Archive for August, 2013

Part I: the context of ‘sustainable’ and ‘alternative’ agri-cultures in Zimbabwe

International media is notorious for reporting a disproportionate amount of ‘bad news’.  Likewise, scholarly research on ‘less developed’ countries, such as Zimbabwe, tends to focus primarily on negative aspects. This has been the case in the context of the land reform that was implemented in Zimbabwe in the post-2000 period. We are consistently reminded that Zimbabwe was the ‘Bread Basket of Africa’, but, in the international media, we are rarely informed of solid plans or ideas for the much-needed revival of agriculture.  The following essays will not entertain or deconstruct the complicated politics or outcomes of the Zimbabwean land reform. It is now more important, I suggest, to explore the new possibilities of agricultural development for the future.

I chose to open by referring to the land reform because this is a key aspect shaping the foodscape in Zimbabwe and forms a backdrop to current local food politics and possibilities in the country. The land redistribution program is still underway and re-allocation of land continues, but in terms of the roll out of skills training and development strategies, we mainly hear of concern about lack of donor funds available to purchase necessary inputs (The Chronicle, 6th September 2010).  What is of concern, I suggest, is that the discourse dominating reports seems to be the expectation of (re)building a highly modernised, corporate and commercialised agro-food system. It is a critical time to ask if this approach is likely to bring the environmental and socio-economic benefits that are needed. In considering highly modernised agro-ecological systems elsewhere, it is pertinent to question the wisdom of pursuing a single agricultural development path that has so often led to dire social and environmental consequences (Pretty 2002; Magdoff et al. 2004; Tilman et al. 2002).

As discussed by Tony Weis (2007), the (bio)technological revolution and corporatisation of agrofood systems has in many places led to less employment in the agricultural sector (pp.25-28).   Furthermore, globally speaking, we are becoming more and more dependent not only on a handful of huge global corporations, but on an increasingly limited stock of crops to supply our staple foods:

‘As many as seven thousand plant species have been cultivated or collected for food in human history, but this diversity is shrinking precipitously. There was a drastic decline in both the diversity of crop species planted in agricultural systems and the genetic diversity within species (…) during the twentieth century, with these declines as great as 75 to 90 percent according to FAO estimates. Thirty crops now essentially feed the world, providing 95 per cent of humanity’s plant-based calorific and protein intake’.  (2007: 16)

On top of this we have the increasing prevalence of biotechnology and associated bio-politics, with genetically modified maize now prevalent in neighbouring South Africa and lobbyists encouraging cross-border importation (Irin, Newsday April 2013), which is already taking place informally via remittances.  In the case of Zimbabwe, the Community Technology Development Trust in Harare has highlighted the serious risks posed by the importation or ‘dumping’ of corporate genetically modified (GM) maize and maize seed into Zimbabwe in the guise of ‘food aid’, which has been occurring over the past five years, contaminating local stock, without any accompanying public information program (Thompson 2010).

These concerns and observations echo broader trends in the ‘global food economy’. This economy is characterised by the increasing dominance and agglomeration of transnational corporations, the vertical integration[1] of food chains, the globalisation of diet and the increased branding of food commodities. Scholars and activists alike have illuminated ongoing issues of uneven development, the transformation/destruction of the ‘family farm’, the increasingly uneven distribution of value in commodity chains and the rise of retailer-power.  Overall, it has been argued that the global food economy’s push for large scale, intensive, high input mono-cropping, oriented towards export markets, has in too many cases gone hand in hand with increased socio-economic inequalities, the exploitation of land-owners by corporates and of labour by land-owners, import dependency and outrageously, food insecurity (FAO 2003).  These trends have to varying extents all been witnessed in Zimbabwe over the past decades.

But it is important to look at what happening on the ground, which given the political-economic situation in Zimbabwe and the fragmenting tendencies of the land reform, is rather more complicated and unpredictable than the ‘global’ trends outlined above.  The unique constellation of interacting forces, in specific places, shapes the unfolding of ‘development’; not always in a way that renders the domination of corporate agriculture inevitable.   Can we not, instead of assuming an inevitable doom and gloom, start by attending to the more optimistic notion that “another world is possible” and by looking for positive examples of how local events and contingencies have engendered healthy, sustainable, locally-embedded agri-food systems in Zimbabwe? This is what I have attempted to do in my research. Eschewing the grim and reductionist problems associated with the global food economy, I have begun by engaging instead with ‘on-the ground’ alternative food networks, locally embedded food economies, short food supply chains and holistic sustainability projects.

Being ‘alternative’ in Zimbabwe is not as easily definable as elsewhere, where – for example in North America ad Europe- ‘alternative food networks’, contentious as they may be are more clearly identifiable (at least superficially) by those that market and consume them (think for example, of FairTrade and certified organic products).  There, various territorial and ethical qualities have come to be associated with such food networks, such as social justice, ecological stewardship, cultural identity and geographical origin. They are often (questionably) defined as resistance or opposition to practices pertaining to the mainstream ‘globalised’ industrial food system.  However, here in Zimbabwe, there remain many places where supermarkets have not penetrated and subsistence agriculture still provides the bulk of the (62%[2]) rural community’s staple foods. Consequently, there is not the same division between the ‘producers’ and ‘consumers’ that can be found in more industrialised nations. There is also not the consumer awareness or demand for alternative (organic/fairly traded/ ethical) products that can be found in the global North.  According to Economy Watch, gross domestic product (based on purchasing power parity) is only about US$589 per capita in Zimbabwe, compared to a global average of US$15,174.[3] Furthermore, drought and food scarcity are perennial issues, with United Nations World Food Program estimating that at least 1.6 million of the almost 13 million total population would need food aid this year (the 2012-13 dry season).[4]  So the notion of ‘alternative’ food networks becomes strange territory here; alternative to what exactly? Significantly though this context, there are many people forging ‘alternatives’ and not just to hunger and food insecurity.

In such communities, it is well-recognised that much of the drought and food insecurity issues are a direct result of unsustainable agrofood practices. As Allan Savory has demonstrated[5], we have in many places created barren landscapes through our own unsustainable livestock management practices (Savory Institute, 2013). ‘Alternative’ in this context, can then broadly be defined in opposition to the unsustainable (mainstream) agro-food practices that have contributed to desertification, degradation of soils and ecosystems, exploitation and impoverishment of  people and communities, climate change, poverty, malnutrition and disease. As Julious Piti of Zimbabwe’s PORET Trust conveyed, “People need to learn how to live with their natural resources in a sustainable way, without hunger” (personal communication, Feb 2011).

Sustainability in food systems can be defined a variety of ways. To summarise a few common premises: a sustainable food system should minimise the use of non-renewable inputs; should not take more from socio-ecological systems than is put back in; should act fairly with regard for all other human beings both now and in the future; should care for the Earth and our environments, including other living beings; and should create healthy, nourishing foods to be consumed mindfully (Bell 2004).  Furthermore, sustainable agriculture should work with local farmers’ knowledge, improving self-reliance and building on human and social capital (UNCTAD-UNEP 2008). I use the term sustainability in these essays in a broad sense, cognisant of the constancy of change and the contingency of context.  In other words, to sustain is not necessarily to remain unchanged but rather to be resilient in the face of ongoing and multiple challenges.

