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Education (general)

ZET Blog: Farming Practice Crisis

My people perish for lack of knowledge!

An ever-widening knowledge gap in the unsustainable farming practices of most Zimbabwean farmers, who are mainly small-scale, has not only left the stewards of the land bound in shackles of poverty, but also in its wake ugly wounds which resonate deep into Mother Nature’s core. As a consequence of oblivion, emphasis has been placed on crop performance with a disregard to the holistic farming principles which fairly encompass the entire agro-ecosystem. The substandard yields over the past years have been exacerbated by significant postharvest losses and chemical giants whose hands only extend beyond the counter, leaving the illiterate farmer to fend for themselves with a cocktail of poisons and a shrunken wallet. This only highlights the redundancy of an approach to a livelihood of nearly three quarters of the populace.

Tradition and culture have been a major driving force of the farming practices implemented. Growing up with ties to a rural farming background, it was and regrettably still is common doctrine that, “the deeper the plough the more bounteous the harvest”, or “the burning of savannah and crop residues are the best form of land preparation. It was only through the lens of education that I saw the deleterious effects of ploughing, overgrazing and deforestation, the agents of erosion, as they peeled the land bare layer by layer, while the erratic rains swept away the remnants of soil structure and integrity, leaving more rocks to harvest than food. Through the same lens I saw that in the heat of a losing battle with pests, weeds and diseases, the unmindful mass destruction of the defenceless soil biota through both the judicious and negligent toxic chemical applications which accumulate, not only left some the field’s barren but also incapacitated to sustain life. They don’t know any better, but what are those of us who have been enlightened doing about it?

According to statistics, 68% of the Zimbabwean population live in rural areas, while 70% of the rural population is reliant on agriculture for food and income. More than a third of the national population is undernourished! Let’s momentarily forget the potential profitability of farming as a business and look at these producers who can’t feed themselves and their families, how then can we expect them to feed a growing nation? When traced back to the root of the problem, it all leads to knowledge deficiency. If the critical questions of: what to grow, when to grow it, how to profitably grow it, have been asked then they have evidently gone unanswered. Whose responsibility is it to answer these questions? What is your trade dear sir/madam? What part are you playing in society, and are you giving back or you are just taking?

It comes as no surprise that 72% of the nation is subject to a life under the dark cloud of the poverty datum line. A widespread pandemic of the crippling dependency syndrome has swept through the country and corrupted the mind-sets of many. The longer people spend on their knees with palms open for donations, the more intimately they will know poverty as a loyal companion. When aid becomes a lifeline, its demerits are apparent when it arrives untimely or if at all. I am an advocate of charitable work, but only in the right context. Is it out of love or convenience when you give away those faded second hand clothes? Does anyone think about the vendor trying to make an honest living when containers of free food are donated to a village?

When I close my eyes I picture poverty as a mountainous mound of interlocked padlocks. One man cannot untangle it. Each lock represents the individual member of the community. I strongly believe the way to tackle poverty is by equipping the people down to community level with the right key. Ultimately it is up to the discretion of the individual to free themselves or to remain shackled, but no one can do it for them. Donations kill desire. Teach a man a skill instead, something he can bequeath to his children. That is charity in action, it is sustainable, it requires effort and interaction, and it shows love!

Climate-conscious agriculture is that key and it has never been more relevant for an agrarian people living in times of threatening climate shifts. To lead the poor out of poverty, it is necessary to meet them where they are. Imagine an all-inclusive, low-input, harmonious and forgiving farming system that not only heals the land with every season, but produces healthy, chemical-free and nutrient dense food in abundance, creates sustainable employment, self-worth and purpose. That almost takes us back to the Garden of Eden where there was oneness between man and all creation, and it was good! We ought to discard our habits for a moment and learn something from this model of farming void of any disc harrows or boom sprayers. Conservation agriculture and organic farming are systems that come close to that picture. They can be tailor-made to synergise the successful indigenous practices with the latest scientific advances to create specific systems that optimally leverage the available resources in almost any environment. I believe more of our efforts and resources should be in support of entities that teach this way of farming and more research should be done to improve on what we already know. That sounds like a legacy worthy to be passed on to the future generation.

