A walk in the dry lands of Zimbabwe

A bucket of corn for sale in the local village shop in Zaka - food that people can buy thanks to small grants from CARE

This year started with torrential rain in England and the wettest January since records began, writes Lyndall Stein, a member of the CARE International UK Programme and Policy Committee. I thought back to this as I travelled recently to visit Masvingo in Zimbabwe, a country facing the disaster of drought.

Once the breadbasket of Africa, exporting grain and food, Zimbabwe is now struggling to feed its people. In some areas, 80% of crops are failing. On the road to Masvingo, you could see the disaster unfolding: fields of shrunken maize that will never produce golden corn cobs, a vital staple food made into porridge or grilled as a roadside snack. Those failing maize plants will have a disastrous effect on local children, damaging their health and their mother’s ability to nourish them.

CARE Zimbabwe’s Phil Christensen is an expert in agriculture and understands the problem, but also some of the most effective solutions. He also understands the impressive resilience and courage of the Zimbabwean people, a country with problems but also real human assets – impressive levels of literacy for a start, nearly 96%.

Phil is worried about the impact of this drought and knows that CARE's carefully planned work is now more important than ever in the parched and dry lands of Masvingo.

The field prepared for irrigation and planting in Chivi
The field prepared for irrigation

I met the people of a small village in Chivi who, working with CARE, have built a dam with their bare hands to feed the cattle and provide irrigation for a large field to grow vegetables for the community. We saw what they have achieved – the land bone dry, but cleared ready for irrigation, a well dug 50 feet down with only ladders made of sticks, dug by hand, no water yet – but they would continue determined until they hit the precious water.

But CARE’s strength is not only in using tried and tested methods, but also using the new world of technology – such as mobile phones, which have penetrated into even the most remote areas of Zimbabwe. From Chivi we travelled to Zaka, where people are currently unable to grow the food they need. Here, I met the villagers who have worked with CARE on a new programme that gives control of the assistance they need to women and their families, by paying small grants through the mobile phone system.

Woman checking her mobile phone
CARE staff member Rosamunde helping a woman using the mobile phone scheme

These small grants can be used in the local shops to buy grain or whatever is most urgently needed in this crisis. It is impressive and ambitious but also sensitively delivered and designed. The community members are empowered to report problems – the CARE team on hand to help with glitches, the local government officials informed, a special toll free number to report difficulties. The scheme is reaching many thousands of families – and it is working, as Beauty Pepukai said at our meeting under the trees:

A hungry person is an angry person –  this programme has made us happy, we can buy maize and send our children to school.

We who cannot understand what it is to struggle for every drop of water, to have to send our children to bed hungry, or to see our crops wither in the fields – we must remember the people of Zimbabwe, working so hard to survive, and we must keep connected, from our wet land to their currently dry land. The weather and its impact are a global challenge, and we must work together and build our common humanity.

Lyndall Stein is a member of the CARE International UK Board’s Programme and Policy Committee. Lyndall herself funded her flights and expenses and visited CARE in Zimbabwe to share her extensive experience of marketing, communications, advocacy and programming.

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.