Participants at the Old Mutare UMC Mission Station learn to harvest Moringa leaves during the UMCOR-SA&D Nutrition Training on Moringa.
Credit: Mozart Adevu
By Julia Kayser*
One in three children in Zimbabwe are chronically malnourished. Pregnant and lactating mothers suffer severe malnutrition as well, leading to one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. The Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee estimates that over 1.6 million people in Zimbabwe will struggle with food insecurity from now through April 2013.
The roots of Zimbabwe's struggle with food insecurity run deep. Under British colonial rule in the 1930s, Zimbabwe's land was redistributed in a way that favored settlers and displaced many indigenous people. By the late 1990s, white citizens still owned about 70% of Zimbabwe's land. In 2000, large-scale land reform allowed more indigenous people to own and work on commercial farms. Since then, Zimbabwe has suffered from severe drought, hyperinflation, and unemployment.
Massive amounts of external food aid have kept many people alive, but have not addressed systemic issues of self-sufficiency. Indigenous farmers struggle to earn a living, because marketing links for the sale of food products are not well developed. The market that does exist incentivizes farmers to sell all the vegetables they grow and subsist on a traditional and monotonous diet of sadza (made from cornmeal). This contributes to malnutrition.
UMCOR's Sustainable Agriculture and Development (SA&D) Program has just launched a new training initiative in Zimbabwe. UMCOR's model uses grassroots education to engage agricultural productivity in a new way. Specialists like Mozart Adevu train community leaders about new crops and better nutrition. Then, those leaders use interactive and hands-on workshops, called Farmer Field Schools, to spread the knowledge in their communities. This strategy has so far been successful in Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique.
The Zimbabwe effort is focused in three Methodist missions where infant malnutrition rates are estimated between 35 and 47.8 percent:
- At the Old Mutare Mission (near the Africa University in eastern Zimbabwe), the most recent land redistribution has allowed resettled families to own and work on large, fertile commercial farms with a 99-year lease from the government.
- At the Mutambara Mission (located in the Chimanimani district of western Zimbabwe), some families work on small communal farms, and others work on large commercial farms with irrigation on a 99-year lease from the government.
- At the Nyadire Mission (located in the town of Mutoko in eastern Zimbabwe), the same families have been working on small communal farms since the 1930s.
Training events held at these three communities in August focused on the benefits of Moringa.
"Some moringa trees exist in the areas we visited," reports June Kim, Executive Secretary of the SA&D program for UMCOR. However, most people don't know about its nutritional value. "People who had the trees in their compounds were already thinking of cutting them down as they did not serve any useful purpose."
UMCOR's training programs seek to reverse this trend. Already, participants have decided to plant more moringa in their compounds and use it in their cooking.
Norah Nyamijara is a 44 year old farmer from the village of Magarasadza, about 15 kilometers from Old Mutare. "This was a new chapter in my life, a turning point," she wrote in her feedback after the training session. "Today and onward, I am now going to have a balanced diet in my family and the community at large. Thank you very much UMCOR for coming to Zimbabwe especially the Old Mutare Mission where I participated… May God bless you all."
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*Julia Kayser is a writer and regular contributor to www.UMCOR.org