Considering the array of negative consequences associated with the now dominant trends of the global food economy highlighted above, there are many reasons to follow alternative, more sustainable models of agriculture and food ways. Furthermore, it is acknowledged that crises often precipitate moments of opportunity, or ‘fault lines for transformative possibilities’ (Weis 2007: 8). Considering the crises and upheavals of recent history, it is a key time to explore alternatives and more sustainable strategies in Zimbabwe; and to create and share knowledge of these alternatives to a wider public.  The ‘alternatives’ for a more sustainable agro-food future are too often silenced by the dominant calls for ‘modernisation’, without questioning what kind of modernity is hoped for.

This ongoing research project has taken the approach of seeking out active examples of sustainable agro-food projects. Between October 2011 and July 2012, I visited 18 different projects or organisations across the country, conducting semi-structured interviews with 32 people involved such initiatives. Recognising the importance of sharing ideas, positivity and hope, the following essays draw empirical evidence and inspiration from these active examples of successful ‘sustainable’ agriculture projects in Zimbabwe. The essays consider: 1) food security and sovereignty; 2) building sustainable community and; 3) eco-social imaginaries and transformations. Several of the projects were documented with video, photography and/or in textual form and are available to view here on the blogsite. The aim is to create a useful resource for the organisations themselves and for people interested in learning about these initiatives. It is hoped that this information and discussion will ‘invigorate alternative imaginations and strategic action’ (Weis 2007: 8) for agro-food futures in Zimbabwe.  In doing so, I hope to bring together and contribute to the significant body of ideas already circulating at these diverse project sites, and assist in their efforts to create a more sustainable, positive agro-food future for all.

References and key readings, Part I

Bell, G. (2004) The Permaculture Way: Practical Steps To Create a Self-Sustaining World, Hampshire: Permanent Publications.

Bouagnimbeck, H. (2008) Organic farming in Africa. In Willer, H. M. Yussefi-Menzler and N. Sorensen (eds.) The world of organic agriculture: statistics and emerging trends 2008. IFOAM (Bonn) and FiBL (Frick).

Conway, GR and J. Pretty (1991) Unwelcome harvest: agriculture and pollution. London: Earthscan.

Cousins, B. (2010) ‘Time to ditch the ‘disaster’ scenarios’ Mail and Guardian, May 21st, 2010.

Dorwald, A. (1999) Farm size and productivity in Malawian smallholder agriculture. Journal of Development Studies, 35(5), 59-92.

Economy Watch (2013) Zimbabwe GDP Per Capita (PPP), US Dollars Statistics.  last accessed 10th August 2013.

FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations) (2003) The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003: Monitoring progress towards the World Food Summit and Millennium Development Goals. Rome: FAO.

FiBL (2000) Organic farming enhances soil fertility and biodiversity. Results from a 21 year field trial. FiBL Dossier 1 (August). Zurich: Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL).

Freidberg, S. (2004). The ethical complex of corporate food power. Environment and Planning D-Society & Space 22(4): 513-531.

Funes, F et al. (2002) Sustainable agriculture and resistance: transforming food production in Cuba. Oakland, CA: Food First Books.

Gereffi, G., J. Humphrey, R. Kaplinsky, and T. J. Sturgeon. 2001. Introduction: Globalisation, value chains and development. IDS Bulletin-Institute of Development Studies 32 (3):1-8.

Gliessman, SR. (1998) Agroecology: ecological process in sustainable agriculture. Ann Arbor, MI: Ann Arbor Press.

Goodman, M. K. (2004) Reading fair trade: political ecological imaginary and the moral economy of fair trade foods. Political Geography 23(7): 891-915.

Index Mundi (2013) Zimbabwe Demographic Profile 2013,  last accessed 10th August 2013.

Irin, (2013) Maize shortage renews GM debate in Zim, April 30th. Accessed at

Klein, N. (1999) No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, New York; Picador.

Magdoff, F., Foster, J.B. and Buttel, F. (2004) Hungry for Profit: The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment, New York: Monthly Review Press.

Marsden, T. (1997). Creating Space for Food: the Distinctiveness of Recent Agrarian Development. In M. Watts and D. Goodman (eds). Globalising Food   Routledge, London.

Mascarenhas, M. and Hatanaka, M. (2005) Governance in the global agro-food system: Backlighting the role of transnational supermarket chains, in Agriculture And Human Values 22 (3): 291-302.

McMichael, P. (1994). The global restructuring of agro-food systems, London: Ithaca.

Merchant, C. (2005). Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World. London: Routledge

Merchant, C. (2013). Reinventing Eden: The fate of nature in Western culture. Routledge.

Morgan, K., T. Marsden, et al. (2006). Worlds of Food: Place, Power and Provenance in the Food Chain. Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press.

Piti, J. Personal communication: Interview at PORET Trust, 21st October 2011.

Pretty, J. (2002) Agri-culture: reconnecting people, land and nature. London: Earthscan.

Pretty, J.N, T. Lang, A. Ball and J. Morison (2005) Farm costs and food miles: an assessment of the full cost of the weekly food basket. Food Policy 30 (1), 1-20.

Pretty, J.N. (1995) Regenerating Agriculture: Policies and Practices for Sustainability and Self-Reliance, London: Earthscan.

Richardson, P.E. and Whatmore, S. (2009) ‘Alternative Food Networks’ in Kitchen, R. and Thrift, N. (eds.) International Encyclopedia of Human Geography.

Roberts, P. (2008) The end of food: the coming crisis in the world food industry. London: Bloomsbury.

Rosset, P. (1999) The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture in the Context of Global Trade Negotiations, Food First Policy Brief no. 4, San Francisco: Institute for Food and Development Studies, September.

Rukuni, M., & Eicher, C. K. (1994). Zimbabwe’s agricultural revolution. University of Zimbabwe Publications Office.

Sanchez PA. and MS. Swaminathan (2005) Hunger in Africa: the link between unhealthy people and unhealthy soils. The Lancet 365, 442-444.

Savory Institute website, last accessed 10th Aug 2013.

Smil, V. (2000) Feeding the world. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Ted talks (2013) Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change, last accessed 10th August 2013.

The Chronicle (2010) ‘Communal farmers urged to seriously take farming’ Monday 6th September 2010, p2.

Thompson, C. (2010) Our Food Future: African Alternatives to Agribusiness. Seminar given and the Centre for Civil Society, University of KwaZulu-Natal, 18th March.

Tilman, D., KG. Cassman, PA Matson, R. Naylor and S Polansky (2002) Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices. Nature 418, 674-677.

UNEP-UNCTAD Capacity Building Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development (2008) Organic agriculture and food security in Africa, New York and Geneva: United Nations Publication.

United Nations World Food Programme (2013) Zimbabwe Overview, last accessed 10th August 2013.

Weis, T. (2007) The Global Food Economy: The Battle for the Future of Farming, Zed Books, Ltd, London.

Whatmore, S. (1995) From Farming to Agribusiness: Global Agrifood Networks. In Watts, M. and Johnston, R.J. (eds.), Geographies of Global Change, London: Blackwell.

Whiteside, M. (1998) Living systems: encouraging sustainable smallholders in southern Africa. London: Earthscan.

