But a new day has dawned for these desperate women. A consortium of local NGO’s came to their rescue by introducing them to a value adding project. The consortium includes famous NGO’s like the Womenâ€™s Action Group, Women Coalition of Zimbabwe and Women and Land in Zimbabwe.
In line with their aim of working towards the economic advancement of previously excluded women, they pooled their resources and came up with a value adding centre situated at the Gambiza shopping centre. Female farmers now bring their crops to the centre for processing to increase their value.
The centre started up late last year and is equipped with machines that produce cooking oil, make peanut butter, dry vegetables and process maize meal and various other products.
Hive of activity
When this reporter visited the centre recently, it was a hive of activity with diligent women going about their business on a sun-drenched afternoon. The centre resembled a busy, industrious plant filled with posh customers with their equally posh cars parked outside under the trees.
Money was changing hands fast as customers scooped up quality sunflower cooking-oil, dried black jack, sorghum maize meal, dried mushroom and peanut butter – despite the fact that the centre is located deep in a rural village that is almost inaccessible due to the bad roads that connect it to the Harare-Bulawayo highway 30km away.
Interestingly, women from other parts of the country like Murehwa, Mutare, Bulawayo, Harare, Chipinge and Gwanda are now also cashing in on the project by bringing their wares to display outside the centre.
Naume Jaheni (42), leader of the venture, explained that the project has transformed the lives of previously disadvantaged women.
â€œPoor and needy women’s lives have been transformed. They are now successful business people. The value adding concept ensures that small crops are now turned into marketable products. This, in turn, means more money in their handbags and less suffering. We have countless groups of women in over 20 villages who do business at the centre throughout the year. We have also established horticulture gardens that provide year-round supplies in between the main farming season,â€ said Jaheni.
Victoria Ngaruende, 41, has been a widow for 18 years. â€œIn all those years, it was really difficult raising my three children. Their father left me when they were very young. I could not afford to put food on the table. Now things have changed, the value adding centre ensures big money for small crops. We are all happy at home now,â€ she said.
Zvidzai Magunde (33) said her biggest achievement since joining the project last November, was the construction of a decent home. â€œI am now a proud property owner because I built a two-bedroomed house here in Chiundura. It makes me walk tall,â€ she said.
Tabeth Marozva (29) told this reporter that she had earned respect and dignity from her fellow villagers since the change in her financial status.
Mary Chitima (49), who has made it big by selling processed crops coupled with fresh vegetables, said the centre was a hive of activity and showed that the women’s initiative was being felt throughout the country.
â€œPeople from all corners of the country come here to shop. This is an indication that our hard work is positively influencing the lives of other women far and wide. We have got the testimonies of other women who say we have inspired them as well,â€ she said.
Edmore Mubaiwa, the local Agritex officer, said the value adding project was praiseworthy because it has created gainful employment for previously desperate women.
â€œEveryone complains about the lack of employment and we are happy to have NGO’s that strive to provide solutions. The idea of adding value to agricultural crops has really made farming a profession,â€ he said.
The Director of Women and Land in Zimbabwe, Norman Munyikwa, said his organisation put together the project in partnership with others in line with its mandate of bringing hope to underprivileged women.
â€œWe chose to carry out the project in Chiundura because it is drought-prone and women experience problems with owning and controlling land. Now the crop from a small piece of land can bring in a substantial amount when value is added to it. That way we play our part in relieving extreme poverty among women who are naturally vulnerable,â€ he said.