Zimbabwe lies far behind in the debates and action around the Sustainable Development Goals that will be finalised in September this year at a meeting in the United States of America.
BY SILENCE CHARUMBIRA
While urban communities are grappling with the failing economy and strife-ridden political affairs, it appears it is the rural folk that have taken a lead in sustainable developmental projects.
A recent survey by NewsDay established that people in urban areas, who are mostly living from hand to mouth, are preoccupied with politics and the free-falling economy while those in rural areas, who do not rely heavily on cash for transactions on a daily basis, are actively involved in sustainable development.
During a recent tour of Muzarabani facilitated by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), there was proof that people in rural areas are more conscious about issues around development and the environment.
Villagers in the area have formed firefighting teams of five people per village that are responsible for putting out veld fires and mobilising other villagers to put out fires.
According to EMA Mashonaland Central manager Robert Rwafa, they have seen it fit to engage the villagers in seeking solutions to their problems.
The province has in the past been prone to veld fires and Rwafa said they had engaged the villagers so that they participate in the reduction of fires and curbing uncontrolled fires especially in the fire season.
“We want them to prescribe their own solutions, that way it does not become an EMA programme, but their programme, for instance the activities that have an economic benefit to them like hay baling,” said Rwafa.
He said while they used to promote conservation of forests and the environment, they are now more inclined to preservation which allows humans to use and benefit.
To that effect, community leaders have been lobbying different organisations to engage the youths in the different projects that are being run in their areas for economic benefit.
Ward 12 Batambudzi councillor Crebas Chirapa implored EMA to facilitate creation of beekeeping projects for the youths so that they could be involved in the preservation of the environment to make sure that their projects are not destroyed.
“If EMA engages in projects like beekeeping that have a monetary benefit for the people involved, you will find that a lot of youths will support them because there are no jobs,” said Chirapa.
Already, Chirapa has been working with his ward in programmes that include thatch grass harvesting, mulching grass and hay baling which can be sold.
“The grass we can use to roof our homes or sell while the mulching we use in vegetable and tobacco seedbeds and finally the hay bales we use them to feed our livestock towards the beginning of the rainy season when pastures will be scarce,” he said.
“We can also sell the bales to other communities that are in need. It is also important to note that one of advantages of harvesting grass is in cases where a fire goes out of control, where grass has been cut, it reduces momentum and can be easily put out.”
The villagers, most of whom are farmers, have also created fireguards around their villages and paddocks to help contain fires.
Of the 17 sustainable development goals, one of the key issues to be addressed is climate change which has been perpetuated by careless use of the environment.
The Muzarabani villagers are thus involved in the replenishment of forests as their area is a tobacco farming area where forests are destroyed yearly when farmers cure their crop.
Currently, they have a plantation with around 2 000 gum trees while they are also working on another for indigenous trees to address issues to do with the carbon sink.
In Rusape’s Makoni District, villagers last year won the coveted United Nations Equator Prize 2014 for their Makoni Organic Farmers’ Association project.
The certificate was handed over at a colourful event officiated by then Water and Climate minister Saviour Kasukuwere who encouraged the community to use their God-given natural resources to tackle poverty.
The prize was won courtesy of the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme of the United Nations Development Programme where a group of female villagers cultivate various vegetables for sale to different retailers fostering environmental conservation and sustainable use of resources for livelihood improvement and poverty reduction.
United Kingdom-based philanthropist, humanitarian and politician Barbara Nyagomo has also been involved in poverty reduction projects where she has been training villagers equipping them with various skills for self-sustenance.
She has trained villagers in different communities in rural Zimbabwe in soap-making and mushroom farming among other projects.
Her agricultural consultant Phillimon Buruzi of Agri-Advisor Consulting said they have been training villagers to produce oyster mushrooms to improve their diet as well as averting hunger and poverty.
“The key advantages of growing mushrooms are that they are cheap to grow and they make use of organic waste which is plentiful at farms and plots,” he said.
“They also form a good way of nutrient cycling as they quicken the decomposition process which in a veiled way is a form of organic fertiliser processing…for those that have reduced capacity for inorganic options. Mushrooms need a very low external input, meaning cheap start-up for the poor. The only thing that really calls for money is the spawn which is not that pricey anyway.”
Mushrooms, Buruzi said, do not compete for land with other crops and can easily fit into disused building structures.
“Unlike tobacco, it is food that also gives good nutrition to the farmer and his family and can be done commercially or at family level as it is not so labour-intensive. Mushroom farming does not require copious quantities of water and can still be done in drought years with good results,” he said.
He, however, said for one to succeed in this business they needed some degree of technical training, strict hygienic standards, efficient transport, pre-arranged and definitive market links and co-ordination between various smallholder players in order to be able to bulk up their supplies so as to meet the requirements of lucrative buyers.
“As Agri-Advisor Consulting, we make sure that smallholder farmers are supplied with the five key success factors in order to succeed in this venture. In terms of poverty reduction the programme has great capacity to reduce poverty, but results are yet to come because we started training farmer groups just this March 2015,” he said.