While the United Nations are encouraging the development of small-scale organic farm, a mere 56% of the total arable land in Zimbabwe is in use, predominantly under conventional farming. The silver lining is that nearly half of the land in the country has had a chance to heal and restore. As an optimist I see this as a unique opportunity for us to rebrand and elevate ourselves as an organic nation, where farming is a noble profession and farmers not only grow enough for themselves, but have enough left over to sell and make a living. This is very possible, but it requires enlightenment and a willingness to change among the Zimbabwean community and the policy makers.

Written by Moses Mhindurwa, Foundations for Farming Volunteers
Edited by Hannah O’Riordan, ZET Operations Manager


ZET Blog: Rafiki Stories

ZET and Rafiki Girls Centre help around 60 girls each year, providing intensive support and training to offer each and every graduate a second chance into education, employment and opportunity; empowering them to live independently and successfully.

The invaluable support ZET donors have provided to hundreds of women in recent years can be difficult to truly comprehend. Together with Hildah, the director over at Rafiki Girls Centre in Harare, we have collated a few personal stories of ZET supported beneficiaries, and how the training they received thanks to your support and donations transformed their lives.

  1. Everjoy

One such beneficiary is Everyjoy, who has come from great personal difficulty and tragedy, and empowered herself. She has asked us to share her story, so we have done just that.

Everjoy and her brother became orphans at a young age, as both her parents unfortunately died from AIDS. They then moved in with their uncle, but were forced to leave when Everjoy bravely reported him for regularly raping his wife and infecting her with HIV, and he was arrested. She then moved in with an aunt, who sent her brother away to work. Everjoy has not seen him since and was heartbroken by his absence.

This aunt asked Everjoy to get an HIV test, and her life became very difficult when she tested positive. Her aunt did not allow her to sleep in a bed or use the furniture, cook or share utensils with the rest of the family – including a plate, cup, and bath. Not being able to cook made it difficult for her to take her ART medication. Her aunt also stopped paying for her school fees, as she believed Everjoy would die soon and education was a wasted investment. This forced Everjoy to drop out of school and instead, she worked as a maid round the house and for her aunt at the market, told this is how she would pay her way. None of the family respected or cared for her, and she was regularly abused and neglected.

Desperate, she called into a radio show to ask for advice. She was then referred to Rafiki Girls Centre, and lived with the radio show presenter, Dr Makoni, whilst she completed her training. During this time, she slept on a bed for the first time in 8 years and was able to take her medication properly and effectively. Whilst at Rafiki, she received advice and counselling for her positive status and gained the life skills she needed to live independently of her relatives. She worked extremely hard to get onto the exclusive Nurse Aide course, and relished her education in this field.

She finished her training at Rafiki with a qualification in nursing in 2013. Her aunt called her at her graduation, to tell her that now her training was finished, she should come back and work at the market to pay her way. Determined to not return to her former life, Everjoy was helped to find a job by Rafiki and Dr Makoni, who allowed her to stay on at his house until she finds employment and can afford her own place.

Everjoy was so happy to have found a family that accepted her, and looks forward to future where she will be self-reliant. She plans to earn an income so she can pay to sit her O Levels, and then continue her training to become a doctor. She also wishes to track down her brother as soon as she can afford to. She is confident the support and training she received at Rafiki will enable her to transform her life, and is so passionate about this that she wishes to open her own charitable home to help others like Rafiki helped her.

  1. Loveness

Another beneficiary of the important work at Rafiki is Loveness. Loveness comes from a large, polygamous family. However, her mother and sisters are not loved or respected by the rest of the family, as the mother gave birth to girl children only and so are not as desirable or useful to the patriarch, her father. Her father refused to fund her or her sisters’ education and told them they would never make it in life, encouraging them to marry young instead. Loveness wanted to choose education and employment rather than early marriage, but struggled without the funds or support to do so.

When Loveness heard of Rafiki Girls Centre, she seized the opportunity to prove her father wrong and realise her dreams. She was a dedicated student, and excelled in her sewing skills training. Loveness is now training to be an interior designer, and loves education. She has also started a small business using the skills she learnt at Rafiki, sewing items such as aprons and hats, to raise money for her mother and sisters – particularly their school fees. She hopes to show her father, and men like him, that when girls are given the chance they can be the source of change in their families and communities.

 

The following three beneficiaries are new students who joined the centre this summer, so although we are yet to see all the incredible things they will be able to achieve when equipped with second chance education, they do each demonstrate the difficult circumstances many of the students face.