[1] Vertical integration refers to how individual TNCs coordinate and profit from activities in all spheres of exchange. There has been a strong trend for TNCs, (such as British Associated Foods, Proctor and Gamble, Nestlé, etc.), to buy out operations/firms mediating the food supply chain (Whatmore 1995).

[4]  United Nations World Food Programme 2013:

[5] Ted talks (2013)


Part II: Food sovereignty and security

In Zimbabwe, 1.6 million are estimated to be dependent on food aid and 34% are considered ‘chronically malnourished’.[1]  The main staple diet for the bulk of the population consists of maize meal gruel (sadza) served with a side relish of meat (usually beef, goat or chicken) or vegetables (usually chomolelia/rape or similar leafy green).  Tomatoes, onions, beans and cabbage tend to be available to buy via town markets all year round.  Around harvest time, various pumpkins and squash, sweet potatoes, ground nuts and fruits are also plentiful. During ‘hunger time’, many of the poorer folk in the rural areas subsist on one or two meals a day, typically of sadza with a dried leafy green vegetable. There is much contrast in food access and diversity between different areas of the country and between the urban and rural.  In towns, since 2009, shops stock a plentiful supply of bread, sugar, tinned and dried goods, imported fruits, vegetables and dairy.  In some areas (e.g. near Lake Kariba), fish is cheap and available. Much of the fresh produce, besides meat, is imported from South Africa. Access to food is dependent on access to cash and with between 60 and 90% (depending on the source) estimated to be unemployed, many rely on remittances from family members working outside of the country.

In this context, ‘food security’ has been high on the donor agenda.  Food security is generally defined as a condition where “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (World Food Summit 1996). This has indeed been a primary goal of most of the small agrofood projects that I have thus far visited in Zimbabwe. Generating a stable source of nutrition for a particular community was high on the agenda of all concerned, given the spiralling high levels of food insecurity since the mid-2000s.  This insecurity was generally explained by a decreased access to cash and increasing prices, rather than a decline in agricultural productivity or produce available to buy. Belonging to a community garden project, such as Mpumelelo or Mountain of Hope, is therefore primarily an ‘alternative’ to food insecurity; an ‘alternative’ to going hungry. By corollary, it is also an alternative to dependency on the capitalist food economy (from which many already have been marginalised through a lack of purchasing power).

The community gardens provide participating members with a regular supply of fresh vegetables for home consumption and therefore address household food insecurity in an effective way, (although cash is often still required for purchase of grain meal).  Multiple ‘sustainability’ strategies including conservation farming (Hlekweni, River of Hope), permaculture (Mpumelelo, PORET), and organic farming (Mountain of Hope) are underway at these gardens, depending on the agenda of the support organisation.  But in my mind, what was interesting was a consciousness of the significance of taking control of (part of) one’s own food supply chain.  Whereas a concern solely with food security could render these gardens obsolete once the cash income of participants rises (so that they no longer have difficulty in accessing the market economy), a concern with self-determination of the food supply chain shifts the terrain of meaning and renders the garden a political act; (political in the sense of intervening in power relations). I argue in this essay that a consciousness of self-determination and intervention in the food supply chain contributes to making such projects more socially and therefore holistically sustainable.

The search for self-determination and power over what you eat can be thought of in terms of ‘food sovereignty’. This has been defined as ‘the right of people to produce, distribute and consume healthy food in or near their territory in an ecologically sustainable manner’ (Altieri and Toledo 2011, 588). Food sovereignty emphasises local autonomy, local markets, [and] local production-consumption cycles (ibid., 607).  In the cases visited here, this emerging search for food sovereignty often presented itself in response to the debilitating experience of facing food insecurity and being dependent on external food aid. But in other cases, it was also connected to concerns over food safety. Didymus Taruvinga, lead farmer at the Mountain of Hope project, spoke of concerns over the effect of pesticide application on the nutritional qualities of food: “We realised that the chemicals which is [sic] being used …during the production of carrots is going to give after-effects to the … people who consume”. Their organic farming project thus actively countered this concern and gave participants a sense of empowerment and self-determination over the safety and quality of their food. Belinda Sparrow-Smith’s organic lettuce project also communicated the importance of food sovereignty for her, as she talked to me about the high levels of cancer in the area, the possible connection to the high rates of pesticide and herbicide applications by conventional growers and the use of unclean water. “I wouldn’t eat their tomatoes”, she said.  Taking control of her family’s food intake, mobilising different (organic) quality conventions, is an act of asserting food sovereignty.

So food sovereignty is not just having about power and control per se; it is more than this. It is about the power to intervene in specific and personal ways, with social conventions and political economies that govern food production and distribution systems at large. The intervention may be small and inconsequential to the system, but this is not necessarily the point.  That said, these localised assertions of food sovereignty sometimes do make incursions into the wider food economy. For example, Belinda’s organic lettuce is now to be found on the shelves of Food Lovers Market, available to anyone who cares to take an interest and pay the small premium over the neighbouring ‘non-organic’ lettuce on the shelf.  It is a shame that the retailer does not take any responsibility to educate shoppers on what it means that this particular lettuce is ‘organic’. Without sharing the knowledge of how the product is grown, sovereignty over food choices cannot be shared/extended.

So food sovereignty is also about ‘food knowledge’; either knowing and growing your own food or, codifying such knowledge through certification schemes and branding such as the FairTrade label or here in Zimbabwe, the ZimOrganic label. Such codifying strategies are dependent on trust between the consumer and all other actors along the food supply chain, which is quite difficult to generate in Zimbabwe due to the paucity of general consumer standards and monitoring organisations. Here then, food sovereignty is especially connected to participating directly in food production or at least witnessing it first-hand.

In Harare, others are taking up this concern, criticising standard agricultural conventions and making broader interventions in food supply chains.  ZOPPA recently created the ZimOrganic label and protocol and are actively pursuing an agenda of public education, farmer monitoring and the setting of legally binding standards, thereby attempting to generate awareness and trust throughout the certified organic food supply chain.  The Mountain of Hope farmers in Wedza, facilitated by ZOPPA and Fambidzanai Training Centre, have adopted the ZimOrganic scheme to certify their produce under these international organic standards.

I only visited ‘successful’ community garden projects thus far, so cannot draw solid conclusions as to the importance of food sovereignty to the sustainability of community gardens, but it would be interesting to know if projects that do not endure are characterised by a lack of concern for food sovereignty.  I suspect this is the case. It is important to also remember that an interest in food sovereignty often  interacts with gender relations; women are usually the main participants of community gardens and if they are providing their own vegetables, they do not have to ask for money (usually from a male) to buy them. This gendered aspect of self-determination and independence is, in itself, enough to make a project more durable and resilient.

References and key readings, Part II

African Union (2006) Status of food security and prospects for agricultural development in Africa. African union: Addis Ababa.

Altieri, M.A. (2009) Agroecology, small farms and food sovereignty. Monthly Review 61: 3, 102-111.

Altieri, M.A. and Toledo, V. (2011) The agroecological revolution in Latin America: rescuing nature, ensuring food sovereignty and empowering peasants. Journal of Peasant Studies, 38 (3), 587-612.

Altieri, M.A., P. Rosset and L.A. Thrupp (1998) The potential of agroecology to combat hunger in the developing world, 2020 Brief, IFPRI: Washington DC.

