NGOs adopt starving villagers
A FLEET of all terrain four-wheel drive vehicles raced down the Mutare-Chipinge highway, giving their occupants a comfortable country ride.
But soon the comfort was lost in dramatic fashion as the reality of the rugged roads of rustic Manicaland province dawned.
At Tanganda Tea Estates, the vehicles took an abrupt northward swing, abandoning the smooth tarred road to take on a rough dirt road which seemed to tear into nowhere.
Suddenly, the beautiful countryside gave in to an unforgiving terrain.
The road, curved on the mountain sides, meandered like a discarded old ribbon.
The road snaked the once lush mountain sides that have been reduced to jagged and uninspiring slopes by an El Nino-induced drought which has robbed the area of its green liberty.
The only vegetation to talk about included sporadic tufts of acacia, baobab, thirsty shrubbery and brittle grass.
Drivers sweated as they negotiated the steep slopes, skirted on either side by occasional basalt outcrops.
At one point, the cars suddenly halted while scaling a hill: Large outcropping of bundled roots from the remains of a dead baobab tree had broken free from the hard pack alongside the road and needed to be skilfully negotiated.
The first sign of human life in this outback came in the form of ecstatic singing which drifted into the ears once the vehicles were on the verge of completing yet another steep slope along the narrow and rocky descent.
The singing was from villagers who had gathered to welcome their guests for the day.
The visitors’ arrival was signalled by a cloud of fine dust tossed over the hazy horizon by the vehicles.
Few cars ever come to Birirano, this far flung settlement situated, by both geography and sociology, far from modernity.
Forgotten by both politicians and government bureaucrats, Birirano, in Chipinge Central, is one area whose people have had to live with nagging poverty and hunger for most of their lives.
The drought experienced during the past farming season further condemned villagers to the worst hunger in living memory.
Last week, they had gathered at a plateau to welcome delegates from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an organisation which has funded the construction of a small dam in the area.
The dam was erected over the Chidzadza River which flows through the dry part of Chipinge from wetter Chimanimani further north.
The dam is to usher in irrigation, with at least 120 initial small-scale farmers already completing land preparation as they wait for the completion of the on-going piping.
The Chidzadza irrigation scheme is one of the many corporative developments rolled out under a programme code named Enhancing Nutrition Stepping Up Resilience and Enterprise (ENSURE), funded to the tune of US$56 million for the next five years.
The initiative is being spearheaded by several partners, including humanitarian and aid development non-governmental organisations such as World Vision, Plan International, Christian Care and the Netherlands Development Organisation, which are part of ENSURE.
Government also comes in to assist in technical areas such as agricultural extension and veterinary services, while the private sector is supporting small-holder farmers with inputs and finance.
ENSURE is a multi-dimensional approach twining an immediate response to the obtaining famine with long term resilience programmes rolled out to help communities withstand future calamities long after the programme is gone.
It is mainly targeting six of Zimbabwe’s districts that are hardest hit by El Nino in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces.
The districts are Chimanimani, Buhera, Chipinge, Chivi, Zaka and Bikita.
The main implementing partners are World Vision (Manicaland) and Christian Care (Masvingo).
According to USAID, more than 300 000 people who are in greatest need of food aid from the two provinces will benefit under ENSURE until March next year.
Lactating mothers and pregnant women are also getting exclusive supplementary feeding.
But, by far the biggest development which has excited these drought prone areas is the investment in water infrastructure.
An additional US$56 million is being channelled to resuscitate irrigation schemes such as Nyanyadzi which has been left desolate for the past 16 years.
Under the same programme, some irrigation schemes are being expanded while new ones are coming up.
Chidzadza irrigation scheme, to be fed by the newly constructed dam, is one of the new irrigation schemes that have been established.
USAID, along with World Vision, its implementing partner, is targeting to boost small-holder farming in dry Manicaland, adding at least 24 000 new small-scale farmers to the list by end of year.
