The African land system is undergoing rapid change, and novel approaches are needed to understand the drivers and consequences of land use intensification. Human Appropriation of Net Primary Productivity (HANPP) is a powerful indicator of land use intensity, but has rarely been calculated at high spatial resolutions. Based on data from six villages in Zimbabwe, we present a novel method of calculating HANPP at community and household scales, and explore to what extent household wealth is related to NPP appropriation. HANPP at the village scale was higher than expected from previous studies, ranging from 48% to 113% of potential NPP. Loss of NPP through land use change accounted for the greater proportion of HANPP in four of the six villages, but NPP embodied in livestock feed, firewood and construction materials also contributed significantly to total appropriation. Increasing household wealth was associated with increasing appropriation of NPP in harvested resources, but not with loss of potential NPP through land use change. Our results indicate that land use intensity is currently underestimated in smallholder farming areas of southern Africa. High-resolution HANPP calculations based on field data offer an effective new approach to improving understanding of land use intensification in complex socioecological systems.