ALL sustainable agrofood projects are dependent on the participation of a group of people who, through their common practices or purpose, form a “community”.
Group cohesion and commonality of vision are therefore essential to the sustainability and resilience of a project. Conflicts within community are often the key cause of a project collapsing. Kufunda Village in Ruwa has some really inventive ways of community-building that deserve sharing.
Kufunda is a living, learning village and hosting centre located approximately 40km from Harare. It began as one Zimbabwean woman’s personal vision and became a collective process of community-building.
The village acts as a “communiversity”, hosting training courses in youth leadership, the art of hosting, permaculture and other sustainable living themes.
In this village, building a vibrant and sustainable community has become the main focus, with food and agriculture being only one element contributing to that overall sustainability.
Participatory practices are integral. Having visited the village several times, I was once fortunate to join one of their regular Monday morning community meetings. We all sat in a circle and a “talking stick” was passed around the circle, with all respecting the sole right of the holder to speak (or not to speak) at that time.
As the object moved around the circle, each person shared how they were feeling and what had been going on with them in the past week.
This slow and patient process is designed to encourage active, democratic participation. It honours each person’s unique talent, standpoint and contribution. After this process of “tuning in” with each other, specific village business is discussed with different issues then passed on to delegated cluster groups.
For example, there is a group responsible for energy issues, one for youth issues and one for agricultural issues.
There was no individual leader; instead all were equally invited to participate in the meeting and to make collective decisions.
Over Kufunda’s 11-year existence, the community has also integrated several peace-building tools into their village life, including tools for personal transformation such as yoga, aikido and warrior of the heart practices. These practices promote healthy lifestyles and peaceful approaches to communication and conflict resolution.
As with all projects that are embedded in community — indeed, as with anything that involves people working together — conflicts of interest and divergences in opinion have happened many times.
A key challenge has been for individuals to develop fully a sense of collective ownership and responsibility: To put “we’ rather than “me” first. Particularly when times are tough, and given that most of the time the villagers are living without a salary, it is often too easy to re-evaluate life choices and to look to displace responsibility onto someone else.
We have all experienced this in our own lives. But at Kufunda Village, the goal has been to collectivize leadership and responsibility at the whole community level.
This is a courageous and inspiring model of community living, not without its challenges.
Building peaceful and effective community governance and communication practices is essential to any community project. The villagers at Kufunda have experienced periods of conflict and crisis but, as I saw it, they consciously choose to:
- Expect these as part of community life,
- To minimise them through community practices,
- To address them through innovative participatory communication methods such as the “tuning in” Monday morning meetings described above. These aspects of community governance have ensured that the project has thrived and endured.
Kufunda Village is a community that constantly seeks to be together in a way that nurtures and values each individual, while at the same time working to appreciate and sustain ecological life. In doing so, they also manage to produce healthy and diverse foods from their fields and vegetable gardens.
Their innovative ways of working together to minimise conflict are something from which we can all learn.
For more information, see http://kufunda.org/ and follow on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/kufunda/