Nyanyadzi irrigation scheme is now operating at full capacity following rehabilitation of its canals and piping.
Driving past the area, one is greeted by a belt of lush fields which appear like an oasis in the Sahara.
Only two years ago, the irrigation scheme lay in waste.
“When we came here the whole system was desolate and we undertook to revamp and upgrade the entire water systems. What this area needed was someone who could help improve the water infrastructure so that they could resume operations,” said World Vision programme manager, Kenneth Munyaradzi.
“We are pleased that we had a hand in repairing the canals and reconstruction of storm drains that had been damaged by storms in 2000,” he added.
World Vision also had Mhakwe and Mutema irrigation schemes expanded to accommodate new farmers, who, in a new partnership forged with Cairns Foods, are growing Michigan pea beans on contract.
Before that enterprise, Cairns used to wholly import the beans from Ethiopia.
“In their first year (2015) after the partnership, they harvested 3,3 metric tonnes of Michigan pea beans and we expect the figure to grow as the farmers learn more and improve their farming methods. We have had to manage them well because people had a tendency of becoming dependant if you specialise in providing them with food rations. What you need is an investment which will sustain them long after ENSURE is gone,” said USAID Zimbabwe mission director, Stephany Funk, who toured projects in Chimanimani and Chpinge last week.
“Its (ENSURE) a way of helping them adapt to the change that is certainly coming. It demands that all people get involved. The situation requires us to rethink the way we have been doing business. We realised that we needed to tailor our responses so that they take care of the obtaining environment. It is that environment which dictates what we should do,” she added.
She said 11 dams will be completed by 2020 under the food for assets programme, which is specifically designed to address water challenges in Buhera, Chimanimani and Chipinge.
Interestingly, these communities have starved perennially yet they trail Zimbabwe’s biggest inland river, Save.
The irrigation schemes that were set up along the river during the colonial era were neglected and allowed to crumble over the years, forcing communities to largely depend on donor assistance.
Said USAID humanitarian assistance officer, Jason Taylor: “Giving people food aid will relieve them for a day or a week, but they need to be empowered and prepared for future disasters and this is why we have said we need to invest in water infrastructure.”
New dams are being constructed at Changazi, Chikukute, Dzotiro, Bangwe, Chinamira, Gurupa, Manyanga, Chinyamazizi and Tarwira, all of which are areas with tributaries feeding into Save River.
These facilities are expected to cater for at least 80 000 households by 2015, including those from Masvingo provinces where ENSURE is also taking hold.
Presently, it is benefitting 24 000 households in Manicaland province alone.
“Our projects are community-driven and that is why they have received so much buy-in. They identify with the people,” said Ability Charlie, the World Vision civil engineer who is behind the massive dam construction and irrigation rehabilitation.
Currently, most of the irrigation schemes are growing different varieties of beans under the Cairns contracts.
“We realised that we needed to capacitate them into becoming our regular customers. We are trying to balance that with the profit making matrix so that we grow together. You develop them and they become passionate about the programme. We have now managed to significantly reduce our Michigan beans import because of this programme,” said Cairns’ Mutare general manager, Joseph Mavhu.
For full story visit www.fingaz.co.zw
He added that the contracts have encouraged farmers to do much more because they grow crops which they know have a ready market.
There is renewed hope in the communities who are seeing a saviour.
“We are in trouble here because of hunger. The rains have stopped falling in our area and we do not have money to start our own projects to improve our lives and so when we see people coming to help us like this, we are most grateful,” said Chief Steven Gudyanga of Chimanimani.
The ever sceptical government of Zimbabwe has previously had an uneasy relationship with Western-sponsored non-governmental organisations (NGOs), accusing them of being agents of regime change.
Previously, NGOs have been blocked from operating in some parts of the country after being accused of politically interfering with communities.
But with the biting effects of El Nino, government has made an indiscriminate passionate appeal to the international community to come and rescue people from starvation.
Follow us on Twitter @FingazLive and on Facebook – The Financial Gazette