Benson, T. (2004) Africa’s food and nutrition security situation: where are we now and how did we get here? 2020 Discussion Paper No 37, IFPRI: Washington DC.

Bolwig, S., M. Odeke and P. Gibbon (2007) Household food security effects of certified organic production in tropical Africa: a gendered analysis, EPOPA.

FAO (2005) The state of food insecurity in the world. Rome: FAO.

Nyoni, D. (2008) The organisation of rural associations for progress, Zimbabwe: self-reliance for sustainability. Gatekeeper 137d. International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED)

Perfecto, I., J. Vandermeer and A. Wright (2009) Nature’s matrix: linking agriculture, conservation and food sovereignty,  London: Earthscan.

Pimbert, M. (2009) Towards food sovereignty: reclaiming autonomous food systems, Gatekeeper 141, International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED).

Rosegrant, M.W., S.A. Cline, W. Li, T.B. Sulser and V. Valmonte-Santos (2005) Looking ahead: long-term prospects for Africa’s agricultural development and food security. Discussion Paper 41, IFPRI: Washington DC.

Rosset, P.M. (2009) Food sovereignty in Latin America: confronting the new crisis.  NACLA Report on the Americas. May-June, 16-21.

UK Food Group (2010) Securing future food: towards ecological food provision. UK Food Group Briefing. Available from:

UNEP-UNCTAD Capacity Building Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development (2008) Organic agriculture and food security in Africa. New York and Geneva: United Nations Publication.

UNICEF (2013) Building a Zimbabwe fit for children, last accessed 10th August 2013

ZOPPA website: last accessed 10th August 2013.


[1] UNICEF, 2013

Some of the videos featured here were made by the author. The video production methodology was semi-collaborative, in that interviews and conversations were first carried out with participants, followed by collaborative planning of what the video was to portray.  I then shot and edited the footage, seeking feedback from those involved.  Images and links are embedded in the following text, enabling the reader to interact with these resources and gain a richer insight into the case studies.

Click on the links below to view video clips from different projects around Zimbabwe:

Introducing Mountain of Hope organic farmers association, (high resolution) from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.

Introducing Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.

Introducing the PORET Trust from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.

Mr Hodere’s Experimental Permaculture Garden from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.

Mpumelelo Organic Community Garden from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.

KufundaYouthProgram-S from David Gossard on Vimeo.

Introducing Kufunda – a community of learning from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.


The Chikukwa Project – Trailer from Gillian Leahy on Vimeo.


Vermicomposting from Life Lab on Vimeo.

Victoria Falls Eco-composting from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.

Fambidzanai Permaculture Training Centre, Harare from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.

Part III: Reinventing community

All projects are dependent on the participation of a group of people who, through their common practices or purpose, form a ‘community’.  Group cohesion and commonality of vision are therefore essential to the sustainability and resilience of a project. Conflicts within community are often the key cause of a project collapsing. Two particular projects in Zimbabwe that, having both run for over 10 years, demonstrated resilience also had inventive and quite radical ways of re-making community: Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust (CELUCT) in Manicaland and Kufunda Learning Village in Mashonaland. In both these projects, building vibrant and sustainable communities has become the main focus, with food and agriculture being only one element contributing to that overall sustainability.

These projects are continuously and consciously building and re-building their communities and there are three inter-connected aspects of this that I wish to highlight here.

1)    Practices of governance

Participatory practices are integral to both these communities. At Kufunda, I was fortunate to join one of their regular Monday morning community meetings. We all sat in a circle and a ‘talking stick’ was passed around the circle, with all respecting the sole right of the holder to speak (or not to speak) at that time. As the object moved around the circle, each person shared how they were feeling and what had been going on with them in the past week.   This patient process is designed to encourage active, democratic participation and honours each person’s unique talent, standpoint and contribution. After this process of ‘tuning in’, specific village tasks and issues were discussed with different issues then passed on to delegated cluster/interest groups. There was no individual leader or ‘chief’; instead all were equally invited to participate in making collective decisions.

At Chikukwa, their model of learning also follows a participatory model, having been ‘horizontal’ or ‘peer-to-peer’ since the project began. They started their own “permaculture school” in 1995, where people in the community would take it in turns to address each other on topics that they were deemed to have a particular interest in or experience with. So for example, farmers with a fruitful orchard at home were invited to talk about agroforestry. The community would then be encouraged to put into practice what they were learning, to ‘look and learn’ by visiting good examples and eventually, clusters of specialist groups formed. So the community are their own teachers and all teachers are also learners too. This is not unlike the ‘communiversity’ concept that is active at Kufunda, although there, more trainers tend to visit from elsewhere and their remit is much broader than permaculture.

In both projects, various forms of conflict have arisen. As Phineas Chikoshana from Chikukwa put it, “conflicts are everywhere. As an individual, you always have conflicts within yourself (…) and when one is not at peace with him or herself, then that person is bound to have conflicts with others as well. So it’s very important to cultivate a spirit of peace within the community.”  In 2006, in response to the emerging community conflicts, CELUCT initiated their ‘Building Constructive Community Relations’ (BCCR) program. This has since, out of a natural necessity, become a central pillar of the Chikukwa project. As time passed and new problems began to arise, (as people worked together in new ways or with new agendas), it was recognized that conflicts (always) arise and so people must know how to effectively deal with them.  Through the BCCR program, CELUCT members worked to sensitize each other to conflict resolution methods, in particular the ‘Three Circles of Knowledge’ approach (Westermann 2008), so that the community could move forward and not allow conflicts to destroy what they had achieved. As Phineas shared with me, “development needs peace [in order] to thrive” and so “we must learn how to transform conflict situations”. In other words, as an organization, CELUCT identified that one cannot avoid community conflict and so the project had to integrate these conflict management trainings into their core practice. This, I feel, is likely the key to their success in maintaining a community-led project over such a long period (22 years!).

Likewise, at Kufunda, the community has integrated several peace-building tools into their village life, including personal tools for transformation such as yoga, aikido and Warrior of the Heart practices.  Like at Chikukwa, the villagers have experienced periods of conflict and crisis but have learnt to (a) expect these as part of community life, (b) to minimise them through community practices and (c) to address them through innovative participatory communication methods. These aspects of community governance have ensured that such projects thrive and endure.

2)    Opening up subjectivities and reconfiguring power relations

As can be gleaned from the brief overview of community governance practices above, both projects stand out as sites of inventive and radical experiment in “what it means to live in community” (Knuth- Kufunda founding member). This obviously has implications for the subjectivities of those participating in such communities.  While respecting and valuing many ‘traditional’ (ancestral and gender-based) roles through, for example, gender-specific meetings, consultations and celebrations, both communities have also found ways to adjust or reform power relations to integrate and honour a spirit of democracy. This, I think, has had considerable implications for gender relations and youth subjectivities in particular. In contrast to more ‘traditional’ communities, these villages have empowered women and young people through an emphasis on participation and encouraging the individual spirit, as well as the community, to flourish.

