MRS Evelyn Mpofu, from Buhera District in Manicaland Province carefully ploughs the soil in her vegetable garden, with the aim to make her vegetables thrive.
She was encouraged to start gardening in 2019, when her husband fell ill and there was no one else to support her family. As an illiterate woman, she had always been a homemaker.
With no skills to earn an income, Mrs Mpofu was supported by the Self Help Development Foundation (SHDF) to start a vegetable garden. She was given monthly training on gardening, which has enabled her to run her small-scale garden effectively and changed her from an unskilled woman to an independent producer, earning to support her family.
“I have learned a lot, like how to prepare the land for cultivation, and when and how to irrigate. Also, the project has given me some equipment to help me do my work,” said Mrs Mpofu.
In addition, she receives different kinds of vegetable seeds, like spinach, onion, tomato, and lettuce, from SHDF. She cultivates vegetables throughout the seasons on her farmland.
“Our household needs are met by my gardening. I sell the extra vegetables to the market and buy other family needs,” said Mrs Mpofu.
Over a dozen other women also benefit from SHDF activities where Mrs Mpofu lives. These women grow vegetables on the small pieces of land around their homes, which they had never thought could yield them an income. Now these small plots of land provide nutritious food and an income.
These vegetable gardens come with a lot of advantages for the women. Firstly through vegetable gardens, the women do not need to invest a lot of money to grow their vegetable products. They can make their own fertiliser out of organic materials, which they can get from their surroundings. They can also improvise their own alternative for pesticide and use it without exposing their products to harmful chemicals.
Also vegetables provide them with income where in some instances their crops sometimes fail due to climate change.
Mrs Mpofu and other women in Buhera are just an example of the many women who are benefiting through vegetable gardens. Vegetable gardens are a time-tested local strategy that is widely adopted and practised in various circumstances by local communities with limited resources and institutional support. It is evident from literature that gardens are a part of the agriculture and food production systems in many developing countries and are widely used as a remedy to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in the face of a global food crisis.
Research indicates that the vast majority of hungry and malnourished people live in developing countries under sub-standard living conditions and over half a billion of the global population suffer from chronic food insecurity.
With the global population expected to reach over nine billion by 2050, there will be a continuous need to increase food production and buffer stocks to meet the growing demand and efficiently cope with volatilities in food production and prices.
It has also been projected that global food production will need to increase by 70 percent in order to meet the average daily caloric requirement of the world’s population in 2050.
Moreover, the need for interventions are stressed as the resources available for food production — including land, water, labour and credit — are becoming scarce and costly. The drive for agricultural innovation is further convoluted by the growing issues of climate change and natural resource degradation.
In Zimbabwe, half of the population is engaged in agriculture and agriculture is a key sector to lift women out of poverty. But the increasing degradation of land and natural resources caused by climate change is leaving most women unable to carry out their gardening projects.
To combat the negative impact of climate change on women’s livelihoods strategies are required to address the issue of food production and food security.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) vegetable production can grow with proper interventions from both Government and private investors as they have already proven their capability to meet localised needs.
“Climate change and the accompanying reduced rainfall and dry spells has dealt a huge blow to horticultural production, most of which rely either on surface and underground water. The water sources have become unreliable and no longer able to sustain crop production throughout the year as in the past. There is thus need to ensure availability of reliable water through drilling of boreholes and well as construction of dams and weirs where feasible,” said Fao in a statement.
SHDF, for example is helping local producers adapt to these new challenges by supporting gardening initiatives under its Green Enterprise and Business Development Programme (GEBDP). SHDF works with farmers to access information on latest advances in agriculture and increases the value of their products by improving their conservation methods.
Speaking to Chronicle in a telephone interview, SHDF communications officer, Mrs Vongai Matonhodze, explained how they work to capacitate women farmers.
“We train women on conservation agricultural practices so that they get better yields in their gardens. We also supply them with appropriate technologies in their farming enterprises for example if they need solar-powered water pumps we supply those. We have invested a complete irrigation system for the group, drilling a borehole and providing irrigation pipes and tanks for them. We also facilitate market linkages for them. We link them with sustainable markets for their produce,” said Mrs Matonhodze.
She added: “Our enterprise work is not supposed to harm the environment and the livelihood of people around us so we really consider looking at the social and environmental impact of activities being done. Value-addition should not result in irresponsible waste disposal which pollutes the environment, so our aim is to empower women with green jobs.”
In Buhera alone, GEBDP is targeting at empowering over 7 500 people in all the six wards.
Mrs Matonhodze said another major objective of the program is to improve sustainable livelihood and food security for rural women and young people.
“Through GEBDP we are aiming for productive and decent work for women and rural youth through on and off farm enterprise development in the areas of agriculture, renewable energy and housing so that they can be fully empowered,” she said.
In 2019, the Government established the Zimbabwe Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment and Promotion project (ZIM-SHEP), with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which is expected to boost production and improve livelihoods of people in farming communities and contribute towards the realisation of the national vision of a middle income economy by 2030.
According to the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Resettlement, smallholder farmers are the country’s major horticulture producers and ZIM-SHEP is designed to assist these farmers with specialised skills and also help with access to markets.