Nkosilathi Sibanda, Chronicle Correspondent
THE talk of normal to above normal rains this cropping season brought relief to thousands of smallholder farmers in the semi-arid Hwange District.
The prospects of good farming season however, brought with it a new challenge to Chezhou, Jambezi and Lumbora farmers as most of them have no farming implements such as ox-drawn ploughs.
Most of the families’ breadwinners used to work for the tourism industry which used to contribute about 40 percent of the household sustenance. Most of them are now out of employment as a result of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic which hit the tourism sector hard.
The families as such found it difficult to adequately prepare for the cropping season despite having information that Zimbabwe, like the rest of Southern Africa, will receive normal to above normal rains this cropping season.
A leading tourism player, African Walk Safaris has since come to the rescue of the farmers in the district. The owner of the company, Mr Kaz Dube said the company resolved to assist the farmers with the farming implements so that they benefit from the good rains this cropping season.
He said providing farming implements to the families will not only empower them but would make them realise the importance of conserving wildlife.
Mr Dube said they will explain to the villagers that the resources being used to provide them with farming implements such as ox-drawn ploughs are coming from wildlife hence the need for them to assist in protecting the flora and fauna.
“African Safari Walks launched a Community Plough back programme this December where we are distributing ox-drawn ploughs to smallholder farmers so that they fully benefit from the expected good rains this season,” said Mr Dube.
He said the aim was to ensure that each family gets at least an ox-drawn plough.
“The first beneficiaries are African Safari Walks employees but at the end of the day all members of the community will benefit as they will share the ploughs. The company on its part will ensure the ploughs are well looked after so that they can last,” said Mr Dube.
He said his company was ploughing back to the community proceeds from its tourism business and expects the community to reciprocate by assisting in protecting wildlife.
“We are ensuring that the tourism dollar benefits the communities who for generations have been the custodians of our wildlife. I come from a nearby local community in Jambezi and I understand the importance of farming and living off the land. This programme was designed to assist farmers increase production by availing tools for use,” said Mr Dube.
He said his company will not just dump the ploughs but will assist in the maintenance of the ploughs.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) spokesperson Mr Godfrey Koti commended the company for its commitment in ensuring that communities benefit from its tourism business.
“Certainly this is a good initiative that must be emulated by other players in the tourism industry. We want to commend the company for empowering communities using proceeds from its tourism business. Beneficiaries of this programme will obviously appreciate the importance of conserving wildlife,” he said.
Community leaders in rural Hwange hailed the programme which they said will empower them and enable them to be productive.
The communities meant to benefit are adjacent to the vast Hwange National Park where there is rampant poaching. It is hoped that now that the villagers are benefiting from the wildlife proceeds, they will assist in fighting poaching.
Mr Mazare Nyoni, a village head in Jambezi said it was about time that they got back to the fields with confidence.
“This is a blessing as most of us had nothing to use in the fields. Our people are grateful for such an assistance. We have the skills and now it is time to be serious with farming given that we expect good rains,” he said.
An elated Mr Mishek Masuku from Chezhou Village said what was pleasing was that under the programme villagers will share the ploughs so everyone will be empowered.
“What African Safari Walks has done was to teach our people how to share. Some of us have over the years been failing to adequately prepare for planting due to lack of farming implements,” he said.