Vegetable garden is “saviour for the starving”

Even basic vegetables are a luxury for the rural residents of Sibambene village in Gwanda. When the Bulawayo industries they depended on for employment closed down several years ago, the community lost its main livelihood.

Vegetable garden project member Eunice Nkomo
Vegetable garden project member Eunice Nkomo

To add insult to injury, Sibambene, presided over by Chief Sinqobile Mabhena, has, like most villages in Gwanda, suffered drought for the past four seasons.

In a move to address food shortages in the area, villagers in Sibambene and surrounding villages are growing vegetables to supplement their diet, but are appealing for better road links so that they can also sell produce.

Mfanyana Dube, chair of the Mlingo agro-forestry project told The Zimbabwean that, with the threat of starvation hanging over their community, 23 families identified and tilled a piece of land near the only dam in the area. “Supported by World Vision, the Environmental Management Authority and the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe, among others, we started planting vegetables near Mlingo Dam,” said Dube.

He said members of the project divided the 70x70m garden among the 23 families to ensure they could all equally benefit.

Dube, who described the project as “a saviour for the starving community”, told The Zimbabwean that although the families didn’t make profits from the sale of their vegetables, they benefited by creating their own source of relish.

“There is no water in this area and, because we didn’t have enough drip irrigation pipes, we decided to put our garden a few metres from the dam wall, so that we would need fewer pipes to draw water,” he said.

One of the project members, Sikhangezile Dube, said they had had to water their gardens using buckets. “It was laborious,” she said. “Since this area is very dry, sometimes we were forced to water our garden twice a day, but the work is just too much.”

“The forestry commission donated trees and we have planted them to ensure that we curb the scourge of de-forestation that is further increasing the environmental woes affecting our area,” said Jabulani Mhlanga.

Mlingo agro-forestry project works on behalf of communities from Sibambene and neighbouring villages such as Thandanani, Asututukeni and Vulindlela.

“World Vision and several of its partners initiated this project two years ago,” said Mfanyana Dube, adding that despite the charity pulling out of the area, the families had maintained the garden and ensured that the project remained viable. “Our lives depend on this project despite our not having a sustainable market for our vegetables,” said Eunice Nkomo, a member of the project.

She appealed for government intervention to address the area’s poor road networks to give the community better links to existing markets in Esigodini and Gwanda business centre.

“We pay $6 to and from Gwanda and Esigodini, which means the journey becomes worthless as all the profit goes towards transport costs,” said Nkomo.

Poor links to markets are common in Zimbabwe despite government promises to ensure smallholders had access to viable and sustainable markets.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation also reports that pricing policies in Zimbabwe give little incentive for impoverished farmers to plant and invest in infrastructure.

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