Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
A buzz cuts across a group of women sitting underneath a Musasa tree overlooking a cattle kraal that a few weeks before housed close to 20 cattle.
The group belongs to the Tayambuka Farmers Group, which recently delivered some of their cattle to a contractor in Marondera.
Loice Matandane (27)’s phone disturbs the meeting after she starts sharing a message she just received.
The message is a confirmation of money electronically transferred to her phone by the contractor as payment for the delivered cattle.
Messages start cutting across the group as each member checks their phone for confirmation with the excitement growing among members.
The money, running into hundreds of dollars, is only a part of what the members are receiving after each had earlier received cash for the delivery.
Matandane, a mother of three, believes joining the group was a masterstroke.
“I am now assured of a regular income, which in some cases is better than what my peers in urban centres get because of the rural set-up and the basics we require,” she said.
The Tayambuka Farmers Group in Ward 24 in Mutasa Rural District is one of the success stories coming out of Practical Action’s Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP).
The LSFP is part of the Improved Nutrition and Sustainable Production for Increased Resilience and Economic growth (INSPIRE) project funded by the UK’s Department of International Development and managed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Tayambuka Farmers Group chairperson Mrs Joice Murinda said the group, made up of 28 members including five men, was working against disunity while ensuring progress.
“We were working in small groups engaged in various projects from different areas in the district and we joined each other to form Tayambuka Farmers Group.
“We started by building the cattle pen for our cattle fattening project. We got a loan to buy the cattle before signing a contract with Surrey Abattoirs who provide stock feeds and a ready market.
“We later moved to traditional chicken and incubators. We also moved to broiler chicken where we got a contract to supply a local abattoirs in 2016.”
Another member, Mrs Mollyin Kamoto said the project had become more than a hobby but a source of income and empowerment for the locals.
“We have a challenge that rural folks are usually idle when we are off the agricultural season. I decided to join the farmers’ group to make sure I am active while not relying on hand-outs for income projects,” she said.
Village head Mr Noel Murinda, one of the five men in the group, believes such projects are necessary for the economic empowerment of rural communities.
“We have also received training in doing our books, co-operation and commitment to growing our business.”
The group plans to buy a stand at the local business centre to build a butchery where they can sell some of their produce to widen their income base and pay salaries for members.
They have also moved into aquaculture, building two ponds that have fish ready for harvesting around the festive season.
Meanwhile, in Makoni RDC’s Ward 32 in Headlands, a similar project where the Headlands Goat Breeders Association thrives, the transformation inspired by the project has been tremendous with members being turned from beggars to businesspeople.
The association’s president Mr Dickson Wecha has experienced this transformation which has spread across Zimbabwe.
“Over the years, residents in Headlands have been captured with the beggars’ syndrome where everyone was living on hand outs.
“Parents were failing to feed their families while relying on food-for-work programmes where they would get a bag of maize for food.”
The association, with an initial 80 members, started with two goats but today they supply breeding goats to areas such as Zvishavane, Bindura and Gokwe.
“We have members who were struggling to pay fees for their children but I can say, today, most of them have fees for their children already paid in advance.
“Our market is growing as our goats are in demand from all over Zimbabwe. We have expanded our operations to include boushveld chickens, where we breed for sale and incubation services for the chicken,” he said.
According to Practical Action’s Mr Henry Muchedzi, who is the LFSP project manager, the programme seeks to address constraints to productivity, market participation and the supply and demand of nutritious foods for smallholder farmers in selected districts.
“In Manicaland, the project is targeting to reach out to a revised target of 80 000 households in the three districts of Makoni (34 wards), Mutare (29 wards) and Mutasa (24 wards),” he said.
The implementing partners for the programme which started in 2010 are Practical Action, Sustainable Agriculture Technology and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.
The programme’s overall and specific objectives are increased incomes and reduced poverty in Zimbabwe and improved food and nutrition security for LFSP beneficiary farmers, respectively.
Some of the expected results include enhancing knowledge, practices and skills for smallholder farmers, increase agricultural production, promoting viable business models and diverse market information, increase access to rural finance and women empowerment.
The programme’s extension and advisory services reached a total of 69 241 smallholder farmers, of which 64 percent are women.
“The Manicaland cluster pursued a value chain development approach and was focusing on groundnuts, sugar beans, horticulture, seed crops, horticulture, seed crops, goats, beef cattle, indigenous chickens, coffee, broiler chickens, apiculture, aquaculture and paprika value chains mainstreaming gender, nutrition and markets.”
Mr Muchedzi said the programme invested in a lot of capacity building for farmers and public service extension staff contributing to widespread adoption of both crop and livestock technologies.
In the community-based microfinance and markets component of the programme, he said, it continued to strengthen the capacity of small holder farmers through intense financial literacy trainings and brokering linkages with other market actors.
“Platforms were established for farmers to meet with financial institutions (FIs) to find common grounds to do business on a win-win basis.
“INSPIRE has been facilitating engagements between five micro-finance finance institution and three banks which contributed to provision of private un-secured production credit to smallholder farmers in the three operational districts.
“This activity has been closely linked to the commodity groups and associations capacity building efforts by the programme in the form of a strong financial literacy training which was as an enabling mechanism for this engagement.”
The beneficiaries received a business oriented cost sharing model to support farmer group enterprises, entrepreneurs to increase local level market actors.
“This creates ownership of projects because the FGEs or entrepreneurs have a part to play in funding the business. A total of 34 groups benefited under the matching grants initiative paying approximately 39 percent and the remainder being paid by INSPIRE.”
The three operational districts for the INSPIRE consortium had a chronic malnutrition prevalence of 47.2 percent, 40.1 percent and 38.1 percent in Mutare, Mutasa and Makoni, respectively, at the onset of the programme.
Malnutrition in the three districts was also attributed to inadequate food intake, high rates of morbidity and inappropriate care practices.
“The lack of high impact integrated nutrition sensitive interventions was a key contribution to why these issues were not addressed.
“The INSPIRE consortium in the first phase of LFSP, used nutrition sensitive strategies to tackle malnutrition which included nutrition behaviour change communication and nutrition Sensitive Agriculture.
“Following the above initiatives, 63,007 farmers (63 percent female) were reached with LFSP nutrition information, including nutrition related behaviour change communication.
“This in addition to nutrition interventions implemented by other developmental partners has contributed towards the improvement of women 15-49 years and children’s (6-23 months) diets, with 50 percent of women and 20 percent of children achieving a minimum dietary diversity in 2018 in Manicaland.”
The highest child dietary diversity was recorded in Mutasa District at 39 percent while the project raised awareness among 48,133 smallholder farmers out of a targeted 81,600 on the production, processing and consumption of bio fortified varieties-iron and zinc enriched sugar beans and Provitamin A orange maize.
“This has resulted in significant improvements in household dietary diversity in the INSPIRE districts by 16 percent between 2016 and 2018 as revealed by the 2018 Crops and Livestock assessment,” Mr Muchedzi said.
He said INSPIRE farmers have embraced the methodology as a household empowerment tool that has facilitated joint planning, decision-making, sharing of work roles, knowledge, and proceeds from agricultural production.
This has also seen 354 gender champions being supported with Gender Action Learning Systems training guides.
These have also started utilising the manuals to facilitate GALS trainings to INSPIRE beneficiaries while Government officials have adopted the methodology and rolled it out to gender action groups.