By Lazarus Sauti
Women in Wedza District, Mashonaland East Province of Zimbabwe have welcomed gardening projects established in some parts of the area to fight hunger and lift families from the jaws of poverty.
The gardening projects come at a time when Zimbabwe and other countries in southern Africa are grappling food challenges caused by El Nino-induced drought.
The El Nino-induced drought, notes the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), has devastated crops as well as livestock, dried up sources of livelihoods, and left an estimated four million people in need of assistance.
As a result, most villagers in Zimbabwe are depending on food handouts from the government and non-governmental organisations.
Conversely, to counter drought and other problems in Wedza, Women and Land in Zimbabwe, working with Rural Women’s Assembly in Zimbabwe, empowered women to establish nutritious gardening projects.
One such initiative to enable villagers to be self-reliant as well as increase their food security is the 2.5 hectares Ruzave gardening project which started last year and boasts 40 members of which 37 are females and three are males.
“We used to face food accessibility and availability challenges here in Goneso, but it is the thing of the past now thanks to Women and Land in Zimbabwe which supported us to start gardening projects to sustain our livelihoods,” says beneficiary Blessing Mombeyarara (47). “We are growing crops such as beans, carrots, tomatoes and onions.”
She says the organisation supported women in Goneso and Chigondo with poles and fencing materials to establish the Ruzave Irrigation Project.
“On top of that, we were urged to grow small grains as well as drought tolerant crops like rapoko, sorghum and finger millet as an avenue to reduce the impact of climate change,” Mombeyarara adds.
Chikavhanga village head, Mbasi Chikavhanga (54), also says villagers used to face serious challenges such as lack of nutritious food, but Women and Land in Zimbabwe, through its various activities, is enhancing the food and livelihood security of women and their families in many ways.
“We started this project last year when we were having serious problems in securing nutritious foods for our families, but Women and Land in Zimbabwe supported us to start nutritious gardens and lift our families from abject poverty,” he adds.
Chikavhanga also says the organisation’s agro- and non-agro trainings empowered villagers with life skills that help increase their crop production as well as transform their lives.
Chipo Manyere (47) from Pfumbi village says trainings and workshops conducted by Women and Land in Zimbabwe helped most women to practice conservation farming.
“Capacity-building trainings changed our ways of thinking. We realised that we could make a living through sustainable land use hence the birth of Ruzave Irrigation Project,” she adds.
Manyere, however, begs other organisation to support them with seeds, irrigation and facilitation facilities.
“We are buying our seeds and because of poverty, it is difficult for most of us. Also, we are using 20-litres buckets to fetch water from Ruzave River basins and it is very taxing.
“Our plea is, therefore, for other organisations to support us with seeds and irrigation materials such as water holding tanks and pipes to lessen our burdens,” she says.
Manyere adds, “We don’t have toilet facilities and our hope is to have these facilities for men and women.”
Hwedza District agronomist, Gondai Matare, says Goneso is a dry area and the establishment of Ruzave Irrigation Project instilled confidence in women.
“The project instilled confidence in women. Interestingly, it is not only creating employment, but also helping families to increase their household food as well as sell surplus and buy basic products,” he says.
Matare adds that in line with Sustainable Development Goal 15.3, Women and Land in Zimbabwe is also promoting conservation agriculture.
“Women and Land in Zimbabwe is addressing the issue of soil fertility simply by promoting conservation agriculture as well as encouraging women to use locally available resources such as leaf litter, livestock/kraal manure and anthill soil,” he says.
Sharon Chipunza of Women and Land in Zimbabwe says gardening projects provide food safety nets for families and her organisation takes pride in helping villagers not only in Wedza, but in other areas such as Makoni (Rusape and Chiware), Gwanda (Sessombi), Gweru, Chinhoyi, Bubi and Gutu to preserve their environment and also helping in food security.
“We are happy as Women and Land in Zimbabwe that we managed to help these villagers in terms of food security,” she says.
“On our part, we also provided fencing materials and stopped villagers from cutting down trees.”
Significantly, Chipunza says the gardening projects in Goneso, Chigondo and other rural areas in the country are uniting villagers by bringing women together to share their challenges, accomplishments as well as solutions.
“Through these projects, we are changing lives and inspiring a greater future for women not only in Wedza, but in most parts of the country.
“We are urging them to form study circles where six to 15 people meet regularly to learn and share information as well as experiences about a topic or subject that is of interest to them.
“In these study circles, work is built around the participants’ search for knowledge according to their own needs and interests.”
Mashonaland-East Provincial head, Tendai Nyamadzawo, says the introduction of gardening projects as well as study circles in Goneso and Chigondo helped a lot.
“Women are now able to identify the problems they have and it is now easier for them to plan and share ideas,” he says, adding that through study circles, women also learn about their rights, how to till land as well as how to conserve the environment.