THIS WEEKLY column explores sustainable solutions to social and environmental problems, with a focus on food and agriculture. We explore examples of sustainability projects from around Zimbabwe that are working towards these goals.
Sustainability in agrifood systems can be defined in a variety of ways. To summarise a few common notions: A sustainable food system should minimise the use of non-renewable inputs; should not take more from the environment than is put back in; should act fairly with regard all other human beings both now and in the future; should care for the earth and our environments, including other living beings and should create healthy, nourishing foods to be consumed mindfully.
Furthermore, sustainable agriculture works with local farmers’ knowledge, improving self-reliance and building on human and social capital.
Mpumelelo Community Garden, Matopos
This community permaculture garden project has 42 members and operates on four hectares of land in Dewe village, Matopos, in the dry Matabeleland South Province. The project is facilitated by the Fambidzanai Permaculture Training Centre (FPTC)in Harare, who provided training in permaculture and business skills and currently offer on-site support in the form of Crispen Dungeni, who is a FPTC staff member based in the area.
Permaculture is an approach to sustainability that has the motto of “caring of earth, caring of people, and returning of the surplus”. Permaculture is primarily a set of design principles and techniques, all deeply attentive to the specific location.
Burnett’s Beginners Guide to Permaculture states that “permaculture is about creating sustainable human habitats by following nature’s patterns”, (Burnett 2008, Page 8).
The project focusses on improving household and community food consumption and therefore grows a traditional array of vegetables including chomoelia, spinach, onions and tomatoes. They also practice agro-forestry and so we find pawpaws and banana trees here too. The garden is organic, in that no chemical fertilisers or pesticides are used in order to ensure healthy production and consumption and to encourage a balanced ecology.
The emphasis at Dewe village is on improving community nutrition and supporting those in need, such as the elderly, orphans and the sick, especially those suffering with HIV and Aids.
Importantly, this is also a livelihood project, generating income for the mainly female members who cultivate the garden. This makes a huge difference in a place such as Dewe village, where there is little cash-based employment and families need to find money to pay for school fees and basic goods.
Such garden projects are great for improving household food security. In Zimbabwe, over 1,6 million are estimated to be in a state of food insecurity, dependent on food aid.
Food security, on the other hand, is defined as a condition where “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Women are often the main participants of community gardens, feeding their families through hard work.
This gendered aspect of community gardens can facilitate women’s economic empowerment and self-determination. Watch a video about Mpumelelo Community Garden, introduced by members Bongani Moyo and Crispen Dungeni bellow:
Pamela Ngwenya is a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Built Environment and Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal.