Enhancing food and livelihoods security
of vulnerable communities in drought-prone areas of Zimbabwe
This three-year project aims to enhance the food and livelihood security of vulnerable communities in drought prone areas of the country through increasing practical opportunities for improved food production and livelihoods in rural Gwanda, Matobo, Bulilima and Mangwe districts in the vast semi-arid Matabeleland South Province.
The province experiences worst food deficits as it falls under agro-ecological region 5, characterised by low and erratic rainfall, averaging 350 mm annually.
The project targets vulnerable socio-economic groups including poor women, men, children and those infected or affected by HIV and AIDS.
The core elements of the project include the following:
- Sustainable food production and agricultural innovation.
- Small livestock production.
- Natural resource management and opportunities for value addition.
- HIV and AIDS and gender mainstreaming.
- Community based approaches and extension systems
- Documentation and policy influencing
Integrated and participatory initiatives to increase local resilience and coping mechanisms will be used. Through community based planning (CBP), the project will identify, adapt and disseminate sustainable food security and livelihoods technologies and approaches appropriate to the needs and priorities of the target groups. Training and extension support will also be provided to mainstream participatory approaches by other extension support organisations so as to make them more responsive to the needs and priorities of vulnerable households.
Smallholder Farmers’ Dryland Food Security Project
Contrary to common prejudice and belief, much of technology adaptation is done in the communities by communities and in some cases, new technology is conceived there.
One such technology that has seen successful community level adaptation and improvement is the Dead Level Contour concept. Dead Level Contours (DLCs) are an adaptation of the colonial times contour ridge, which was designed primarily to divert run - off water from the fields. Instead of channeling water away from the field, the purpose of DLCs is to collect run - off water and store it. The water will then slowly percolate into the field on either side of the contour and provide vital moisture to the field over a period of time. The success of the DLC is dependent on its ability to hold on to moisture longer than the rest of the field. This however, presents a challenge in areas with sandy soils and where seepage is high. Soils in Gwanda district in Zimbabwe’s Matabeleland South Province are not only sandy - the areas receives very low rainfall ranging between 300 and 500mm per annum.
Building from the lessons of one of its most successful projects – the Chivi Food Security Project, in neighbouring Masvingo Province, Practical Action Southern Africa has been working with the smallholder farmers in Gwanda’s Ward 17 since 2003. Initially, from 2003 to 2005, the organisation worked on the Gwanda Community - Based Natural Resources Management and Sustainable Livelihoods Project, followed by the current Enhancing Food and Livelihood Security in Drought Prone Areas of Zimbabwe Project, initiated in 2006. The focus of both projects is similar:, improving the livelihoods and food security of communities in drought prone areas.
The work is focusing on soil and water conservation through in-field rainwater harvesting technologies – dead level contours, infiltration pits and low-cost rainwater storage facilities.
Having carefully studied the characteristics of their soils, the women and men of Ward 17 decided to introduce some innovation. They realised that not only did they have a challenge of low rainfall and poor soils, but also of very high temperatures. As a rersponse to this challenge,they introduced the rammed earth concept to the construction of DLCs. They started to introduce clay to the DLC which they would ram to reduce water permeability. Instead of leaving the contour open as is conventional, they also decided to cover them to reduce moisture losses through evaporation.
Now known as the Manama Infield Rainwater Harvesting Storage Facility, this facility is also used as a compost digester during the winter periods. The advantages of doing this is that the compost is done within the field making it less labour intensive when spreading the manure in the field.
With extra moisture available from the rainwater harvesting techniques employed, approximately 1,500 participating farmers in the ward have diversified their crops from sorghum, the main crop grown by the farmers, to maize, groundnuts, pumpkins, beans, watermelons and cowpeas.
Mrs. Anna Ndlovu, a 42 year old mother of eight, is one of the participating farmers. Part of a 12 member group called “Siyazama” (We are trying), she has been involved in the water harvesting and soil conservation initiatives since 2004.
The project focuses on people's active participation to identify and manage their own development. Since the project began, they have seen a positive difference in crop yields.
As a result of the technology, during the 2006 – 2007 agricultural season, Mrs. Ndhlovu managed to harvest 450kg of millet, 350kg of sorghum and 300kg of ground nuts from her 4,5hectare plot.
“We started rainwater harvesting to sustain our crops after receiving training from Practical Action Southern Africa in 2004”, said Mrs. Ndlovu.
With eight children to feed and school fees to pay, the Ndlovu family depended on livestock to sell in times of crisis. When the great drought of 1991/2 devastated their livestock, they became more dependent on their crops for survival.
But, the land was dry and unproductive. The family recognised the need to improve and adapt their farming methods and techniques. They attended community workshops and learnt how to conserve water, and tried new varieties of drought tolerant seeds.
She added: “Before, we would till the same hectarage, but because of poor rains, we frequently harvested very little, insufficient to last a year and we could only survive on buying food from the proceeds of selling livestock and through remittances from relatives living in urban areas”.
The Manama In-field Rainwater Harvesting Storage Facility is enabling farmers in Gwanda district’s Ward 17 to plan for, and cope with, natural disasters such as drought, and diversify strategies for sustainable livelihoods.
Formerly ‘waste lands’ have become productive fields giving farmers a worthwhile investment of their time in dryland farming.
From the Gwanda experience, the project is scaling up, with positive ripple effects and greater impact within the province. Similar projects have already been started in Matobo, Bulilima and Mangwe districts.
Written by Thembinkosi Nyathi
This article appeared in the March 2008 edition of Appropriate Initiatives
This project is part of Practical Action Southern Africa's Reducing Vulnerability programme.