• Since 2000, Zimbabwe's GDP has more than halved. By July 2018, inflation reached 231,000,000%.
  • Between 1990 and 2010, Zimbabwe lost almost 30% of its forested area, mainly from land clearing related to agriculture, which is the country's main income source with 70% of the population's livelihoods depending on it.
  • As of 2011 (latest figures), 74% of the population were living on less than $5.50 a day, with a fifth considered to be living in extreme poverty, and 32% of children under five thought to be stunted due to malnutrition.

These three facts show the precarious and challenging conditions the population of Zimbabwe faces daily. However, what if there were a low-cost, easily implemented and scalable solution that could work to lessen the burden on the lives of ordinary people?

Conservation farming has been highly effective to help communities adapt to the effects of climate change. The technique includes practices such as mulching and crop diversification to improve soil quality, water retention and reduce the need for chemical fertilisers. To understand how the introduction of conservation farming programmes can substantially help underpin the development of rural communities in Zimbabwe, we will look at four key areas in more detail, drawing on examples from our Kariba forest protection project. These factors: community empowerment, gender equality, food security, and climate mitigation, all contribute to the alleviation of poverty and can play a vital role in the long-term well-being of the communities in Kariba.

1. Community empowerment

Empowering local communities to use their energy and ideas collectively and facilitating new income sources all while promoting self-reliance, ensures the implementation of sustainable solutions and significantly reduces the so-called “donor syndrome". The Kariba project offers various job opportunities in all project activities such as beekeeping, nutritional gardening and fire management, but also provides better healthcare, infrastructure including new roads and boreholes, as well as school subsidies. The idea is to discourage long-term dependence on project funds step by step by providing extensive training – to date, 258 workshops on project-related activities have been set up, consequently benefiting 12,443 people.

Community Empowerment

2. Gender equality

The significance of gender inequality is often underestimated in talks on how to eradicate poverty and tackle climate change. In Zimbabwe, 86% of households where the woman is widowed are impoverished. Limiting a girl or woman's potential creates huge loss in terms of social justice and also limits a country's economic wealth. According to Plan International: “the economic cost to 65 low- and middle-income and transitional countries of failing to educate girls to the same standard as boys is a staggering $92 billion each year". Likewise, according to the World Economic Forum, gender equality is directly linked to a higher gross domestic product and income per capita. The Kariba project encourages women in the project area to engage in various activities, so they can increase their skills and enjoy the same benefits and rights as men. Through becoming active in a sustainable farming women have greater means to earn an independent income that can support themselves and their families. At the same time, sustainable practises means there is less pressure to deforest for additional ground, avoiding the associated emissions.

Mrs TendaMrs Tenda is a widow and a member of the very productive Nyambudzi Nutritional Garden, which was established by the Kariba Project. She has to provide for the needs of her five family members on her own. Before the project, she was watering her section of the garden by hand, which would take her up to 3 hours a day during the hot dry months. This she found was time-consuming and not very productive, so from the sales at the garden she managed to save enough money to purchase a petrol water pump, which she now uses to water her garden beds. This has made her operation more efficient and enables her to spend more time at home looking after her family. Through the growing of vegetables she is now able to provide sufficient food for her family and is able to educate the children.

3. Food security

It is quite obvious that food security is a top priority for a community in ensuring their well-being. Every day, hunger kills 21,000 people in the world, most of them children. When someone is malnourished, they are able to work less, earn less, make worse decisions, become poorer, and again hungrier. This is why poverty is called a vicious cycle, and why it is so important to help farmers to become more productive, sustainable and resilient by training them to use fertilizer and irrigation more efficiently, reduce food waste and increase yields.

George ManyangaMy name is George Manyanga. I live in ward 7 under chief Chundu, in Nyamkate. I started practising conservation farming methods in 2014 with the support of Kariba - that was the first year I was able to harvest enough for the whole year. Now, my farming land size is reduced but the yield has increased. After attending workshops at ward level, I can now understand the word 'farming'. Farming is not all about working hard on big land, but working on a small plot whilst practising the right method following the climate changes with commitment

4. Climate change mitigation

Climate change is inextricably linked to food security. As global population and consumption continue to rise dramatically, the demand for food production is said to increase by 70% until 2050. This demand however can only be met if stringent measures against climate change are put into place; currently the global crop production is predicted to decline by 2%-6% per decade. If the world warms by 2°C, 37% of the world's population will experience severe heat waves at least once every five years. Over the past year communities in Kariba are suffering the worst drought in 5 years; the effect on the nutritional gardens and farmland have made the activities of Kariba even more vital. We therefore need urgent investments in climate projects that prioritise communities who are hardest hit by the impacts of global warming. Since its launch in 2011, the Kariba project has protected nearly 785,000 hectares from deforestation and land degradation, preventing more than 28 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions being released into the atmosphere. This is equivalent to the emissions caused by three million economy flights around the circumference of the world!

Conservation farming plays a major role when it comes to the eradication of poverty; food security; empowering women; and helping communities adapt to global warming. The Kariba project shows that small changes can have a big impact on peoples lives. It is still very much possible to achieve the deep transformations necessary for us all to have a better future.

» Find out more about the Kariba project and our other projects here.