Young women tackling poverty in rural Zimbabwe

Villagers in food-deficit districts affected by erratic rains induced by the El Nino phenomenon, are adopting various measures to preserve their scant harvest and keep their food bills in check, including skipping meals and reducing food portions.

The daily struggle to keep hunger at bay is placing an additional burden on the shoulders of women in famine-ravaged rural areas who are forced to take up more work in addition to their traditional household responsibilities, to secure food for daily needs.

A 34-year-old expectant mother of three Sekesai Sande, of Foothills farm 12 kilometres from Bindura town, is among 150 villagers who have embarked on vegetable farming both for household consumption and to earn a small income for other needs.

Sande wakes up as early as 4 am to perform her household chores and prepare her two young children for school, while her husband Luckmore makes his way to their small vegetable garden.

After finishing her chores, she joins her husband in watering the vegetables they grow as part of their subsistence farming to provide food for their family.

 “Vegetable farming is one of the main livelihood sustaining projects on this farm. As the population is divided between small scale farming and mining we decided to take part in vegetable production to get food and sell extra for other needs,” Sande said.

 “Foothills farm was taken from its former owners- the white farmers by the war veterans through the land reform program. At that time we were working for the white farmers so when the farm was taken we automatically became the servants to the war veterans but eventually they could no longer afford to pay our salaries so to compensate for our labour we also took part of the land on the farm that is where we are now maintaining our vegetable plantations,” narrated Sande.

According to Sande, Foothill farm is home to at least 350 people. – “ Half of the 350 inhabitants live off small scale mining while others, like the rest of us are sustaining our families through farming tomatoes, cabbages, rape and potatoes.”

“As a small family business I cannot complain how we are managing but many challenges are developing that have been preventing us from realizing huge profits. We are making a few dollars that can only buy basic commodities and a little to pay for the children’s school fees. The money is not enough to grow the business,” she said.

To Sande’s view, the most difficult challenge she and others in her area are facing is that lack of a competitive market, – “We are making little profits out of a lot of effort this is because the market is no longer competitive as many people across Bindura are practicing small scale farming.”

“These days we are facing serious challenges when we want to sell our produce. The market is no longer competitive – a bundle of rape is now going for US$0.25 instead of US$0.50 and a box of tomatoes has fallen from US$5 to $2 or even $1,” she said.

Sande’s eldest son has been tasked with cycling around the city of Bindura selling their daily perishable produce to the locals. Through this they would not be bound by the market prices and are able to retain a better profit.

“While taking the produce to the market is slowly proving difficult, my eldest son cycles around selling the vegetables and out of this we have realized that we make better profits,” she said.

Sande’s story is no different to 27 year old- mother of three children, Elnnaty Barwa   from Chiveso Village, 15 kilometers from Bindura town.

Barwa together with four other women from her village are fish farmers- they breed fish for sale to sustain their families and also empower themselves.

According to her, – “Fish farming is a lucrative business only if the market is competitive enough and the economy strong.”

 “Since the market is now flooded with people farming fresh produce such as vegetables we decided to venture into  fish farming as a way to escape competition  and sustain our lives in these difficult economic conditions.”

“The Institute for Young Women Development gave us a grant to start the fish farming business and we received a one day training on fish farming. When the project started some women were reluctant of the idea so it is only me and other four women. A small dam was built for us to keep the fish.”

To Barwa’s view the project was a success and she has hope that it will grow since many women now want to be involved. – “ We hope that the next project will be more success and if it goes according to plan we aim share our profits among us and let each one be self- sustaining in their own project so that we may also teach others. But the main problem is that of a lack of a competitive market and the dwindling economy.”

“The major challenge is the economy- people have no cash so we end up doing barter trade while others take the fish on credit and then fail to pay,” she said.

 The new Agenda 2039 for Sustainable Development adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals in which gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment are priority and they pledge to end poverty and hunger while achieving food security and promote sustainable agriculture.

 “Rural women are key agents for achieving the transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development. But limited access to credit and education are some of the challenges they face. Ensuring their empowerment is key to their well-being as individuals their families and rural communities given women’s large presence in agricultural workforce worldwide,” read part of a report.

The Institute of Young Women Development- a non-governmental organisation based in Bindura has pledged support to empower women development in rural areas in line with the SDGs to end poverty and hunger among rural women.

 The organisation works with many young women like Sande and Barwa and has contributed to their empowerment through providing grants, empowering women and making them self- sustaining while providing food security for their households.

Tariro Mhute, IYWD’s communication and information officer said her organisation has been working hard towards the empowerment of young women in rural Mashonaland Central.

“Young women are now participating in decision making processes. Currently we have four women from Masembura and Bindura rural who sit in the Chiefs Council. Their participation in the traditional courts is strategic as it enables them to tackle issues of domestic violence and child marriages.”

IYWD notes that although they are working tirelessly to attain SDGs and empower rural young women to be self -sustaining and enabling food security for their homes- environmental setbacks such as climate change have been limiting their efforts.

“We have worked hard to eradicate the El Nino induced poverty by running fish farming projects, but due to climate change which resulted in the excessive heat wave one of our ponds in Shamva dried up and we lost all the fish- this was a major setback,” Mhute said.

Thus in the words of IYWD – SDGs on poverty alleviation and food security are attainable; “But is takes the global village to work together and first address the grassroots causes of climate change.