MUZARABANI - About 300km from Harare into Mashonaland Central Province lies a dry and remote area called Muzarabani where people somehow manage to scratch a living despite both natural and man-made disasters including extreme whether temperatures.
The area falls under the natural farming region five which is characterised by high temperatures and low rainfall throughout the year hence indigenous inhabitants have little survival options save for feeding on wild fruits such as mauyu and masawu that can do well under these climatic conditions.
Back in the day, communities here used to survive on farming cotton but the majority of them have since relinquished the cotton project due to falling cotton prices on the market which have been exacerbated by the harsh economic situation in the country and stiff competition from cheap imports mainly from China.
The development has worsened life for the ordinary person in Muzarabani.
Pushed by the desire to make life easier in Muzarabani, one of the leading humanitarian organisations, Zimbabwe Red Cross Society, came up with a number of pro-development initiatives in four of the most affected areas of Muzarabani and these are Chadereka, Chiwenga, Kairezi and Dambakurima.
“Life was unbearable here. Women and children were the most affected as they tend to spent the whole day doing household chores including gardening along rivers, fetching firewood and cooking among others.
“Hence we have introduced tsotso (twig) stoves and keyhole gardens among other initiatives mainly to empower this marginalised group in the community,” Muzarabani District officer Kudakwashe Karise told the Daily News recently.
Tsotso stove is a fuel-efficient cooker that uses much less fire wood as compared to traditional open fires, which are common in rural areas and informal settlements.
“It’s a sigh of relief to Muzarabani women. Tsotso stoves are very efficient yet they use just small twigs. We no longer travel long distances to collect firewood,” Chipo Nhengo, 35 of Kairezi village said.
“We used to consume a scotch cart-full of firewood on monthly basis as a family but since the introduction of tsotso stove in our area, we now consume just a wheelbarrow of twigs a month which is good for the community as we are now in a better position to keep our forests,” Solomon Mupfuure, 42.
Kairezi village headman added: “Apart from reducing daily labour, tsosto stoves have reduced fire accidents especially on children as it does not expose the flames and they are smoke free but very effective as they can keep food warm for the whole day.”
Red Cross Disaster Management officer Tapiwa Chadoka told the Daily News that they borrowed the idea of keyhole gardens from Swaziland.
“Keyhole gardens are serving a purpose in Swaziland where there is no enough farming space; the area is rocky hence we came here with the idea as our challenge is not about space but availability of water,” Chadoka said.
A keyhole garden (named because of its shape) is a round raised garden made with low-cost locally available materials such as stones, cans, animal bones, ashes, bricks and wood among other materials.
They are ideal in places where it is difficult to set up normal gardens mainly because of harsh climatic conditions or availability of farming space. They are irrigated using household waste water that is from bathing, laundry and dish washing among others hence they are the panacea to Muzarabani where every drop counts.
Cleopas Dambakurima, 37 told the Daily News that they have embraced the idea of keyhole gardens in their area.
“This small garden is enough to feed a family of up to 10 people; it produces food all year round even under harsh temperatures. I like the garden as it can support the production of at least five varieties of vegetables at a time — tomatoes, onions, rape, tsunga and covo — thus supporting dietary diversity,” he said.
Stella Mafendu, 35 who lives with a disability concurred with Dambakurima.
“Compared to regular vegetable gardens, keyhole gardens require less labour and they are ideal for elderly, children or sick persons. They require less water and no costly fertilisers or pesticides are needed. They act like an organic recycling tank as they use household food and garden waste as fuel to grow vegetables,” she said.
As a way of improving vegetation in the area, Zimbabwe Red Cross Society is on a drive to plant exotic trees in form of mango, orange, mulberry and avocado trees in the area to improve nutrition health.
Since December last year (2016) more than 300 trees were planted in Chadereka, Chiwenga, Kairezi and Dambakurima for the provision of fruits and wind-break purposes in the area.