The Sunday Mail
Mbire and Chiredzi are two districts that lie at extreme ends of the country, the former due to the north-west and the other in the opposite direction, to the south-east of the country.
Despite lying in extremely opposite geographical locations, residents of the two districts face almost the same climatic challenges – hot weather, erratic water supplies (and saline-tasting, if available), not-so consistent rainfall patterns, rugged terrain (which means infrastructural development has lagged behind) and poor yields, which in turn contribute to various nutritional challenges.
But the communities have not let the adverse climatic conditions affect their self-belief as they have resolved to tackle them head-on.
Fighting these challenges from a household level through to community structures, the people of Mbire and Chiredzi have given resilience-building a new face.
“There are so many shocks that these residents have to endure,” explained Ms Sekai Janga, the programme manager for Lower Guruve Development Association (LGDA), the main implementing partner for most of the community-based projects being undertaken in Mbire district.
“So what we have done is to teach the communities to be proactive and be ready for such shocks, rather than wait for disaster to strike and then react. A visit to any of the wards in this district will show that each community is involved in some form of activity that mitigates against any eventual shock, the most common being hunger.
“Our immediate concern is to make sure that all households are food-secure and there are a number of variables that help to achieve food security.
“For example, we are helping in the construction of the bridge in Ward 17 on the Tsinza Splash. This bridge is a vital cog when it comes to accessing markets, either when selling or buying. Without the bridge, communities suffer, especially during the coming rainy season when they cannot travel to Mushumbi Pools, their nearest shopping centre, either to sell their stored, excess produce or to buy necessities.”
Across the country, in Chiredzi, the Food and Nutrition Council has been busy with community-based models in tackling nutritional challenges. Lloyd Chadzingwa, the advocacy and communication officer for the Food and Nutrition Council said it is very deliberate that communities are involved from initiating, planning and implementing their interventions, more importantly for ownership and secondly because they know which interventions suit their challenges the most.
“As the Food and Nutrition Council, our role is primarily an oversight one, we help with co-ordination, capacity development and assessments based on the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee reports. Where necessary, we provide training assistance and resources so that communities are well-informed to tackle some of the challenges that they might have,” said Chadzingwa.
Because of the aforementioned climatic challenges afflicting Chiredzi, stunting was one of the main problems that was identified in the district and there have been several interventions since 2015 that have been undertaken to tackle the problem.
According to the World Health Organisation, stunting is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psycho-social stimulation. To counter it, interventions are usually undertaken in the first 1 000 days of a child’s life, meaning from pregnancy up to two years.
“So when we address stunting, we are not just looking at the child but at the mother as well, her physical and emotional well-being, her nutrition, up to that of the child. And the interventions that are implemented will have to take care of all these factors,” explained Chadzingwa.
Chiredzi is not a homogenous district as its residents come from different cultural and historical backgrounds and therefore the Food and Nutrition Council has left the communities, where community projects are undertaken, to lead in the identification of the projects which they deem relevant to their concerns.
This has seen the adoption of nutritional gardens, fisheries, yoghurt-making ventures, orchards, dairy projects, poultries, piggeries and cattle-rearing projects.
“The idea is to let the communities identify their needs first, and then look for solutions using resources that are within their reach. There will be no point in asking a community to adopt a fishery when it does not have a water resource because water is a key component of such a project,” explained Chadzingwa.
In Mbire, whilst the LGDA uses the same community-based model, the success or failure of such projects hinge on the availability of water, a realisation that forced the residents of Bwazi in Ward 9 to embark on building a weir.
“The main objective is to help build resilience within communities and for the residents of Bwazi they reckoned that without water, they might not achieve much in resilience-building, hence the starting point was the construction of this weir,” said Ms Janga.
Whilst the LGDA provided material like reinforcement steel and cement, the local community provided the labour for the construction of the weir, labour which they were even paid for.
Prime Mamera Kadzingatsanga, the vice secretary of the Bwazi Weir project, said they kept a daily register of those who turn up for work. Each household is expected to clock 60 hours per month, split into four hours per day, thus a maximum of 15 days per month.
“That arrangement,” explained Kadzingatsanga, “is because we appreciate that people have their personal errands to run. At the end of the month, for the 60 hours, each household gets a ration of food, which includes a 50kg bag of cereal, 10kg of either peas or beans and four litres of cooking oil.”
Whilst LGDA has been involved in resilience-building within the Mbire community for a number of years, especially during the lean seasons, this year the not-for-profit organisation is helping close to 2 000 households to ensure food security.
“Besides, we commit a lot of money towards non-food items like cement, roofing material for dip tanks, reinforcement steel and water storage tanks,” further explained Ms Janga.
For the two districts whose temperatures hover around the 30 degrees Celsius range during hot months, the people of Mbire and Chiredzi fight similar climatic conditions in much the same manner, all for the common cause of building food-secure and resilient communities.