In Silobela village, Kwekwe district, central Zimbabwe, mongongo kernels are the new cash crop for communities. More than 150 individuals now sell kernels to Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe. Thembelani Sibanda, 39, from Mpinda Community, was facing serious economic hardships, having to rely on her husband’s erratic income from firewood sales for the family’s needs. Mongongo fruits are well known in her area. In addition to making cooking oil from the nuts, Thembelani is also experienced at turning the pulp from the fruit into a tasty beer or porridge during times of drought. She is amazed at how much money can also be made from the accessible and abundant fruits! From her first batch of shelled nuts, Thembelani made USD 267 which covered school fees for her 5 children and paid for a bicycle for her youngest son who has to cycle 7km to and from school daily. As the crops failed this year again due to lack of rains, Thembelani’s mongongo earnings also provided enough money to buy 6 bags of grain for the family. Thembelani proudly notes that since she now contributes to the family’s income, her husband accepts her decisions.
Silobela is an agricultural village in Kwekwe district. That part of the district falls in Agricultural Region 4. Due to dwindling amounts of rainfall in the past decade, crop outputs have worsened further and the people have adopted gold panning as a common income generating activity. Despite the diminishing rains, wild trees, such as the Manketti tree and the Wild Plum, still fruit very well. Melons, both cultivated and wild, also grow well. Elizabeth is a 68-year-old widow taking care of a family of 9 in Mpinda ward. She used to sell garden vegetables in her neighbourhood. However, the income would only allow her to pay for milling of a bag of maize for her family. Melons are a common, abundant crop in Silobela, such that no one sells them to anyone. Farmers eat them and feed their livestock on them. Amazingly, they grow and fruit well when there is less rain. Selling wild melon seed was something new to everyone in the village. Elizabeth sold 35kgs of melon seed to BIZ after a training a few months earlier. With the money she paid for clearing of more land to plant more melons in the next season, bought grain to supplement her food reserves for the family, paid school fees and bought clothes for her grandchildren. She is planning to sell many more seeds after the next rainy season so that she can buy grain for food instead of trying to farm it which always fails because the rains haven’t been good in the past few years.
“I bought 3 goats as an investment” Jesca lives in Ward 16 in Chivi. The area has been receiving less and less rain over the years. Farmers have resorted to planting small grains, although some still customarily stick to growing maize which has been dwindling in productivity over the years. “I joined the Natural Resources Production Cooperative 6 years ago to make money to look after my 7 children and 4 grandchildren since my husband is not employed. Through the cooperative, I sell vegetables from my garden, marula kernels, Zumbani leaves and resurrection bush tea.” “Resurrection bush is the most rewarding. I spend less time on it because the production is straightforward. And this last time, the price went up 5 times! (BIZ was contacted by a South-African-Swiss company looking for 1 tonne of resurrection bush plant material for use as ornamentals and for extract production.) I managed to sell 500kgs. With some of the money, I bought 3 she-goats as an investment. I will let them reproduce to sell the kids and pay for the secondary school education of my grandchildren. My grandchildren are almost of the same age so they will need school fees, uniforms and books at the same time, so goat selling will be a great business to enable me to cover the expenses.” “I thank BIZ for finding this new market for us. I am a grateful businesswoman who is keen to learn more business ideas around our local natural resources and also to keep these resources for future generations.”
The Mbofana family of Pawandiwa village, Nyamhanza B ward 18, Mutoko district, is a very large family comprising of 11 members. The family is headed by Agnes Mbofana who is a widow aged 67 with 4 children and 6 grandchildren. They own 4 hectares of land. CADS trained farmers including Mbofana family members on organic farming and conservation agriculture, where farmers practise minimum soil disturbance, permanent soil cover, crop rotation and high crop management standards. Mrs. Mbofana had this to say about her organic grain amaranth production: “Before the season started we had no inputs at all, in fact we had no money to even buy seed or fertilisers. In the rural areas it’s very difficult to get money. The organic farming programme came to our rescue. We used only compost, which is inexpensive. There is no use of inorganic fertilisers at all.” “Because of the time and dedication we as a family put into our farming we managed to grow 0.2 ha of grain amaranth, 1.5 ha of maize, 0.5 ha of groundnuts and 0.3 ha of cowpeas. Of all the crops, grain amaranth did best. “Our yield could have been even better if it was not for the long dry spells and then incessant rains which caused leaching of nutrients. We managed to sell 160kg of amaranth grain. With the money I bought building materials for my 2-roomed house which is now under construction. Grain amaranth organic farming has rewarded me with a better house. With the hope that the coming seasons will be good, we will be able to fend for ourselves. We are a good example of how a project can uplift the standards of life of rural people. We urge [...]
