For Dadirai Mawanza, 42, the real problem was getting her kids to eat vegetables.
Such a statement conjures the image of a toddler throwing broccoli on the floor or eating around anything green on the plate. Like any mom, you can assume Dadirai faced this, but the real challenge was getting access to healthy fruits and veggies in the first place. She is quick to note that she and her husband were able to ensure their five kids never went hungry. Still, she worried about their nutrition. Dadirai says others were not quite as fortunate as her. During a drought, families would need to cut back on meals. Lack of rainfall would mean limited water for livestock or produce, harming health and livelihoods alike.
Issues faced in this community in Bikita district, Masvingo province are not unique to southern Zimbabwe. Residents here say climate change is very real. And it’s making things worse. A few years back, members of Dadirai’s community came together to identify some of the issues they were facing. At the top of the list was limited and irregular rainfall, which could devastate harvests and impact their access to healthy food to eat or sell. Lack of water also killed off livestock, only worsening the situation for families.
CARE worked together with community members and district officials to find a way to help make better use of limited water supply as a starting point to address these additional effects. Starting in June 2016, thanks to the support of CARE’s donors, work began to construct a dam. Fast forward two years later and this work is complete. The dam is over seven-metres high, and just after the rainy season, it appears to be nearly filled to the brim with water.
Community members have purchased fish for the dam, which they eat and sell in nearby markets. Along the sides of the dam, fruit trees have been planted to prevent soil erosion and also serve as another source of food.
Before the dam was built, water would flow through here during the rainy season and disappear a few months later. Today, the water supply can be used all year long. It has been estimated more than 1,500 farm animals have been saved as a result.
A short walk from the dam is a large community garden – and a group of more than a dozen women and men eager to show their efforts. Interspersed through the garden are water taps, directly piped here from the dam. This water allows participants to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables.
When asked how this garden has helped, the responses come quick: “We are eating healthy and nutritious. . . . We are now able to pay for school fees. Today, I already sold $20 worth of vegetables. . . .Very happy because I can now have access to finance after selling the produce.”
CARE’s team works with the community members through village savings groups to provide complementary training and support. Given the success they’ve seen here over the last couple years, the emphasis now is sustainability, so the community is prepared to take responsibility moving forward.
Training topics include disaster risk reduction, agriculture, fruit and vegetable production and processing, and nutrition. The latter achieved through measures such as healthy food cooking demonstrations and a recipe book to help families prepare simple, nutritious meals.
Women are heavily involved in this project, as they do a lot of the field work and are also the primary caregivers to children. CARE also leads discussions with men to address some of the gender imbalances that exist and explore how to better share responsibilities.“Through gender dialogue and training, I’m able to work together with my wife and it’s also helped to reduce violence in the home,” one man says.
As much of what’s grown here is used to earn an income, there is also a marketing committee established to help participants work together to sell their produce.
Dadirai, from the beginning, says she is thankful she now has ready access to fresh vegetables and healthy food for her children. Beyond that, she is quite proud of her new role as a market facilitator. Dadirai helps assess the local market to determine potential buyers and help the community decide what to grow based on what vegetables are in demand. In short, she’s helping others access their produce, a complete reversal from the position her community was in a couple years ago.
“It has made me a prominent figure in the community. I’m now recognized within the community, so I feel important,” she says.