Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
MRS Sheila Mashamatate from Gokwe South’s Ward 16 is a hypertension and diabetes patient who requires about US$20 to buy medication every month.
For years, every day she would also worry about putting food on the table to feed her grandchildren as well as her husband, Mr Musiiwa Mashamatate who has also been not feeling well for some time.
It has been the woman’s duty to look after the family from food to clothing and school fees for her grandchildren, something that proved to be an uphill task.
Things changed for the better in 2018 when she was introduced to the concept of drying her fruits and vegetables at her homestead as a way of value addition and launching a commercial enterprise.
Every year, she has abundant mangoes, sweet sorghum, pumpkins and spider-wisp which were going to waste as she didn’t have any means of preserving them.
She said she would sell as much as possible but mangoes would soon rot under her watch, much to her disappointment.
A team from the Food and Nutrition Council under the Office of the President and Cabinet was in Gokwe South District recently to assess the community’s involvement in food and nutrition security initiatives when they witnessed Mrs Mashamatate’s success story.
Mrs Mashamatate said in 2018 she met officers from Welthungerhilfe under the programme extension and training for rural agriculture who introduced her to the concept of a solar dryer.
A solar dryer has a fan, powered by a photovoltaic solar panel. The fan circulates pre-warmed air over the trays of produce and expels moisture from the drying chamber in a process that preserves the food quickly and efficiently.
“So, the obvious solution is to preserve your food when you have it in abundance, and drying with the sun is one of the easiest, most energy-efficient ways to do so. It also maintains a lot more of the original nutrients than canning or freezing,” she said.
Mrs Mashamatate said for two years now, she has not been begging for money for her medication and that of her husband as she realises revenue from the sale of dried fruits and vegetables.
She said she realises about US$150 per month from selling dried fruits and vegetables, eggs and chickens as well.
“I am a BP (hypertension) and sugar (diabetes) patient and I can’t survive without my lisinopril and insulin. I used to struggle to raise about US$20 a month for the medication and transport to and from Gokwe centre.
But since I started utilising my solar dryer, life has changed for me and my family. We eat healthy food in and out of season all the time. I realise about US$150 a month from the dried fruits and vegetables and eggs and chickens,” she said.
Mrs Mashamatate said she takes some of the dried fruits and vegetables to Gokwe Centre and sometimes to Kwekwe for sale.
She said she is sending her grandchildren to primary and secondary school from money realised from using the solar dryer as well as selling chickens.
“I have eight mouths to feed every day and we are managing under the circumstances and I urge other farmers to take on drying their fruits and vegetables.
If it wasn’t for Covid-19, I was supposed to have gone to Zimbabwe Agricultural Show to exhibit and I know that I was going to earn some more money. Covid-19 has also affected travelling with my products to the markets but I am still managing to sell in my village,” said Mrs Mashamatate.
Mr Mashamatate said the solar dryer was working wonders for his family.
“We are getting by and maintaining our family and eating healthy every day. We also realise money from the dried products,” he said.
Gokwe South Nutritionist under the Ministry of Health and Child Care Miss Takudzwa Tiengane urged farmers to always consider value addition.
She said using some dried products for home consumption is recommended for a healthy family.
“Drying products is recommended as it is part of value addition. Farmers are also encouraged to put some products to the market and be food secure,” she said.
Miss Tiengane said drying fruits and vegetables assists in reducing food waste.
“Instead of having excess fruits and vegetables being thrown away we can dry and store for later use. Also, it will assist in ensuring food and nutrition security throughout the year especially when we are looking at fruits and vegetables as most of them are seasonal. So, with drying we will be able to have them throughout the year,” she said.
Gokwe South District agriculture extension officer Mr Simon Gumindoga said the district has a population of about 300 000 people.
On average, he said they need about 44 000 tonnes of cereals for everyone, hence initiatives by the Mashamatate family were reducing demand for food aid from Government and other non-governmental organisations.
“This is a welcome development for this family and the community at large because the Government is advocating for a food secure country coming from the household. Solar dryers add value to fruits and vegetables contributing to nutrition of a food secure community,” he said.