In a brand new venture outside Chipinge, a group of women led by Beatrice Dzoro farms ostriches as a means of earning money and improving their lives.
For 10 years, Dzoro (47) worked for a large commercial farming enterprise in Mashonaland East province, previously owned by Martin Fick. Fick and his family were forcibly removed under President Robert Mugabe’s chaotic land “reform” programme in 2000, losing his farm and his business in the process.
Following several violent attacks on himself, his family and several of his employees, including Dzoro, Fick relocated to South Africa in 2002 and started again as a commercial farmer.
For Dzoro this was a low point as she was left without a job or a home. In 2005 she decided to transform her life by using the knowledge acquired and experience gained while working as a supervisor on the commercial farm.
In 2006, she obtained three female and one male ostriches from Fick and started the project at her homestead in Gombe with capital of $10,000 received from an anonymous donor and a $5,000 loan from the Zimbabwe Micro Finance Corporation (ZIMFC).
“After what my former boss and my family experienced, I felt very strongly that there was need for me to stand up strong and turn the tables,” said Dzoro in an interview with The Zimbabwean recently. “There have been many projects before for women, but this one is different. There has never been a project like this with ostriches.”
God is faithful
“It has been hard, but God is faithful. The ostrich project helps feed my four children and pays for them go to school. God is a part of this project and has given me an opportunity to empower other women who now live sustainable lives,” she said. Dzoro employs six women on a full time basis.
Presently she has 70 fully grown birds and ten baby ostriches. She also has many eggs and has been selling the hides, feathers and meat to customers.
“The key to making the project successful is to instil a sense of ownership in the women in my group. Many women are exploited and downtrodden in the resettlements areas. But for us, the success of this project has restored dignity and self-worth,” explained Dzoro.
Some women in the group have attributed their success in the project to sound mentorship and a good business model. “I am happy to be involved in this new project for two good reasons. Firstly ,I have benefited financially and am now able to send my kids to school and serve them decent meals, which was very difficult for me before. I am getting a salary and my life is going well,” said Jestina Sithole, a member of the group.
“Secondly, it is our responsibility to share and pass on skills. Many women here have acquired skills and can start their own projects and move forward. This is empowerment,” she added.
“Government officials do not have the skills to run agricultural empowerment projects for women. Most of them have never run a farming operation,” she stressed. “So how can we expect them to drive the empowerment programmes and business ventures that government is initiating? Madam (Dzoro) was determined that she would start the project and mentor other women to enter the ostrich industry,” said Sithole, who is second in charge at the Gombe Ostrich farm.
ZIMFC project manager, Lazarus Chirinda said: “This is a great project that has greatly empowered many women in rural areas. The project is selling birds locally and internationally, the initial loan has been repaid and the project is showing a profit.”
Chirinda said that after four years of working with her, the ZIMFC decided that Dzoro was ready to become involved further up in the value chain.
“We have provided a complete support system for her business by giving her full production loans to cover all the project’s inputs as well as a guaranteed off-take agreement,” he said. “We believe the Gombe Ostrich Farm has massive potential for ostrich farming development in the country. It is now important for the project to take complete responsibility for its own business,” said Chirinda.
Caroline Takunda, in charge of sales and marketing at Gombe Ostrich Farm said: “We now understand the total value chain and are involved throughout the production cycle. We supply our various customers with chicks and arrange for feed to be delivered to them.
“Once the ostriches are market-ready, we collect them from the farm and transport them to the abattoir. We also process our own birds which we supply to locals and hotels. We have just opened new markets in South Africa and Mozambique.”
Takunda said that the value of their products are the hide, meat and feathers, usually in that order, but recently the export of live birds has been the major marketing activity.
“The local tanning industry has also benefited with American shoe manufacturers expressing interest in hides. Production systems are either intensive or extensive or a combination of both, but so far on all our products there are signs that our sales per unit area are generally high,” she said.
Takura Mudziwepasi from the Zimbabwe Ostrich Producers Federation (ZOPF) said the industry in Zimbabwe was relatively small, with most farmers having been in production for three years or less. “I want to give credit to Gombe Ostrich Farm for a job well done. They have specialized breeders and are raising high quality chicks to sell to other producers,” he said.
“We are proud that under generally unfavourable conditions within the farming sector, this farm has managed to grow and create employment for women in the community, this is a very commendable achievement,” Mudziwepasi said.
He said that ostrich meat exports had fallen since the government seized thousands of farms for re-distribution, a move that had adversely affected ostrich production in the country. “The industry has also been badly affected by a lack of stock feed due to droughts,” he added.
Dzoro is an ambitious woman and is already planning a second ostrich farming unit in Vumba. “Logistics have been completed and I have started interviewing potential workers. I hope to receive the first chicks by January next year and am looking forward to rearing between 100 and 200 ostriches,” added Dzoro.
In the next five years she aims to train more women farmers in ostrich farming. “It is my plea that the government now provide some funding and construct more ostrich farming units in order to empower more women,” she said.Post published in: Agriculture