimacy needed to give them self-governance within a legal framework.

Policing costs and expenses involved in fisheries management is another area that requires state intervention. Parks and RDC incur large costs in monitoring and surveillance as the shoreline is too large to be monitored with Parks and RDC on their own. For instance, rangers and game scouts who frequently attend Patrol Control Programs (PCP) to minimize poaching activities were employed, but these policing costs could be reduced if village heads are accorded roles in fisheries management. This active involvement would make them feel secure as both owners and managers of the resources in their communities, thereby collaborating and minimize transport and housing allowances for hiring control personnel. In fact, the increased sense of ownership within fishing communities through traditional leaders makes monitoring easier and reduces instances of poaching as the resource is seen as a communal property thereby increasing compliance and sustainability. Chiefs and headmen are legitimate institutions that should be actively involved in fisheries management in their local communities. Thus, the government needs to bridge the gap created between formal and informal institutions in the management of fisheries.


Based on the findings and analysis that have been made throughout this study, it can be concluded that a number of factors contributed to the erosion of traditional institutions in the management of fisheries in Zimbabwe, particularly in Gache Gache. Political factors, weak enforcement of the Traditional Leaders Act (1998), and upcoming of modern institutions from decentralization processes are among factors that have contributed to the loss of respect and recognition of traditional institutions in NRM. More so, the pressure that modern institutions (through Parks and RDCs) have exerted on natural resource management has resulted in the erosion of traditional norms and values, hence the relegation of traditional institutions in fisheries management. Yet as has been argued in this paper, there is need for mutual collaboration between traditional leadership, the government and other external development agencies in the utilization and management of resources if sustainable development in rural communities is to be achieved. By and large, if the recommendations and suggestions made in this paper are seriously considered by conservation organizations and experts there is no doubt that resource conservation in rural areas would be greatly ameliorated.


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