$2m fund transforms lives of rural women

BRENNA MATENDERE reports on the success of a European Union-funded project that has seen thousands of families being given the chance to own and breed livestock.

Sibu Mbedzi
Sibu Mbedzi

Nomathemba Ngulube, a woman from Gambiza village, was born into a poor family 44 years ago. She married in the late 80's, but lost her late husband, Abel, eight years later. Ngulube’s life became a continuous, difficult journey of hardships. She never dreamt that she would own anything of value.

However, a new dawn has arrived for Ngulube. She is now a proud owner of 11 well-fed head of cattle, thanks to the European Union’s $2 million food security and poverty alleviation project.

This five-year project was kick-started in 2010 and implemented through local NGO, Heifer Project International, covering four districts in the Midlands, namely Chiundura, Lower Gweru, Mberengwa and Shurugwi.

“The EU’s fund has transformed at least 5,763 lives by passing the gift of hope to the needy, the vulnerable and the elderly. This was achieved through the distribution of cattle, goats and indigenous poultry. In some districts we also distributed orange tree seedlings. The programme dovetails with our mission to alleviate poverty and hunger. We are very grateful to the EU because their partnership with us has helped many needy people,” says Sibusisiwe Mbedza, national production manager of the Heifer Project International.

Ultimate goal

Mbedzi holds a BA in business administration, an executive diploma in general management, certificates in personnel management, bookkeeping and accounts, and has done several courses on development programmes facilitated by World Vision. He said the ultimate goal was to make beneficiaries of the project become donors themselves, a feat that is gradually being achieved.

“Besides passing on livestock, we also passed on knowledge. Beneficiaries received thorough training in business leadership, animal health and manure application among other things. The majority of them received veterinary starter packs that are consistently replenished by communities through a drug fund to which they contribute $1 each per month to meet the primary livestock health needs,” said the projects coordinator, Thomas Zinyoro.

A survey carried out by this reporter to ascertain the success of the programme, revealed that the majority of women who benefited from the scheme are no longer living in poverty. Some are proud owners of well-fed cattle breeds like Mashona, Tuli and Brahman, while others breed poultry.

Best thing since independence

Janet Ncube, 48, a farmer from Gambiza village who received 11 head of cattle, is now the proud owner of a large dam. This helps 90 other women as it is a perennial source of drinking water for livestock. The venture in the community is now known as the Gokomera Livestock Project.

Homesteads in the area have relatively big herds of well-fed animals. Ncube says that the programme is the best thing to have happened to women since Independence in 1980.

“Women involved in the project are doing well and because they now own cattle, a symbol of wealth, they are being touted as community leaders, village heads and kraal heads – positions usually occupied by men. It is a sign that women have social status,” she said.

“We have a permanent source of milk. We use cow dung as natural fertiliser for our thriving gardens that grow a variety of nutritious vegetables. Our children are healthy, and we no longer experience malnutrition,” said another beneficiary, Sithembile Ncube.

Widows help orphans

In Lower Gweru, the EU programme has seen other successes like the popular Matshina Orphans Cattle Project, started by a group of widows. They started in vegetable production and community savings. In 2010 they received assistance from Heifer via the EU programme. This marked a turning point for these widows who have since embarked on a project to help struggling orphans.

“Our geographical location is conducive to breeding livestock. Some of our members have ventured into the transport business, butcheries and grocery stores. Others have established orchards. We give thanks to Heifer International and the EU,” said Phathekile Nyoni, the group’s chairperson.

In Mberengwa, elderly women who received indigenous poultry are also doing well.

“We experience spells of drought and so we were given indigenous poultry. We are now being overwhelmed by demand from restaurants and food outlets situated in Zvishavane, Shurugwi, Gweru and Bulawayo who come to buy our chickens. Ours is a success story,” said Tarisai Mguni, 82, one of the 360 beneficiaries in the ward.

After the success of the EU project, Heifer International is now looking to the future with a target of lifting 98,000 families out of poverty by 2020. The organisation, formed in 1944 during the second World war, came to the country in 1984 and operates in over 120 countries throughout the world.

Post published in: Gender Equality

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