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Feature: Women bear the burnt of climate change

Local News
The purple patch they were enjoying was courtesy of efforts of the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) through its Restoring Livelihoods Programme in partnership with Care International, which established a nutrition garden project in 2001. 

BY EVANS MATHANDA Mxotshwa market gardens under Chief Mdubiwa in Lower Gweru, Midlands province, used to be the breadbasket of the village. Several women eked out a living through selling vegetables.

The purple patch they were enjoying was courtesy of efforts of the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) through its Restoring Livelihoods Programme in partnership with Care International, which established a nutrition garden project in 2001.

“We really thank USAid through Care International for the garden projects which they sponsored through food for work, it really changed our lives. We used to have annual awards for the best farmers,” Getrude Bonde, one of the farmers recalled.

Back then, women, who make up the bulk of the farmers, would fetch water 100 metres away in Gwenjane River to water their crops. The river would flow all year round. To them, the garden was their source of livelihood as they would each realise at least US$10 every week from selling their produce.

“I remember all farmers here would work hard to ensure that their crops met the demands of the market to get customers,” Bonde said. However, changes in weather patterns have brought new problems. Their project is on the verge of collapse as Gwenjane River has dried up.

“Life has completely changed; living is now difficult without water from Gwenjane River. We are told that this is caused by climate change. It’s a new phenomenon to us. It has really stripped us of our source of livelihoods,” Sihle Moyo told NewsDay.

Project leader for Mxotshwa gardens Elizabeth Moyo said the water crisis threatened the market gardening project and ultimately food security.

“These two gardens are our only hope, but without water life has been very difficult,” she said.

“There are 80 households which are directly benefiting from the garden (a)which started in 2001 while 100 families are in garden (b) which was formed in 2006. But now we survive on buying dried fish for our relish which we cannot afford,” she said.

For Mxotshwa women, market gardening during the dry season helped them to raise fees for their children and also supplement their spouses’ incomes.

“I have five children who I sent to school with money raised from market gardening, but now I am struggling to raise fees for my two grandchildren. They pay US$30 each per term,” Susan Mfanyana, one of the farmers told NewsDay.

In 2008, villagers constructed a dam which was sponsored by Christian Care through the “food for work programme”. However, the dam burst its wall after a sudden, rapid, and uncontrolled release of impounded water due to heavy rains that same year.

Proud Chimusoro, who is now an engineer based in Lower Gweru, said the dam was poorly constructed because there was no skilled personnel.

“Gwenjane is a river not a stream, so the spillway was supposed to be at the centre,” Chimusoro said.

“The problem is that the local villagers were just blocking water instead of digging deeper for the dam to have the capacity to hold more water. A dam must have the capacity of which if that level is reached, water starts to spill,” he added.

Climate change is also a human rights issue and a pandemic that affects women more than men. It is women who walk long distances to fetch water and do market gardening to sustain their families.

Thandiwe Chidavarume, national co-ordinator for Woman and Land in Zimbabwe (WLZ) said socially-constructed differences between men and women made women more vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.

“Women are the hardest hit by the negative effects of climate change because of the gender roles ascribed to women by society. The government should put in place irrigation infrastructure for poor women in rural Zimbabwe,” she said.

The COP26 climate change summit held last year was regarded as a success with regards to climate finance and billions of US dollars were set aside. But the million-dollar question is: How can a woman in rural Lower Gwelo benefit from this conference?

Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) said female farmers in rural areas could only benefit from the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference if Zimbabwe implemented the recommendations made at the summit.

“Zimbabwe committed that it will reduce emissions by 40%,” WLSA said in a statement.

“Women in market gardening can only benefit after the Zimbabwe government has implemented the COP26 recommendation and commitments as per agreement. As long as Zimbabwe does not honour the agreements that were made during COP26 climate change summit this won’t benefit female farmers in rural areas,”  WILSA said.

The United Nations 2021 Emissions Gap Report shows that new national climate pledges combined with other mitigation measures put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2,7°C by the end of the century. That is well above the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and would lead to catastrophic changes in the earth’s climate.

Mxotshwa women in Lower Gweru have abandoned some of the arable land they used for market gardening due to limited water supply

Therefore, to keep global warming below 1,5°C this century, the goal of the Paris Agreement, the world needs to halve annual greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years.

Headman Emmanuel Makhula of Lower Gweru said women in farming had little knowledge on how to adapt to the negative effects of climate change which is the major problem that should be addressed.

“Women should be educated on what exactly climate change is, its impacts and how to adapt to its unfavourable conditions,” Makhula emphasised.

“We can talk about the effects of climate change over and over but I think the government and other civil society organisations should create platforms meant to educate women on how to adapt to climate change conditions,” he suggested.

Female farmers in Mxotshwa village are hoping to be rescued by the Smallholder Irrigation Revitalisation Programme, a seven-year programme funded by International Fund for Agricultural Development, after they qualified to be beneficiaries.

  • Follow Evans on Twitter@EvansMathanda19

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