The COVID-19 crisis came to Zimbabwe after the country has been already hit by a severe drought and Cyclone Idai. Vulnerable communities now face both time and economic poverty exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. Sustainable resilience is when families and communities use homegrown solutions and resources to enhance their ability to address or tackle challenges as a result of crises. Rural communities in Zimbabwe have for a long time relied on rain-fed agriculture for survival.
The Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF), a multi-donor initiative funded by the European Union (EU), Government of Sweden, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is working with communities in 18 districts of Zimbabwe. The partnership strengthens communities' resilience to bounce back and ensures better coping mechanisms from future crises.
Sekai Vakira from Zvishavane notes that she invested a lot in growing maize in the past years, which yields less with each harvest due to the effects of unpredictable weather patterns and insufficient rains in her area.
"We are accustomed to growing maize, but over the years, the yield has not been good due to limited rains. Hence, we experienced food shortages", said Sekai.
Building resilience from disasters
Zvishavane is a district located in central Zimbabwe, a semi-arid region that is warm to hot throughout the year. To help communities manage the recurring climatic challenges and be more robust in the face of hazards and disasters, the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund works closely with local inhabitants to map out potential risks and priorities. This process is key to formulating resilience-building initiatives that are contextually informed.
As a result, ZRBF provided training to local communities in several areas, including disaster risk reduction, climate-smart agriculture, and village savings and lending to selection planning and management, financial literacy, and participatory scenario planning.
"After the training on climate-smart agriculture, I was motivated to grow pearl millet and sorghum as viable crops that would thrive with little rain and hot weather", she said. "The Fund provided us with fertilizers and sorghum (Macia) which helped improve the quality of pearl millet (Okhashana) seeds".
In 2017, Sekai was expecting a bumper harvest, but a dry spell affected some of her crops. Luckily, she had a fallback plan in place to ensure her survival and that of her family.
“Even my sorghum and millet crops could not survive the drought. If it weren't for the chicken, I would not have been able to pay for my daughter's school fees after the school sent her home", said Sekai Vakira. She is determined to expand her income sources and has since diversified into the rearing of indigenous chicken. She uses some of the grain from her farm to feed her chicken, which she sells to her local community.
Spreading development gains across the community
Zimbabwe's humanity concept of Ubuntu symbolizes that those in a privileged position should use the opportunity to uplift others around them.
56-year-old Monica Nyamahnindi is a passionate poultry farmer and strives for continuous growth in poultry production and marketing. She has been using the skill she has learnt through training offered by ZRBF through improving the Absorptive and Adaptive Capacity for Transformation (BRACT) project to drive women's progress and resilience.
"I have a comprehensive breeding practice which I started in 2017 after the training, and it has been going on very well; by 2020, I had more than 200 chicken", boasted Nyamanhindi.
Monica used 30% of her earnings to purchase a solar-powered incubator, while ZRBF-BRACT provided the rest of the funds. The incubator is now a source of additional livelihood to the farmer and an opportunity to support other farmers to start their poultry businesses.
"The eggs take only 21 days to hatch compared to the longer timeframes of using the traditional method of hens laying on the eggs, and it also improves the quality of chicks,” added Monica.
Farmers who received start-up stock of day-old bushveld chicks across all the 29 wards are progressing well in passing on offspring to follow-on farmers. The pass on the scheme is at approximately 85% complete. Farmers have started selling eggs and some chicks, improving their household income, dietary diversity and nutrition.
Increasing streams of income to reduce poverty
"In the past, we relied on remittances coming from either our spouses or children living in neighbouring countries. But when faced with emergencies or hardships, we struggle to have a reliable source of livelihood, and we end up selling some of our valuable items to meet unexpected expenses", recalled Ratidzo Tiringindi from Chiredzi.
Chiredzi is a semi-arid area on the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa, where climate change highly impacts agricultural production. However, smallholder farmers are still able to derive a livelihood from their farms.
In 2017, ZRBF introduced a fish-farming scheme in Chiredzi, supporting women like Ratidzo to acquire livestock and household assets that help them be more resilient against climate shocks. In addition, ZRBF is linking smallholder farmers to access markets.
"The fishpond contains more than 10 000 Tilapia fish which we sell at USD 3,50 per kilo to local residents. We are looking at expanding our market to other areas surrounding Chiredzi," she said.
Smallholder fish farmers are less vulnerable to seasonal risks that affect agriculture, thus contributing to food security. Besides, the families' nutrition is boosted significantly through well-diversified nutrition guaranteed by utilizing homegrown healthy foods.
In addition to fish farming, Ratidzo is looking forward to preserving her wealth by investing in livestock.
"Owning several cows is important for agricultural development. However, since a large amount of money is required for initial investment, it makes goats a viable alternative to preserve wealth", explains Ratidzo.
"I am very proud of this project because it has restored my dignity in this community. I no longer move around begging for foodstuffs but now provide for my family."
Saving time while saving the environment
Zimbabwe's forests continue to diminish due to the heavy usage of firewood in rural areas. Before celebrating her 61st birthday, sister Hlongwane has never imagined any other energy source than firewood which, together with her family of 9, collect from the nearby forests in Mwenezi District in Southern Zimbabwe. ZRBF is working to minimize the usage of firewood for domestic use by saving time and adopting an environmentally smart way of cooking.
"We use readily available water and fresh cow dung from the kraal as fuel for the biogas digester. The gas is ready after seven days, and the remains provide us with manure for our nutrition garden," she said.
Most chores such as fetching water and firewood are confined to women and girls, depriving them of opportunities to participate in other productive activities. Sister Hlongwane was grateful that now with access to alternative sources of fuel, members of her household have more time to participate in other activities.
On average, a family of 5 uses 7,5 kg of firewood for cooking per day, compared to only 1kg of methane using biogas, leading to a 21kg reduction of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.
"I have transitioned to gas and less firewood. My grandchildren no longer have to fetch firewood before going to school; they simply boil water and cook their food on the stove and pack into their lunch boxes", added Hlongwane, "I now have time to participate in Mukando (Village Saving and Lending Scheme). From my savings, I have managed to buy goats, chicken and kitchen utensils. We also continue to grow our cattle head of 19 not only for the dung for the gas but also to help us to pay school fees," happily said sister Hlongwane.