Many of the initial and current volunteers at CELUCT, for example, are women, as this is a community with high levels of male-outmigration; men often leave to seek employment on Chimanimani’s forestry estates or in the cities.  Patience Sithole, a founding member and one of the original six volunteers, described how the project has acted as an empowering force for women, who learnt how to make their own decisions, manage and solve their problems together and create their own livelihoods through activities such as bee-keeping, jam-making and selling garden produce. The community-led nature of the project also acted to bring people together in a more democratic and constructive way, which enabled issues such as gender violence and abuse to be discussed more openly. Moreover, in the act of coming together to take collective responsibility for problems such as deforestation, soil erosion and flooding, the people also began to address other issues such as HIV/AIDS.

In both projects, youth are a central focus and are offered various leadership training programs and are invited to participate in village meetings on an equal footing with elders. They are found to be active leaders in various fields at both sites and this is celebrated and respected by those that benefit from their energy and enthusiasm. This is rather different from more traditional community dynamics where younger people are often expected to be quiet and to honour the wishes of those older than themselves.

3)    Connecting with other communities

The third characteristic of these two projects is their active and long-term connections with other communities. CELUCT is funded by various overseas donors and has received international attention in permaculture circles.  They now act as a host organisation for training workshops and also have outreach programs. They network and collaborate with other regional organisations such as TSURO and Kufunda. CELUCT host conflict resolution trainings and even ran such a workshop with Kufunda Village in 2013.

Kufunda is remarkable in Zimbabwe in the way it is shaped by contemporary emergences at the international level, such as the internet, social media, the global village concept and the transition movement. This is evident in, for example, the inception of the project through an international email invitation. International volunteers and trainers, researchers and visitors like myself, as well as youth trainees, also regularly pitch up and participate, becoming an ephemeral part of the local Kufunda community. Moreover, through social networking sites such as Facebook, such participants are able to maintain an emotional and discursive connection to and involvement with the village. In fact, most of the material donations that fund the youth program and other developments are generated through these online and trans-local connections. Kufunda is thus actively participating in global networks and mobilisations, whilst simultaneously it is embedded in a unique context and constellation of villagers.  In communion and connection with other communities in disparate geographical locations, Kufunda receives not only funding and in kind trainings from outsiders, but is also exposed to alternative configurations of power in community, and to wide networks of ‘emotional’ support. This, I suggest, enhances the resilience of the project, which is highly conscious of its own significance and is able to learn from further afield. However, the dependence on outside sources of funding is a risk, common to most of the other projects in Zimbabwe and must be addressed.

To conclude, the longevity or sustainability of these two particular projects, I would argue, is deeply connected to their innovative and holistic approaches to community-building. Both projects are attentive to local conditions and traditions while remaining open to cosmopolitan influences.  As such, I found that at these sites, people conveyed a broader outlook and sense of interconnectedness, were fluent in global environmental concerns (eg. climate change) and also had a more radical sense of social justice. Moreover, at both Chikukwa and Kufunda, there is close attention and responsiveness to the dynamics of local community, whilst they remain open to (and expectant of) change.  Finally, both projects communicated a sense of responsibility to share their experiences and we must thank them, as there is much we can all learn from them about resilient and inspirational ‘re-inventions of community’.

References and key readings, Part III

Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum International Publishing Group.

Hocdé, HJ. E. Vázquez, E. Holt-Gimenez and AR. Brown (2000) Towards a social movement of farmer innovation: campesino a campesino. ILEIA Newsletter, July, 26-27.

Holt-Gimenez, E. (2006) Campesino a campesino: voices from Latin America’s farmer-to-farmer movement for sustainable agriculture. Oakland, CA: Food First Books.

Kinpaisby, M. (2008) Taking stock of participatory geographies: envisioning the communiversity. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 33: 292–299.

Mukute, M. (2009) Cultural Historical Activity Theory, expansive learning and agency in permaculture workplaces. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education 26, 150-166.

Murwira, K., H. Wedgewood, C. Watson, EJ Win, and C. Tawney (2000) Beating hunger, the Chivi experience: a community-based approach to food security in Zimbabwe. Intermediate techbology Publications, London.

Njovana, E., & Watts, C. (1996). Gender violence in Zimbabwe: a need for collaborative action. Reproductive health matters, 4(7), 46-55.

Søndergård, B., Hansen, E. O., Holm, J., & Kerndrup, S. (2004). Creation and sharing of environmental knowledge across communities and networks. Aalborg Universitet.

Uphoff, N. (2002) Agroecological innovations: increasing food production with participatory development. London: Earthscan.

Westermann, E. (2008) The three circles of knowledge: how to build constructive community relations by understanding conflicts in rural African communities. Tien Wah Press: CELUCT.

Wheatley, M., & Frieze, D. (2011). Walk out walk on: A learning journey into communities daring to live the future now. Berrett-Koehler Store.

Wolf, P. R., & Rickard, J. A. (2003). Talking circles: A Native American approach to experiential learning. Journal of multicultural counseling and development, 31(1), 39-43.

Woolcock, M., & Narayan, D. (2000). Social capital: Implications for development theory, research, and policy. The world bank research observer, 15(2), 225-249.


Zephaniah Phiri Maseko is a well-known pioneer of what has come to be known as ‘water harvesting’ and is the founder of the Zvishavane Water Project. A visionary with no fear of hard toil, he has over many years transformed his family plot in Msipani- an ‘Area 5’ dryland- into a veritable ‘wetland’ agro-ecosystem. Having faced many struggles in his life, (which are beautifully documented in “The Water Harvester: episodes from the inspired life of Zephaniah Phiri” by Mary Witoshynsky), Phiri began his experiments by modifying the Rhodesian government’s protocol ‘contour ridges’ to create sand traps and water infiltration pits. He sought not only to prevent soil erosion but to ‘harvest’ and ‘plant’ the water that fell as rain or ran as surface runoff on his land.  Looking for a ‘poor man’s method’ that would be useful to himself and other small farmers in the community, he experimented with various ways of capturing water.

A key activity was to dig contour ridges with infiltration pits (or swales) along every field, as well as planting trees here to stabilise the soil and prevent erosion

A key activity was to dig contour ridges with infiltration pits (or swales) along every field, as well as planting trees here to stabilise the soil and prevent erosion


Storing water is not too difficult; the biggest challenge was to channel water to the right place; the fields. Phiri lay underground channels with pipes and used natural gradients to direct the stored water to his crops.

Storing water is not too difficult; the biggest challenge was to channel water to the right place; the fields. Phiri lay underground channels with pipes and used natural gradients to direct the stored water to his crops.


…”that streambed I mentioned? Well, today that seasonal stream is a pond. It is quite large, about a quarter of an acre, and the water in it was harnessed over the years by my water harvesting ideas. A pond is a rare thing in this part of our country and many people have come to my farm to see it for themselves. It never goes dry. During drought, people walk as far as five miles to get water here”. (p 42)



As well as sharing his experience of water harvesting, through the Zvishavane Water Project, Phiri encourages organic and permaculture practices such as mulching and composting. “We are also discouraging chemicals. (…) These artificial fertilizers damage our soil. I wish farmers would really understand the importance of using nitrogen-fixing plants in their fields. These would serve the soil for quite some time. (…) People should be encouraged to use composts”. (p 49)

Thanks to his own great endeavours and to support from Oxfam (GB), EEC microgrants and NOVIB, he established the Zvishavane Water Project in 1987 and has since supported the local community in replicating his successes with water harvesting. We can see that there are multiple benefits from the socio-ecological transformations brought by water harvesting; for Phiri, the main goal is self-sufficiency at the community level.

