Zimbabwe, Africa. Lilian Manyanga, standing in the relentless sun among rows of sorghum plants and holding a large shovel, is showing us around the Tashinga Community Garden of the Hurungwe District. "Before the Kariba project came into effect," she tells us while wiping the sweat beads off her forehead, "I could hardly feed my children. Every year I struggled to send them to school. But now," she gestures around her and smiles,"- now I can pay their school fees without even missing a term!"
Lilian Manyanga in the Tashinga Community Garden
Lilian, the Community Garden Secretary, is just one of many who have benefited from the
Kariba project since it was set up in 2011. The idea for Kariba started to germinate when it was realised that Zimbabwe had lost almost a third of its forests between 1990 and 2010.
The Kariba project's aim is to empower communities to restore some of the thick forest and unique landscapes that previously covered Zimbabwe. Today, the project benefits more than 85,000 people, almost half of whom are women. Comprising of four national parks and eight safari reserves on the southern shores of Lake Kariba near the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia, the project forms a vast biodiversity corridor protecting 785,000 hectares of forest and wildlife – that's equivalent to over a million football pitches! This makes it one of the largest registered REDD+ projects in the world. Among the protected animal species given a safe haven in the project area are numerous endangered species such as the African elephant, the lion, the hippopotamus, the dwarf vulture and the southern hornbill.
The project also supports a number of activities that go far beyond environmental protection. Chundu, the chief of the Hurungwe District, explains: "Conservation Farming brought by the Kariba Project is the only way to alleviate poverty and hunger in rural Africa and improve food security for the local people". Being community-based and managed by the four local rural district councils Binga, Nyaminyami, Hurungwe and Mbire, the independence and well-being of these communities is at the centre of all activities.
What is conservation farming?
Conservation agriculture techniques are adapted to drought-prone environments and have the potential to increase yields. Techniques include mulching and crop rotation to help soil retain nutrients. The aim of conservation is to provide food security even during times of poor or unpredictable weather. Surplus crops can then be sold and the money used to pay school fees, buy animals or build a house.
Jeritha Ndlovu, a married woman with six children from Matongo village, Binga district, has been using conservation farming techniques since 2015, after attending a 3 day workshop by the Kariba project. She has gone from being a subsistence farmer to having enough money to feed her family, pay school fees, buy clothes and things for the house from the crop sales!
By creating jobs in a wide variety of areas such as conservation farming, community gardens, moringa growing, beekeeping training, fire protection and ecotourism, people can earn a living sustainably, which benefitsof the entire region. Bonance Taendesa for instance is one of the beekeepers of the project and is now able to generate an annual income of $240. "With the training and the three beehives I have received, I am now fully self-sustaining," he says. "Every day I wake up and know that I don't have to rely on anyone else anymore".
Bonance Taendesa, beekeeper
On top of that, other significant social benefits are created through newly established health clinics, comprehensive infrastructure, as well as equal educational opportunities. To date, more than 180 boreholes have been resuscitated to ensure easier access to clean water, and 1,550 school subsidies have been given to the poorest quarter of the population. Another initiative has been the planting of Moringa trees in the communities. "Our schoolyard now has its own tree", a local schoolgirl from Matongo village proudly reports. "Before we had no pens, books or paper for the school, but with the sale of Moringa seeds we can finally afford them."
Schoolchildren with the Moringa seeds
Elinah Muleya from Sinakoma village shows her hard work and with the right support from the Kariba project she is on an upward spiral: " I said to myself: "Why not start a Moringa plantation?" I grew 47 Moringa trees and after 4 months I started selling the dried leaves. I started saving my income then. I started by buying corrugated iron sheets, then cement later. I molded bricks and finally I engaged a builder for my one roomed house. My next plan is to buy cattle and furnish my house."
Elinah Muley's new house!
What is Moringa?
Moringa is a fast-growing and drought-resilient tree that begins flowering within the first 6 months of being planted. As the plant can withstand long periods without rain, its an ideal crop in Kariba. The seeds and leaves are sold to be turned into a powder or oil with many reported health benefits. This cash crop provides a good source of income for farmers.
Since the Kariba forest protection project was implemented, a total of 18 million tons of CO2 have been reduced – equivalent to one third of the annual emissions of Switzerland. The goal is to offset a further 3 million metric tons of CO2 each year. Hopefully, this way a lot more people besides Lilian and Bonance can be empowered!