Runhenga water project brings new life to Biriwiri

Reiko Yoshida, a Japanese artist turned philanthropist, has built a 26-kilometre water pipeline that has changed the dry area in to lush green belt for the women around the Biriiri Runhenga community.

The home of the Runhenga Water project.
The home of the Runhenga Water project.

Yoshida’s relationship with the women started through a business contact when she routinely visited the area to buy handcrafted mats and traditional “blankets” made by the rural women from tree bark. Yoshida exports these artefacts.

The pipeline serves 169 households whose owners make these pieces of art as a source of income. Named the Biriiri Runhenga Water Project, the scheme has changed the face of the previously dry area into a vibrant horticultural hub.

“Yoshida has supported us through thin and thick,” said Gertrude Mutumwa, the secretary of the Biriiri Runhenga Water Project. “She has been buying our products in bulk and exporting them. During the economic meltdown she really assisted everyone by buying our products.

Now she has provided us with free piped water which we are now using for irrigation.”

The Zimbabwean was unable to locate Yoshida for details about the cost of the pipeline and her relationship with the community.

In addition to watering their gardens, the women are nursing indigenous trees for them to renew their bark for use in the making of new pieces of art.

“This project has changed our lives in this area,” said an elderly Eness Tuso, one of the early members of the Muusha Rural Craft Centre.

“When we started this project we did not know that one of these days we were going to be rewarded with lifetime resource like this water.”

Vegetable varieties, previously unknown in the area, such as butternut and beetroot thrive in the women’s garden while loads of others are neatly arranged alongside the main Mutare highway awaiting collection for the market. The women’s homesteads now don orchards with various fruit.

Biriwiri district in Chimanimani is generally a mountainous, hot and dry area characterized by red stony soils. The name of the area is derived from Biriwiri river which forms part of the Nyanyadzi River catchment zone.

Crop cultivation is generally limited by steep slopes, leading to low harvests. For years, tree bark has provided villagers with a source of income through works of art. The bark is carefully skinned from the traditional Miombo tree. It is softened and used to make dolls, hats, blankets, hand bags and jackets. Yoshida has been the main buyer of these products.

“When we started this project in the 1960s, lot of white tourists used to come in numbers at our shop and buy our products,” said Violet Mukombe, at the women’s craft co-operative, Muusha Rural Craft Centre. Historically, the Chimanimani community has relied on the Miombo tree bark for their traditional blankets and sleeping mats.

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