Part IV: Eco-social imaginations and transformations

Here, I draw a connection between imaginations, ethics and practices in sustainable food projects.  An interesting dimension to the projects I visited in Zimbabwe is their different ways of thinking about and working with the eco-social world. By ‘eco-social’, I draw attention to the inseparability of the ecological and the social, or natural and cultural worlds, which have become largely separated in modern modes of thought. This term draws attention to relations involving humans and nonhumans. I found that different people and projects have different ways of imagining ecosocial relations, making a difference to the depth and breadth of their approaches to sustainability.

More conventional approaches to agriculture are generally guided by an imagined separation between society and environment, human and nonhuman worlds. They have technocratic, managerial or possibly ‘stewardship’ orientations towards working with the environment and often imagine a relation of control, domestication or guardianship of nature. More sustainable models of agriculture, on the other hand, often have a more ecological, holistic or integrated view. These approaches are more likely to imagine humans and nonhumans (of all forms) as part of an interconnected and complex web of life, where the interactions and relationships between different actors are central; (note that nonhumans are considered as active participants in these relations).  These different imaginations affect the kind of ethics that shape these projects, both in terms of the way that inter-relations and dependencies are understood, as well as the kinds of obligations and commitments that arise. These different ways of imagining eco-social relations and ethics are pivotal to how people behave and the practices that they enrol in food production; essentially, they affect the material transformations that can take place. In this way, ‘ethics’ are inseparable from ‘ethos’ (our everyday practical actions and ways of being).

I focus here on the community projects based on permaculture practices and principles.  Permaculture is ‘a global movement with many local actualisations. Its motto is ‘care of earth, care of people, return of the surplus’.  Generally speaking, it promotes ecological living (urban and rural), local food production, development of alternative energies and radical democratic forms of organisation: ‘Permaculture is about creating sustainable human habitats by following nature’s patterns’ (Burnett 2008, 8)’ (in Puig de la Bellacasa 2010, 151-152).  Permaculture tends to foster an imagination of mutually dependent and integrated eco-social relations, whereby humans are positioned as participants in a system where other parts of that system (animals, plants, waterways, etc) also have significant rights and roles to play.  Humans are seen less as managers and more as co-workers, with a vision of generating a system of health and abundance from which all (humans and nonhumans) benefit. By giving back the surplus, or creating a self-feeding system, there is no waste and no need for ‘external’ or non-renewable inputs.

At Kufunda Village, the community developed a holistic way of managing what is usually considered human waste, to instead ‘returning the surplus’ and thereby performing a key permaculture principle.   As a rural project, there is no sewerage or mains water system here. Unlike most other rural communities in Zimbabwe (where unproductive ‘long-drop’ loos and, in some places, open defecation, are the norm), at Kufunda, they recycle human waste (or ‘humanure’) using composting toilets. There are two types of composting loos at Kufunda. One is the ‘arborloo’, where a mobile upper loo is put above a pit, and moved on once the pit is three-quarters full. Topsoil is added and a tree is then planted in the pit. The other type is the twin composting loo, which cycles the process of decomposition and compost production over a period of about two years. Two pits are made inside a permanent outer structure.  Once the first pit is full, it is covered with a concrete slab and the other pit is then utilised. After about a year, the excrement in the first pit has decomposed into a safe compost and it can be emptied and used as an organic fertiliser. The cycle continues as the second pit fills. In both of these types of toilet, one puts a few cups of leaves, ash and soil into the loo after use and this helps to ward off evil smells and cover the deposit, as well as aiding the production of a fertile, well-structured compost.   In this way, human energy ‘outflow’ is transformed into a valuable input to the agro-ecological system; waste is transformed into non-waste, at no cost.

At the PORET Trust in Chaseyama, another key practice of permaculture is performed; that of encouraging ground cover.  Instead of sweeping the yard bare and burning the grasses in surrounding woodlands, the Piti family put mulch around their crops and encourage year-round ground cover.  This facilitates the infiltration of rainwater and reduces surface runoff, evaporation and soil erosion. It is therefore of benefit to the trees and plants growing here, which in turn, benefit the Piti family in the form of food and shade.  But the explanations I received for this practice (which is unconventional here), were not narrowly utilitarian and human-centered.  Piti referred to enabling a healthy habitat for wildlife, including birds, bees, butterflies, worms and such, and to helping restore the underground water catchment.  These aspects then have great benefits for human inhabitants too; there is no easy division between human and nonhuman when it comes to ‘who benefits’. The ideal is for healthy relationships to lead to an eco-social system where all should thrive and have life in abundance. Here we can clearly see the permaculture principles of ‘care of earth, care of people and return of the surplus’ being performed.

Through the Chaseyama Permaculture Club, the PORET Trust fosters community-based learning and sharing of knowledge about permaculture techniques. The idea is to facilitate the expansion of the above kind of eco-social system, to encompass and benefit an entire watershed.  This is an ambitious project, where not everybody will opt in to these unconventional practices. However, the eco-social imagination and some of the ‘care of people, care of earth’ principles are not far adrift from older, traditional notions of ubuntu[1]. For example, social giving to those in need, community sharing practices and respect for and minimal intervention in ‘nature’ are often explained as indigenous practices that ‘the ancestors’ favoured. Whether this is true or imagined, the explanation encourages people to easily adopt (some) permaculture practices as ‘traditional’ rather than viewing them as a ‘western’.

A related and important aspect of permaculture, which has been commented upon elsewhere, is its situated or grounded approach. That is, all the principles, practices and techniques of permaculture are framed by a primary allegiance to the embedded locality; that is, where you are changes how you ‘perform’ permaculture.  This makes it a very flexible and context-dependent way of working.  Broadly speaking, it fosters an eco-social imagination that brings together humans and their nonhuman co-habitors and co-workers as a union.  The goal is not just sustainability or resilience, but abundance, balance and thriving of all lifeforms. Where this abundance is emerging, at sites like Chikukwa, Chaseyama, Zvishavane, Dimbangombe and Kufunda, there is then a strong chance that these projects can be sustainable in a deeply holistic sense, as when many forms of life benefit, these are all incentivised to participate, endure and ultimately thrive.

References and key readings, Part IV

Abram, D. (1996). The spell of the sensuous: Language in a more-than-human world. NY: Pantheon Books.

Altieri, M A. (1995) Agroecology: the science of sustainable agriculture. Boulder CO: Westview Press.

Altieri, M.A. (2004) Linking ecologists and traditional farmers in the search for sustainable agriculture. Frontiers in ecology and the environment, 2, 35-42.

Bell, G. (2004) The Permaculture Way: Practical Steps To Create a Self-Sustaining World, Hampshire: Permanent Publications.

Braun, B. and Castree, N. (eds.) (2001) Social Nature: Theory, Practice, and Politics, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Burnett, G (2008) Permaculture. A Beginner’s Guide. Westcliff on Sea: Spiralseed.

Devenan, W.M. (1995) Prehistoric agricultural methods as models for sustainability. Advanced Plant Pathology 11, 21-43.

Dewalt, B.R. (1994) Using indigenous knowledge to improve agriculture and natural resource management. Human Organisation 52(2), 123-131.

