FARMERS are singing, dancing and ululating: “Mari kuvarimi iriyakayaka iritii!” It means “farmers are getting immeasurable money” and it is a verse they sing over and over again.
By Doreen Hove
They are happy to have money in their pockets after selling their sorghum harvest to the World Food Programme (WFP). The energy is palpable as the farmers shepherd their bounty through WFP’s quality control checks. Some watch as the moisture content of the sorghum is checked. Others weigh and seal their sacks of grain. They stack them together, a season’s worth of hard work, now awaiting shipment to a storage facility for eventual distribution to needy compatriots.
This is no ordinary transaction and their excitement goes beyond the simple thrill of the sale. Rather, it is the culmination of a year’s long effort that turned humanitarian aid recipients into aid providers.
The farmers are beneficiaries of USAID’s Enhancing Nutrition, Stepping Up Resilience and Enterprise (Ensure) project. These farmers were unable to meet their household food needs and were long-term recipients of humanitarian assistance before the Ensure project began in 2013.
They celebrate because they are now able to meet their own food needs and sell the surplus, making an income while feeding fellow Zimbabweans in food insecure areas.
Gogo Makazvita Mahlavira is among these farmers. “The price is very competitive,” she says, “because they are providing transport and the bags for us.”
With USAID support, WFP is buying the sorghum at $326,85 per tonne from farmers in five chronically food insecure districts. This represents a double win: farmers profit while USAID saves on transport costs by sourcing emergency food supplies locally.
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Between 1,5 and three million urban residents and approximately 2,9 million rural Zimbabweans were estimated to be food insecure during the peak of the 2018/19 lean season, the time between October to March when vulnerable families are often forced to turn to food aid after depleting their harvests from the previous season.
Her sale this year was modest, but Gogo believes that in 2019 she will harvest as much as two tonnes of sorghum. Zimbabwe’s economy has been deteriorating for some time and private sector buyers have been inconsistent. In 2017, Gogo planned to sell her crops to a local company, but after agreeing to terms the company never finalised the sale, leaving her scrambling to find a viable market.
The transparency and reliability of USAID’s initiative has given her renewed confidence. “Now we have a vision,” she says of her community. “We see and know where we are going, so I am going to commit my time to planting sorghum.”
A long journey
The farmers’ journey started years ago when Ensure helped them organise production and marketing groups. These groups of 30 to 60 farmers share information and market their products together, achieving economies of scale that are a challenge for smallholder farmers working alone.
Jane Pasipamire, a market facilitator trained by Ensure, says the project “trained us to secure markets so that we know where we are selling our product before we start planting. Together with other market facilitators, we went to Harare and pitched our product to WFP.”
In WFP they found an enthusiastic buyer.
“In 2018 we purchased a total of 1 200 tonnes, 10% of the required sorghum for food assistance, from smallholder farmers across the country,” said Eddie Rowe, WFP country director. “We realised that most of the people getting food aid are smallholder farmers, hence this is a way to get them to be more food secure and earn additional income. By providing the market for the sorghum, we intend to encourage further production.”
The Ensure project also trained the farmers on post-harvest handling techniques so that they have a quality product to sell.
A harvest worth the dollars
Catharine Dukute harvested one tonne of sorghum, the average tonnage for most farmers in Buhera district this season. Buhera is a rural area located in eastern Zimbabwe.
“This area is very dry, and we experience very low rains; our crops die each farming season. This season, our maize crop failed completely. Now we have started growing drought resistant crops like sorghum to survive,” Dukute explained. “My husband and I woke up as early as 4:30 each morning to plant the sorghum. We knew that it was going to be our source of income.” Catharine wants to build a new home with her profits.
Miriam Tavengwa from Chivi district wears a big smile as she calculates the number of bags she is selling. “I have 53 bags of sorghum — a total of 2,6 tonnes!” she says, jumping with excitement.
“I cannot wait to get my money. I am expecting over $900. I will buy more cattle, send my child to university and my grandchildren to school, and start growing groundnuts for sale. I will also stock up on our daily food needs,” she says. “We have realised that sorghum is now a cash crop. We can now get money through selling sorghum, a drought resistant crop.”
Ensure is more than an agricultural project. Households also benefit from education about nutrition, disaster risk reduction and income generating activities. Ensure aims to build resilience as well as profitability.
But for the farmers it is all about the profits and a gratifying sense of giving back to their country, as the empowered beneficiaries sing and congratulate each other.
“As USAID, we are proud that these households, who were once accustomed to receiving aid, are now providing it by selling their surplus production through a market-building humanitarian response mechanism,” said USAID/Zimbabwe Mission director Stephanie Funk.
This appreciation is also shared by USAID’s beneficiaries. “We are excited that we are now donors of food aid,” says Miriam. “Other families are going to benefit from our hard work in their time of need, just as USAID helped us in our time of need.”
• Doreen Hove is a development outreach and communications specialist with USAID’s mission in Zimbabwe.