Women in Mbire defy dependency syndrome

Source: Women in Mbire defy dependency syndrome | Herald (Opinion)

Women from the Pepukai group showcase some of their produce

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke

Senior Reporter

For decades, communities in Mbire district relied on donor assistance to sustain themselves. 

The district is one of the hardest hit by climate change in Zimbabwe and is susceptible to hazards that include drought, human-wildlife conflict, mid-season dry spells and livestock related diseases, especially the transboundary effects of these. 

While the area is ideal for animal husbandry, the many shocks left villagers vulnerable to food insecurity. 

The Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF) was rolled out in the district in 2016 to try and address these challenges and improve the communities’ susceptibility to such shocks. 

The programme, which came to an end in September this year, was being implemented by Action Aid as the lead organisation under the Zambezi Valley Alliance consortium in partnership with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development and other key ministries and departments with funding from the European Union (EU), Government of Sweden, the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 

At least 18 000 families in the district were equipped with disaster risk management skills. 

A recent visit by the EU heads of co-operation to the district to assess the impact of the projects rolled out under the ZRBF revealed how most of the villagers who were part of the initiative have become self-sustainable. 

Mrs Noni Chakwanira (52) from Kueri village in Mahuwe ward 15, who is part of the 17-member Pepukai group that trained under the programme, said queuing for food handouts was no longer part of their routine. 

“We no longer need to queue for food aid because we now have the capacity to produce enough to feed ourselves and even take care of the less fortunate in the community,” she said.

The group was formed by five women back in 2014 as a savings association (mukando) where they contributed money and shared on a revolving basis. 

The women were also keeping their indigenous breed goats, but both these initiatives were not working out as they did not have knowledge on how to make them sustainable.

The group was identified as beneficiaries to the ZRBF in 2016 and received training on resilience and other issues. 

“We were now able to say if a drought comes, we can fall back on our goats and if those were affected by diseases we could easily go to our nutrition garden or our fields,” said Mrs Chakwanira. “We slowly began to grow our savings initiative and we used the money to buy more goats. We received our first Boer goat in 2019 and we started breeding. 

“That is when more people started joining us and soon we had 11 more members. I remember the first goat I sold at US$90; I used that money to pay for school fees for my daughter and now she has finished her teaching course and is working.” 

Besides the goat breeding scheme, the women have pen fattening programmes, nutrition gardens, poultry production as well as a thriving small grain crop production. 

They also have a bush mill, which they use to produce stock feed for their animals and the excess is sold to other farmers in the surrounding areas. 

From all these initiatives, not a single member of this group goes hungry. Some have built houses, bought furniture and taken their children to school. 

In fact, they have even planted a seed in the community which is now benefiting younger women. 

“For sustainability of this programme, we realised that we needed to pass this knowledge that we had gained to others,” said Mrs Chakwanira. “So, we seeded four Boer goats and 10 Boschveld chickens to a group of young women that we trained. 

“We did this so that we can also empower these women, especially those who got married early and this helped to address a lot of challenges like domestic violence and hunger. They can now support their families.” 

Once the second line beneficiaries have 20 goats, they will be expected to pass on four goats and 10 chickens to the next group of young women. 

She said the resilience building training they had received transformed their lives and turned them into donors themselves. 

“The stage that we have reached as Pepukai is one where we no longer need a donor, but we want to educate others not move away from donor dependency,” she said. 

“As a group, we adopted a young boy whose mother died during child birth and he was left in the care of his old grandmother. 

“We realised that we could use the little that we had to at least make sure that these two had food and shelter. We are now taking care of all their needs including school fees for the boy, clothes and we even managed to get a birth certificate for him.” 

Mbire Rural District Council executive officer environment, Mr Tarcisius Mahuni, said initiatives such as the ZRBF were important as they could change a lot of lives in his district.

“The programme has come in to help our communities to be resilient in terms of shocks which can come such as wildlife, floods, or other mishaps caused by climate change,” he said. “They have trained resilient committees at ward level which then come up with domestic coping mechanisms.” 

Action Aid resilience team leader Mr Eben Tombo said a key indicator in the success of the programme was the level to which it had reduced the case load of people requiring food aid. 

“We have to appreciate the role that food assistance plays, especially in crisis, but in the districts that we have been operational in, especially in Mbire, where there is a drought every year, we should not then have a situation where we have food assistance every year,” he said. 

“There are certain things that we can actually build upon our resilience approach so that we reduce the number of people who require food assistance and from what we have seen, these initiatives actually work.” 

He said the initiatives should continue working even when the donor partners implementing the projects moved out of the district. 

“We should get to a stage where we are confident that the systems can still be up and running with limited support from external institutions like donors,” said Mr Tombo. “There are still some issues that need to be resolved to achieve resilient systems and these require a community and private sector buy-in.” 

Mr Tombo said while the communities were now producing enough, their markets were still mostly outside the district which made it difficult for farmers to sell their produce in cases of disease outbreaks and travel restrictions as was the case during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We should actually have local economies absorbing things that we are producing. There should be some engagement with external markets, but not to an extent that they introduce other risks as well. Whatever we engage with external markets has to have a longer shelf life so that it does not negatively affect the communities,” he said. 

Swedish deputy head of mission and head of development co-operation Dr Berthollet Kaboru said it was amazing to see how the ZRBF had contributed to building sustainable livelihoods for communities in Mbire. 

“It is amazing to see how it has contributed to sustaining livelihoods for households; the goat breeding programmes and the community garden where they are producing vegetables in a climate smart way. This area is dry so it is amazing to see how they can still produce vegetables in such kind of conditions,” he said.

He said the visit would inform decisions on the shape the next phase of the programme would take.

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