Women cultivate their way out of Zimbabwe’s grinding rural poverty
By Andrew Mambondiyani
Bernadette Sithole beamed with joy as she picked some vegetables from the local community garden, which had various crops ranging from okra to maize and butternut – a new crop growing in her part of rural Zimbabwe.
“This garden has changed our lives for the better,” Sithole said during an interview.
The garden is a nutritional community effort, made up of 31 women and sponsored under the Kariba REDD+, an initiative run by Carbon Green Africa in Binga, Nyaminyami, Hurungwe and Mbire in Mashonaland West province.
Carbon Green Africa was established in 2011 to facilitate the generation of carbon credits through setting up REDD+, a mechanism created by the United Nations to quantify and value the carbon storage services that forests provide. Over 15 nutritional community gardens have been established in four districts of Mashonaland province, improving household nutrition and quality of life.
“As women, we are now able to feed our families and send our children school,” Sithole said. She is one of the women who owns an acre piece of land in the garden.
“There are things which I never thought I would be able to buy in life but thanks to the income from this garden I can buy utensils for our kitchens,” she said.
And some of the profits from the garden was used to pay school fees, school uniforms, books and pens for orphaned children in the area.
“Last year we paid school fees for 12 orphaned children,” Sithole explained.
But the garden has not solved all the issues in the community. Another woman from a neighboring village, Jenifer Nyangumbe, said that although the women have access to increased income and enhanced food security, there was a need to drill another borehole for use by the farmers.
“We are using one borehole to irrigate the garden, for our livestock and domestic use,” Nyangumbe said before adding, “we need another borehole specifically for the garden project.”
A traditional leader in the area, Chief Chundu, said the community gardens, coupled with the conservation farming had helped to enhanced food security in the area.
“We are educating our children the importance of looking after our environment, and more people should be taught about conservation farming,” said Chief Chundu.
During one of the local traditional meetings at Nyamakate Secondary School in Hurungwe, a councilor for Ward 7 in Hurungwe district, Jealous Matesanwa, told the people gathered that Carbon Green Africa should expand the projects to other areas.
“We need more of such community gardens,” Matesanwa said. “And we need more boreholes.”
He also criticized Carbon Green Africa for not doing enough to empower the communities in Hurungwe.
The company CEO, Charles Ndondo, while defending the organization said that there were many projects to be done through the Kariba REDD+.
“We have little money,” he said.
Matesanwa who as councilor sits in the council meetings where decisions about the project are made also blamed Carbon Green Africa for making some unilateral decisions when running the project.
Matesanwa raised the issue of inputs for conservation farming which he said Carbon Green Africa used to give farmers but withdrew the facility this season.
“We used to get maize seed for conservation farming, but we are no longer getting it,” he said.
Ndondo during the meeting said it was not fair for Matesanwa to blame his company for withdrawing the agricultural input scheme under the conservation farming program because such decisions were made at the council level.
“At the council meeting it was agreed that we should use the resources available to train more farmers instead of giving them agricultural inputs,” Ndondo told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We don’t decide but the people decide. These are not our projects but the projects belong to the people,” Ndondo said, while pointing out that the residents are compensated for any disruption caused by a new initiative.
“They are paid to save their own trees,” he said.
Ndondo said the project received private funding investment until the successful issuance of carbon credits, which are now on the voluntary market, that would allow the project run on proceeds of the credit sales.
According to Ndondo, the Kariba REDD+ covers more than 785 000 hectares of vital forest ecosystem in Zimbabwe, impacting the lives of up to 200 000 people in some of Zimbabwe’s poorest communities.
“The major challenge is on the slow uptake of the credits on the voluntary market,” Ndondo said.
The community projects were operating at below capacity due to limited sales of the carbon credits. But with potential partnerships with International organizations, embassies, companies, and other stakeholders, rural Zimbabwe would be able to tackle the negative impact of climate change through the carbon credits initiative, he said.
This story was written under the aegis of the CSE Media Fellowship Programme.