Lazarus Sauti: Correspondent
Until last year, the primary crop in villages within and across Wedza District in the province of Mashonaland East was maize. But now, farmers, especially women in the district, grow other crops such as potatoes, onions, beans, carrots and tomatoes thanks to nutritious gardens introduced and supported by Women and Land in Zimbabwe.“Most people used to grow only maize, but we are now producing nutritious crops like potatoes, beans and tomatoes thanks to nutritious gardens introduced by Women and Land in Zimbabwe,” says Chipo Manyere (47) from Pfumbi village.
She adds that the organisation supported the establishment of a 2,5 hectare Ruzave gardening project, which consists of 40 members 37 of whom are females whilst three are males, after realising that the nutritional status of children under five years of age was extremely poor due to biting poverty and food insecurity.
True to her assertions, one in every three children in Wedza and other parts of Zimbabwe is chronically malnourished and 25 percent of all deaths of children under the age of five are attributed to malnutrition, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), 2014.
Further, in 2015, the Zimbabwe Vulnerable Assessment Committee (Zimvac) found that up to 36 percent of children have stunted growth, which experts say has not only affected them physically, but has also slowed their mental growth because of poor diets.
Zimbabwe, like other countries in southern Africa, is suffering from the El Nino-induced drought that has devastated crops and livestock.
The drought has left an estimated four million people, including 1.9 million children, in need of assistance, says the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).
“An estimated 90 000 children will require treatment for malnutrition,” adds Unicef.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes malnutrition is a critical risk factor in Africa as it is estimated to contribute to more than one third of all child deaths, although it is rarely listed as the direct cause.
Lack of access to highly nutritious food, affirms the WHO, especially in the present context of rising food prices and acute food shortages, is a common cause of malnutrition.
The UN public health agency adds; “Poor feeding practices, such as inadequate breastfeeding, offering the wrong foods, and not ensuring that the child gets enough nutritious food, also contribute to malnutrition.”
Ruzave gardening project beneficiary and Chikavhanga village head, Mbasi Chikavhanga (54), says malnutrition puts children in his area at a greater risk of dying from common infections.
To fight malnutrition and save children under the age of five in the country, particularly Hwedza District, Women and Land in Zimbabwe supported women in Goneso and Chigondo with poles and fencing materials to start nutritious garden projects.
“Stunting and under-nutrition were some of the critical nutritional problems that were affecting many people in Wedza and other rural areas such as Makoni (Rusape and Chiware), Gwanda (Sessombi), Gweru, Chinhoyi, Bubi and Gutu.
“More so, stunting prevalence were high due to lack of diversity when it comes to food production and behavioural change problems, but we are helping women with nutrition-sensitive agriculture which puts dietary diversity and nutritionally rich foods in the same basket and at the heart of overcoming malnutrition,” says Women and Land in Zimbabwe Programme Officer, Sharon Chipunza .
Mashonaland East provincial head, Tendai Nyamadzawo, applauds Women and Land in Zimbabwe for empowering women in his area with resources and information on how to grow nutritious crops to fight malnutrition.
“Women constitute 52 percent of the total population in Zimbabwe. The majority of these women live in rural areas where they are responsible for producing and processing food crops.
“Accordingly, Women and Land in Zimbabwe should be applauded for training and showing women in Wedza that it is possible to grow food without the use of harmful pesticides,” he adds.
Nyamadzawo also says the gardening projects go a long way in ending poverty in all its forms (SDG1), alleviating hunger as well as achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture (SDG2) and ensuring health lives and promoting the well being for all (SDG3) not only in Wedza, but in other rural areas in the country, he says.
He adds that Women and Land in Zimbabwe is complementing government’s efforts in materialising the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset), especially the cluster on Food and Security.
“I am pleased to notice that Women and Land in Zimbabwe has actually exploited the benefits of partnership in line with Zim-Asset. This is demonstrated by the establishment of two gardens in the District as well as support of various income generating projects,” he says.
Expressing gratitude to Women and Land in Zimbabwe for valuing the poor, less privileged and disadvantaged in the communities, Hwedza District agronomist, Gondai Matare pleads with other organisation to support Women and Land in Zimbabwe in its bid to empower rural women.
“Ruzave gardening project beneficiaries are using buckets to fetch water from Ruzave River and water their gardens. I am therefore pleading with other organisations to support these women with irrigation systems so as to lessen their burden,” he sums up.