Donati, K., Cleary, S., & Pike, L. (2009) Bodies, bugs and dirt: Sustainability re-imagined in community gardens, In: Lawrence G, Lyons K, Wallington T, eds.

Food Security, Nutrition and Sustainability: New Chal-lenges, Future Options

. London, UK: Earthscan; 2009:207-222

In: Lawrence G, Lyons K, Wallington T, eds.

Food Security, Nutrition and Sustainability: New Chal-lenges, Future Options

. London, UK: Earthscan; 2009:207-222

in Lawrence, G., Lyons, K., & Wallington, T. (eds). Food security, nutrition and sustainability. London: Earthscan, pp. 207-222.

Esposito, R. (2008) Bios: biopolitics and philosophy. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Glanzberg, J. (1999) Permaculture as a Way of Seeing and Acting. In Cajete, G. (ed.) A people’s ecology: explorations in sustainable living. Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishers, pp.225-242.

Holgrem, D. (2002) Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability. Hepburn: Holgrem Design Services.

Koohafkan, P. and M.A. Altieri (2010) Globally important agricultural heritage systems: a legacy for the future. Rome: UN-FAO.

McNeely, J.A. and S.J. Schlerr (2003) Ecoagriculture. Washington DC: Island Press.

Merchant, C. (2005). Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World. London: Routledge

Merchant, C. (2013). Reinventing Eden: The fate of nature in Western culture. Routledge.

Mollison, B. (1988). Permaculture: a designer’s manual. Permaculture: a designer’s manual. Tagari: Tyalgum, Australia

Peacock, Laurel. “Inventing Nature: Re-writing Time and Agency in a More-than-Human World.” (2009).

Puig de la Casa, M (2010) Ethical doings in naturecultures. Ethics, Place & Environment 13:2, 151-169

Sanchez PA. and MS. Swaminathan (2005) Hunger in Africa: the link between unhealthy people and unhealthy soils. The Lancet 365, 442-444.

Whatmore, S. (2006) Materialist returns: practising cultural geographies in and for a more-than-human world. Cultural Geographies, 13(4): 600-610.

Worster D. (1993) The wealth of nature: environmental history and the ecological imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.




[1] Ubuntu is an Nguni Bantu term roughly translating to “human kindness”, used in Southern Africa (South Africa and Zimbabwe), it has come to be used as a term for a kind of humanist philosophy, ethic or ideology, also known as Ubuntuism.

TSURO Trust is an NGO that started in 1999 after communities in Chimanimani started to catch on to value of the work being done, since 1991, by CELUCT in Chikukwa. NGOS and government, together with the community, came together to establish a district-level program to complement CELUCT’s village-level activities. TSURO began without funds but by 2001, had managed to get Kellogg Foundation funding to work in 3 wards (out of a total of 23 wards in the Chimanimani district). They have since been awarded funding by the Weltfriedensdienst (WFD) and Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED), the Japanese Embassy and the Tudor Trust, among others. They are a membership-based organisation with a $5 per village annual fee.

Currently having 30 staff on board, TSURO work in the Chimanimani district focussing on capacity building at the local level. Their mandate involves the application of permaculture for improving food security, nutrition and value-added livelihood activities. They take a holistic approach to agro-food interventions and practice participatory village-based planning. These plans are then consolidated at the ward level and consulted at the district level.
Their philosophy is to start interventions in food security and livelihoods right at the doorstep.


Rainwater drainage feeds these easily accessible kitchen herbs

They also take the ‘lead farmer’ approach (i.e. training of trainers); they now have about 250 ‘lead farmers’, identified by the community, whom they train in permaculture techniques in order to train others in the community. Frequently organising fieldtrips for communities to learn from each other, they also initiate ‘starter groups’, whereby one community member teaches a small group on a topic about which they are knowledgable and then these groups develop their skills and cultivate different specialisms. Skills are then shared with others through ongoing farmer-to-farmer workshops.
TSURO holds regular workshops and meetings, promoting key permaculture techniques such as the integration of livestock and crop management, as well as agroforestry, mulching and importantly, rainwater harvesting.

Swales channel rainwater along slopes, slowing it down to encourage increased infiltration, trapping it in pits and reducing soil erosion

Swales channel rainwater along slopes, slowing it down to encourage increased infiltration, trapping it in pits and reducing soil erosion

Guttering to harvest rainwater into a storage tank

Guttering to harvest rainwater into a storage tank

These trees provide shade, fruits, soil stabilisation and increased water-holding capacity in the soil

These trees provide shade, fruits, soil stabilisation and increased water-holding capacity in the soil

Trees can also generate income through sales

Trees can also generate income through sales

Mulching increases the water retention of the soil and reduces evaporation

Mulching increases the water retention of the soil and reduces evaporation


TSURO also promote the use of nitrogen-fixing plants as an organic and low-cost method of soil enrichment. Lucina, sesbania beans, pigeon peas, comfrey and acacias are examples of the plants used for this purpose.

Outreach and training programs encompass irrigation schemes, composting and permaculture home designs. Great work has been done with local township women in Ngangu, Chimanimani, TSURO dedicate much work to the promotion of open pollinated varieties, seeing this as essential for food security. They organise ‘seed fayres’, seed saving and sharing schemes, and run competitions to motivate people to get involved in preserving indigenous seed varieties.

Simple A-frame solar dehydrator under construction at Ngangu home, for drying fruit and veg

Simple A-frame solar dehydrator under construction at Ngangu home, for drying fruit and veg


They also provide valuable marketing assistance in the form of Temz, which is a private company run by TSURO that buys produce directly from farmers to assist them with processing and distribution. They also help to locate other markets for community production and assist with value-added production. Truck hire is available to members at $0.70/km.

One of their most inspiring projects is the community health initiative, Zunde Tamambo, which brings the permaculture principle of caring for people alive by promoting community support for vulnerable individuals (such as orphans and the elderly) by cultivating food crops on special plots of land on their behalf. Alias Mlambo reported that there is a low adoption rate of permaculture by conventional stakeholders, who have been trained in conventional agriculture and agro-economics. There is resistance among these influential actors and so it has been difficult to influence policy at the national level. However, community level interest in Chimanmani is high; poorer rural people have been more open to seeing the benefits available to them and adopting permaculture principles and techniques.

TSURO fosters a vision of Chimanimani becoming a ‘Permaculture District’. Experience, they argue, has proven the benefits of permaculture for livelihood generation, food security and environmental conservation/rehabilitation in this context. Moreover, they suggest, permaculture is ‘closer to traditional practices’ and its principles and practices foster community-building, encouraging unity and cooperation between people.

This garden project has 42 members and operates on 4 hectares of land in Dewe Village, Matopos. This is in the dry Matebeleland South Province of Zimbabwe. The project is facilitated by the Fambidzanai Permaculture Training Centre in Harare, who provided training in permaculture and business skills, and currently offer on-site support in the form of Mr Crispen Dungeni, who is a FPTC staff member based in the area.

