Zimbabwe: Rural Women Adopt Small Grains to Mitigate Climate Change Effects

30 September 2020

Grappling with hunger and food insecurity is one of the major challenges that global communities, and Zimbabwe in particular, have been experiencing since the 1990s.

In 2016, Zimbabwe declared a state of emergency as drought caused crop failures across the country, rendering many communities vulnerable and food-insecure.

Earlier in the year, the World Food Program said estimates show that more than four (4) million Zimbabweans are likely to be food insecure at the end of the year and launched an urgent appeal to raise US$250 million for food acquisition.

This has necessitated a group of rural women in Mashonaland Central province to embark on a small grain farming project in an effort to mitigate climate changes induced hunger which is threatening more than four million people in the country.

With assistance from the Institute for Young Women's Development (IYWD), the group has been on a mission to improve the dietary needs of their families as well as earn a living from small grains.

One of the smallholder farmers in Shamva District, Tambudzai Kasukuwere, a school dropout who took up the challenge to grow the crops, says the community suffers from low incomes and standards of living, as well as poor nutrition, housing and health.

This is aggravated by the fact that there is usually very little rainfall in the District.

"I love what I do because besides getting all the nutrients from these small grains, I have managed to monetize my passion. I'm not only growing grains but I'm growing money. There is good health from these grains and that's what most people do not know.

"However, what must be known is that this is that due to low rainfall in the area, it is very difficult to grow the traditional cash crops we are used to. Climate change has had a huge negative impact on our society and unfortunately, many people failed to adapt to the changes hence they are now feeling the pinch. Let's adopt climate change measures which will ensure that we are able to live off our passions," Kasukuwere said on the sidelines of a Seed Fare in Guruve recently.

She ultimately won the competition, beating 21 other participants in the process.

Drought resistant crops such as sorghum, pearl millet, cowpeas and groundnuts have become extremely important to the local community.

This is because of the fact that they act as both food and cash crops, which enables smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change and variability and attain sustainable livelihoods.

They have been noted as staple food grains in many semi-arid and tropical areas of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, because of their good adaptation to harsh environments and their good yields of production.

However, in Zimbabwe, little progress has been made in adopting them. Of late, there have been deliberate efforts by the government and traditional as well community leaders to push farmers, particularly small scale ones, to start growing the grains.

Herdman Tendai Chiveso under Chief Musana in the Mashonaland Province says her community has benefited from various programs meant to capacitate women which induced the one by IYWD to impart knowledge on drought-resistant crops.

"Before such programs, we did not know that we could actually shift from the usual cash crops and move to small grains. Ever since we started these programs, we have not looked back. Now we can grow sugar beans, sorghum, finger millet and rapoko.

"These crops are not only healthy but also benefit us financially because we no longer have to use a lot of money to get fertilizers for our crops which are lacking enough water due to climate change. We just plant and forget because there is not much effort needed," she said.

Herdman Chiveso has also been on the forefront to use her office to encourage more women to take up their space in farming, which has traditionally been a preserve for men.

"If you go back in history, small grains were reserved for women because they were looked down upon while the men got the cash crops like tobacco, maize and cotton. Tables have turned now, we are able to maximize on this opportunity," she added.

Small grains have the potential to contribute towards the food security of many of the world's poorest and most food-insecure agro-ecological zones. This can be achieved through increasing production and productivity of these crops in such agro-ecological zones.

Small grains like sorghum and finger millet have proved to have a high percentage of availability. For instance, finger millet when properly dried can be stored for a period of up to five years or more.

This promotes its availability and therefore strengthens the food security status in the district.

For IYWD, an organisation that promotes women's voices in marginalized communities, they have been on a deliberate ploy to encourage young women farmers to also engage in small grains farming using traditional methods.

For their pilot project in the Mashonaland province, they targeted young women from four districts in Mashonaland Province including Guruve, Mazowe, Shamva and Bindura.

The organisation's Knowledge Management, Documentation and Advocacy Officer, Tinotenda Chihera said the annual Seed Fare is an opportunity for the young women to showcase their organic food production.

She noted that the fare is an exchange of information between young women in various districts but with a common goal.

"It's more like a sister to sister exchange. If we look at our climate now, we have had a series of droughts in SADC and in particular Zimbabwe and that means we have had a lot of climate change and we as young women have answered to that call and also amending the way that we farm.

"We are now focusing on our small grains that are drought resistant and this means that even when we have low rainfall, we will have a bumper harvest and that means we can still sell some of the products which means that young women have something to live off," Chihera said.

She added that there is need to change the perception that only men can make money from farming as women can and are doing it.

"For a long time we have been told that money matters and men matter but we are changing that narrative and saying money matters and women also matter hence we are selling the product to produce money," she noted.

Chihera added that the move is aimed at supporting the government's effort in sustainable agriculture and are also pushing for feminist economics which entails the inclusion of women in monetary economics.

Climate ChangeInstitute of Young Women Development (IYWD)Rural Women

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