In Zimuto Communal Land, near Masvingo, southern Zimbabwe, VaMaNyoni walks long distances with maize or beans stacked high on her head, looking for buyers and facing stiff competition from already established vendors and sellers. She visits one house after another, offering her produce at a throwaway price, while would-be buyers extort her through hard bargaining.
But VaMaNyoni’s produce may not be of the best quality due to poor storage, which results in rotten produce or pest infestations, causing her family both food and financial shortages.
VaMaNyoni, like many other women in southern Zimbabwe’s densely populated villages, is vulnerable, dependent on subsistence agriculture to earn her living, cultivating maize, beans, sweet potatoes, and other vegetables.
A lack of technical agricultural advice on the right seeds and fertilizer and the unpredictability of rains, coupled with a lack of access to markets for produce, has left her impoverished.
The modest incomes generated by these livelihoods also mean that women like VaMaNyoni cannot afford to pay school fees for their children, forcing them to drop out of school, with girls taking jobs as housemaids or getting involved in sex work.
Three young Mastercard Foundation Scholars, students selected for the scholarship because of their academic talent, social consciousness, and leadership qualities, are up in arms and committed toaddressing this problem through a new social venture called ZAZI Growers’ Network.
Martinho Da Silva Tembo and Thabu Mugala from Zambia met Tanyaradzwa Chinyukwi from Zimbabwe at EARTH University in Costa Rica, where the trio is studying agricultural engineering and natural resources management. Tanyaradzwa grew up in Nago, southern Zimbabwe, experiencing the hunger, the loss of produce after harvest, and sometimes even difficulties saving for school fees.
“Traders and middlemen take advantage of the poor quality of produce to offer low market prices, creating a monopoly that does not favour the women farmers. A lack of marketing skills and information on current market trends and pricing weakens the negotiation power between these women and their clients. What’s more, there is a lack of support on market training and techniques, thus reducing women farmers’ access to markets,” says Tanyaradzwa.
The founders of ZAZI Growers’ Network won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge at the Mastercard Foundation Baobab Summit in Johannesburg in 2017, a competition that rewards compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth.
These young leaders earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects
in their communities. A collaboration between the Mastercard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create change that matters in their communities.
Through membership registration, the women will be connected to the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, which will assist them in the acquisition of inputs like fertilizers and seeds at lower prices.
“The venture will work with 15 women with the objective of selling produce in bulk to control price fluctuations, reduce post-harvest losses as well as maintain a fixed market,” says Tanyaradzwa.
“We will accompany the women throughout the entire process and teach them how to improve the quality and quantity of their produce through training and workshops on crop production and on how to reduce post-harvest losses. We will also undertake soil analysis and teach the women how to use organic fertilizers.”
The women will be chosen based on need and their interest in agriculture.
“Most of them will be the underprivileged women in the community who have little or no say in activities that bring about both social and economic transformation,” he says.
On average, a household in rural Zimbabwe owns two hectares of land or less on which it grows a variety of crops. Butternut is one of the crops that ZAZI Growers’ Network has identified as high-yielding.
Teaching demonstrations will be conducted on half a hectare. Later on, the women will be encouraged to produce on their own and sell their produce in bulk.
Tanyaradzwa also said the produce will be branded, enabling the women to access and maintain their presence in more lucrative markets. By branding and selling produce in bulk, the women in Zimuto village will be able to access and maintain better markets. They will be able to earn more from their farming activities, manage to cover basic needs, like health care and education, and improve their livelihoods.
“It is estimated that six tons of butternuts are harvested per hectare and, considering that we will use half a hectare to produce butternuts, this will definitely enable the women to produce about three tons of butternuts, all of which will be included in the ZAZI Growers’ Network brand.
As the business expands, each woman will be contributing a certain number of tons for branding, earning more for the same contribution,” he explained.
In order to brand the agricultural products, ZAZI Growers’ Network will collaborate with different programs and organizations in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the world that are working to empower women in agriculture.
“Mnandi Africa will help us in branding the women’s produce while also connecting them to ready markets,”
“The women have been failing to send their children to school because they cannot afford the tuition fees.
We believe that ZAZI Growers’ Network will give them the profits they need to better feed their families and pay for school fees. For women like VaMaNyoni and their families, the future is bright,” says Tanyaradzwa. – Project Syndicate