Recurrent drought and dry spells have made daily life a struggle for the inhabitants of Mutasa, 70 kms from Zimbabwe’s eastern city of Mutare. Agricultural production is low and, with unemployment estimated at over 60%, job opportunities are few.
The local Manunure community tried building an irrigation system using water sources from the nearby mountains but the poorly constructed water tanks and pipes leaked. Despite using stones to block water, their weir was washed away and the crops failed.
In 2011, the Mutasa Manunure Irrigation Scheme joined WFP’s Food for Assets programme. Community members were given food in exchange for their work on the irrigation system. Professionals were hired to build pressure tanks while the 57 group members assisted, carrying sand and moulding bricks for the new weir.
“The group could focus and work in a dedicated way because they didn’t need to go looking for food,” says Titus Mafemba, a food aid manager for WFP’s implementing partner Plan International. “Otherwise, people would have spent several hours a day trying to find food in other ways.”
Having finished the first phase in April 2012, the group began cultivating a variety of crops, which had previously been impossible due to the lack of water. The new irrigation system means that drought no longer affects them.
“Because of the reliable water supply and training, farmers are guaranteed a minimum of three crops per year on the same piece of land,” Mafemba says.
Group Secretary Nhamo Mhasho says that prior to 2010, his family’s diet consisted of sadza (cooked corn meal) and green leaf vegetables. These days however, they enjoy carrots, cucumber, cabbage and even meat or fish.
“Before, I would slaughter a chicken every three to six months for my family but now I can buy meat or fish once a week,” he explains. “I can also afford to take my children to health clinics when they’re sick. I used to rely on wise old women to treat them, but now I buy proper medicine.”
WFP’s Head of Mutare Sub-Office, Oliver Manyereyere, says that by comparison, the neighboring farmers not in the irrigation scheme harvested very little this year.
“Malnutrition in this area is higher than the rest of the country, mainly because of the lack of a balanced diet,” he explains. “This group has regularly managed to harvest a variety of crops which are not only contributing to their livelihoods but also fighting malnutrition within their community.”
Looking ahead, the group wants to build a cold room to stock their produce and a trading shed from which to sell it to wholesalers, traders and supermarkets.