The project focusses on household and community consumption and therefore grows a traditional array of vegetables including chomeolia (kale), spinach, onions and tomatoes. They also practice agro-forestry and so we find pawpaws and banana trees here too. The garden is organic, but the farmers I met on site here were not especially clued up or passionate about this aspect.  The emphasis here was on improving community nutrition and supporting those in need, such as the elderly, AIDS orphans and the sick. Importantly, this is also a livelihood project, generating  income for the mainly female members who cultivate the garden. This makes a huge difference in a place such as Dewe Village, where there is little cash-based employment and families need to find money to pay for school fees and basic goods.

Mpumelelo Organic Community Garden from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.


Belinda Sparrow-Smith of Bulawayo undertook a short course in permaculture in South Africa four years ago, specializing in Mandala Domes, or mobile chicken-runs. On her return home, she started a small commercial project in her own backyard, driven by the need to raise funds to pay her children’s school fees.

The project revolves around keeping chickens in mobile domed enclosures, or ‘chicken tractors’ and after moving the chickens, planting organic lettuce and salad crops in the ‘mandala’. Chickens are kept in one mandala for 2-3 weeks, where they naturally fertilize and aerate the soil, picking out weed seeds and preparing the soil for planting. So when the chicken enclosures are moved on to the next mandala, a rich, fertile manure, perfect for planting, is left behind.

Belinda also makes her own organic compost from cut grass, garden and kitchen waste, and cow manure bartered from nearby farmers. No artificial chemical fertilizers or pesticides are applied in this beautiful garden.  Vermiculture (or worm-farming) is practiced, in a ‘lazy’ fashion, says Belinda. This involves keeping a wormery- a breathable box- which has a worm-laden compost layer at the bottom. On top of this, waste kitchen peelings are added. The worms must be kept moist and in the shade to avoid over-heating. The worms digest the organic material and in the process, generate an extremely rich compost that is added to the garden soil.

Compost heap




Rich vermicompost


On the outside edge of the salad beds, Belinda often grows other plants to form a barrier, which helps to keep out running grasses. She also grows kitchen herbs in old car tyres and on reclaimed rubble piles. As well as providing tasty additions to the cooking pot, such plants help to stabilise the soil, repel pests and attract pollinators. Other plants are grown for their specific qualities as ‘green manure’.  These are living plants that naturally enrich the soil, such as comfrey and lucerne (also known as alfafa).

Lucerne is an insectary plant; a place where insects congregate. In organic farming, this is considered helpful to other (food/cash) crops when the two are inter-planted. The lucerne attracts predatory and parasitic insects, thereby protecting the lettuce.  Belinda also feeds lucerne to the chickens, who literally jump for it; being protein-rich, it is a great forage crop and helps promote egg growth and strong shells.

Another important aspect of permaculture applied in this garden is agroforestry- integrating the planting of trees with ground crops. Trees provide valuable shade and fruits, as well as stabilizing soil structure and water holding-capacity. They also attract wildlife to the garden, making it a wonderful place for children to learn about and interact with the natural world.

In addition to rotating the chicken domes around the mandala garden, it is also important to rotate plant crops, for example by planting beans/peas for one season, and planting lettuce next time.  Legume crops naturally enrich the soil with nitrogen and such rotation helps to maintain a balanced soil nutrition profile.

The circular mandala design makes the garden really easy to manage; it also makes it a nice place to play and walk around.  Selling to local hotels, restaurants and more recently supplying Food Lovers Market, this commercial home-farm project produces about 1400 lettuce a month, as well as up to 50 delicious free range eggs per day, which are sold to friends and used at home.

Accessing strictly organic food in Bulawayo, as any concerned person is aware, is tricky.   There is a lack of awareness of the benefits of organic food throughout the food chain, from farmer to retailer to consumer. The recent introduction of the ‘Zim Organic’ label- a national organic certification scheme- may help to guide concerned consumers in their food choices.  In the meantime, we must thank conscious producers such as Belinda for their invaluable and delicious contribution of high quality, healthy, organic salads for us to enjoy!

Mountain of Hope is an organic farmers association with a community garden project, founded in 2011.  The project is jointly facilitated by the Fambidzanai Permaculture Training Centre (FPTC) and the Zimbabwe Organic Producers Association (ZOPPA) based in Harare. While the FPTC provides training for the farmers in organic production methods, organisational management and business skills, ZOPPA are working with the farmers to ensure that ‘organic’ criteria are met to the international standard required by the new ZimOrganic certification scheme.

The  farmers in the group democratically elect a committee and regularly hold meetings. They are guided by ‘lead farmers’ who receive trainings from the FPTC and are then required to pass on their skills with the rest of the group.

When I visited the site in May 2012, farmers Catherine Manhando and Rachel Taruvinga told me that the project has been successfully contributing to household food security, firstly by providing a rich variety of vegetables for the family pot, but also through income received via sales of organic produce. The project and project members sell to neighbouring households, nearby boarding schools and to supermarkets in Harare.

The ‘Organic’ movement is not widely recognised in Zimbabwe, although there are important pockets of concern and interest, and therefore a small market does exist. However, the ZimOrganic certification program is still in its infancy and requires much broader publicity. ZOPPA bemoan that organic producers are still unable to demand a premium for their goods, as retailers and consumers are unwilling (and in many cases unable) to pay extra.

However, as can be gleaned from lead farmer Didymus Taruvinga in the short video here, concerns about the health consequences of conventional food production are growing in Zimbabwe, especially given the context of high levels of HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancers and other serious health issues.

The association members are confident about the sustainability of this project, citing the increasing demand for and awareness about organic produce, the strong support from a local boarding school that purchases from the site, and also the multi-skilled ‘get up and go’…‘we can do this for ourselves’ attitude that the members have cultivated in developing this project. The project also has the full support of local traditional leaders, who allocated the project land on which to develop the community garden.

One of the key challenges identified by the four female farmers that were interviewed here was a lack of policy support at the national or provincial level; government extension services remain staunchly pro-conventional in that they support the distribution of chemical fertilizers and pesticide sprays, yet do not provide trainings in nutrition and organic methods of production.

Other challenges that were cited revolved around a lack of capital to invest in key infrastructure such as fencing, irrigation piping, a water pump, and transport to take their produce to market. The ZimOrganic label requires strict adherence to organic principles and this requires discipline and constant participatory monitoring of member activities, which may also prove to be a challenge should institutional support dry up.

The garden itself was impressive; well-kept beds, mulched and highly productive. They grow a wide variety of upmarket vegetables including baby marrow, broccoli and baby gem squash.  It was interesting to hear how the farmers were incorporating this new range of produce into their own diets as typically, rural Zimbabweans grow and consume mainly spinach, kale, beans, tomatoes, onions, sweet potato, squash and seasonal indigenous vegetables. It is rare to find broccoli and suchlike in a rural community garden project. The farmers here were very positive about their expanding diet and nutritional knowledge base, but the main focus was on selling this range to the more urban markets where a higher profit margin could be reaped.

It was a humbling and encouraging experience to tour this young garden, where community farmers are investing their immense energies in learning and creating something healthy and positive to uplift themselves, foster a healthier nation and protect their environment. The project is in its early days but it is clear to see that this garden is indeed a monumental Mountain of Hope in a landscape of increasing environmental degradation, conflict and human disease. Let’s all hope that this project will continue to rise with the tide of growing ‘organic’ awareness.

Introducing Mountain of Hope organic farmers association, (high resolution) from Pamela Ngwenya on Vimeo.