Chivi and Mwenezi lie in south-central Zimbabwe. It is a semi-arid area; annual rainfall is low (around 500-600 mm) and erratic, and soils are poor and prone to erosion. Although considered unsuitable for dry land cropping, smallholder farmers grow drought-tolerant varieties of maize, sorghum, pearl and finger millet, and some cash crops such as cotton, groundnuts and round nuts. Often harvests are inadequate. The key to food security is the capacity of households to earn enough cash to purchase food throughout the year. The opportunities for employment are varied. They include local casual work, seasonal farm work for better-off households, farm work on plantations and estates, and temporary or permanent jobs in the mines in the area, or towns within Zimbabwe and South Africa. A number of rivers provide irrigation, gold panning and some fishing opportunities. Nonetheless, this is an area of chronic poverty and food insecurity. There is an abundance of marula trees in Chivi and Mwenezi though! Marula grows in the driest, remotest and least agriculturally productive areas of Zimbabwe. Wherever it grows, it is venerated and preserved by local people for the abundance and reliable harvest of its edible fruits. BIZ has been partnering with local women in Chivi and Mwenezi since 2012, helping them add value to the fruits and find markets for their products. They receive training on how to collect marula fruit, decorticate the nut, extract marula oil, and produce marula nut butter. Vongai (39) from ward 16 in Chivi district joined the project at the start. She explains: “I wake up early to pick freshly fallen fruit, probably all from 1 tree. Once home, I remove the yellow skin and squeeze the juice into a [...]
“I lived a life of working for other people, getting paid with food and second hand clothes. This would not give me any money for other responsibilities such as other groceries that needed to be bought and education. Remittances from my husband in South Africa would not be enough for the welfare of the family. I also had no time to spend with my children since I worked away from home all day. Since I joined the BIZ marula project, cracking nuts and selling kernels, I no longer depend on my husband’s income. I can now buy food and clothes for the family and even pay school fees. I also spend most of my time with my children while cracking nuts under a tree.”
“I gave my 3 children a chance to go back to school…” “My children needed to go back to school since they had not done well and that was a complete nightmare for me because taking them to school in the first place was a struggle with the little money I got from selling vegetables. I also used to cross the border to sell roasted peanuts and buy clothes for resale back home but the returns were never enough... Then I joined BIZ’s herbal teas project, picking Zumbani leaves early in the year and resurrection bush leaves during the dry months. Selling my produce gave my 3 children the chance to go back to school. I can buy books and school uniforms for them. I also bought a goat for keeping and I hope it will reproduce soon, so that I can supplement my income by selling goat meat”
Mudzi district is situated in the north east of Zimbabwe, on the border with Mozambique. Average annual rainfall is typically under 700mm. Farmers grow maize, small grains such as sorghum and millet, groundnuts, bambara nuts (round nuts), cowpeas and vegetables, mainly tomatoes and leafy vegetables. The area is suitable for livestock production and many households own goats and chicken. Many farmers try to earn an income with cotton production. But the continuously fluctuating price of cotton makes it very difficult for them to plan whether or not to devote their land and efforts to this crop. Mrs. Chiruvo, her husband and 5 children stay in ward 13 in Mudzi district. Grain amaranth was introduced in her area in the 2013-14 farming season. Mrs. Chiruvo attended regular training meetings on its cultivation and received 250g of seed which she planted in a 0.25ha plot. She says “While the crop was growing, I regularly harvested fresh leaves from the plants and fed them as a relish to my family. I also managed to dry a bag of leaves. I will cook those when fresh vegetables become scarce in the village. My family and I enjoy this delicious vegetable.” Mrs. Chiruvo harvested 135kg of grain; she sold 115kg and kept the rest to try out new recipes, some for seed in the next season and also gave some to her neighbours who now also want to grow the grain. She made USD115 from the grain sold. “I was amazed, considering the small size of the plot under amaranth! I used part of the money to pay school fees for my children and also bought inputs for the next rainy season.” She is encouraging her relatives and friends to [...]