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 container, separating out the nuts. Sometimes when I mean business I use a mortar and pestle to pound the fruit. The juice makes a delicious drink for my family. When I leave it for more than a day, it becomes beer, which I use to hire labour or sell to get a few dollars. I spread out the clean nuts just behind my hut and leave them to dry for a couple of weeks. I then place my 2 rocks on a clean sack, sit on my grass mat and crack the nuts, patiently plucking out the kernels. A day of cracking gives me enough money for at least 2 meals for my whole family; I’m proud to be such a business woman.” Vongai’s life changed for the better when she began cracking nuts from the local marula trees and selling kernels. She manages to pay school fees and buy books for her 3 children now. She also bought 3 goats, blankets, kitchen pots and even built a better house with zinc roofing. “I’m planning to build another house to rent out after the next season. I am now a homeowner with plans for expansion, which will generate more money. I have learnt that it is important to preserve marula trees for the women who come after me.”
Nelia (58), Marinda Village, Mwenezi district, used to grow vegetables, but never had enough to buy food for her 5 grandchildren. In 2014, she started selling marula kernels. With the money she can now buy food, pay for school fees and even shoes and school uniforms. “BIZ taught us to put value in marula kernels that we thought were valueless. We are a resettled family and we did not enjoy homemade marula butter so much and we had a hard time surviving on it. Now we can sell kernels and buy our favourite peanut butter!”