 

  1. Alice

When Alice was only a year old, her father died and her mother ran away. She then lived with her grandparents, until they too passed on, and she was forced to live with relatives she hardly knew. Alice struggled to meet school fees and the relatives she now lived with were also unable to cover these. So, although she took her O Levels, her results were withheld because of her debts to the school. Alice went on to take a job as a housemaid, so she could support herself and gain skills.

Through this role she learnt about Rafiki Girls Centre, who could provide her with the training she needs to empower herself, and gain skills, employment and go onto live independently and successfully. At Rafiki, she plans to specialize in tailoring and go onto work in this area in Harare.

  1. Christwishes

Christwishes is an orphan, who lives with her siblings after both her parents died from AIDS. Her and her oldest sister were forced to drop out of school and sell fruit to raise money for the food and rent for the family. She told staff at Rafiki Girls Centre that her life changed completely and became very difficult once her parents had died.

Christwishes wants to come to Rafiki Girls Centre so that she can learn employable skills, and wishes to specialize in sewing. This will enable her to gain an income-generating job, to not only support her family, but to pay for school fees so they can all go back to schools and complete their O Levels. This is her main wish, and learning skills to live independently and gain employability will enable her to complete her education and empower herself.

  1. Vanessa

Vanessa is an orphan who lives with her siblings and extended family. Tragically, after the death of her parents, her house was attacked by a petrol bomb and some of her siblings and relatives were killed. Vanessa survived, with severe burns.

After this heartbreaking incident, she was forced to miss school for a year while she recovered. Without parents to pay her school fees, and having fallen a year behind, Vanessa was forced to drop out of school. Her greatest desire is to break the cycle of poverty her family is trapped in due to low-paid, low-quality employment, by receiving training in a range of skills and going on to obtain a professional job. She would use the income from this to support her relatives and siblings, after all they have done for her.

It can be difficult to recognize what difference your donations and support are making. It is only by digging a little deeper, and asking these truly inspirational women about their stories and their aspirations, that we can begin to recognize how the opportunities provided at Rafiki Girls Centre really can prove transformational, offering women – and often their families – the opportunity to pursue their dreams and prosper.
Written by Hildah Mahachi and Hannah O’Riordan


ZET Blog: Learning from Zimbabwe

Which country has the highest literacy rate in Africa? South Africa? Nigeria? Egypt? Well, actually none of these. According to some sources the answer is, perhaps surprisingly, Zimbabwe. Yes, Zimbabwe has a literacy rate of 92 % (or 87% according to UNESCO), which compares favourably with the USA, where more than 1 in 7 people cannot read!

In the UK, there is an image of Zimbabwe of a country in trouble. What outsiders often remember about the country, beyond the longevity of its leader Robert Mugabe – now an astonishing 93 years-old – is that it is something of an economic basket case.

An image looms large in the standard outsiders’ view of the country of the terrible time in 2008 when the economy nosedived, and Zimbabwe was sucked into the worst period of hyperinflation of any country – ever. At this time, prices in shops were changing several times a day. A simple loaf of bread cost tens of thousands of dollars and notes became so devalued that people resorted to taking huge wads of cash to market in wheelbarrows. In November 2008 inflation peaked at 79.6 billion per cent!

But to focus on the troubles of the economy – now at least partly receded – is to entirely miss the achievements of Zimbabwe’s education drive, and just what is possible. When the country became independent back in 1980, the new government was determined that education should be at the heart of their country’s goals. Mugabe’s new constitution identified education to secondary level as free and compulsory for all.

Factoid: Zimbabwe spends 8.5% of its GDP on education – that compares with 5.7% in the UK and just 4.9% in the USA (World Bank)

In the first 20 years of independence, reading rates accelerated from well under 80% under white rule to well over 90% – a remarkable achievement in any country, especially in comparison to other African nations.

Sadly, though, the education drive has faltered the wake of the economic crisis, and the dream is in danger of fading. Many schools are in physically poor condition. There are too few textbooks, and there is a severe shortage of teachers because poor pay has driven them to leave the profession.

Thanks to the drive for education, there is a yearning to learn among the young, but the school system is now letting many of them down. Many children are denied places at schools, and it may not be until well after 2030 that education becomes universal. Girls in particular have been excluded, and less than half receive secondary education.

When western commentators and development agencies look at the developing world, they tend to focus on economic resources. But education may actually the best gift for the future that the children of Zimbabwe and other developing countries can be given. Education helps give them the power to build their own futures.

As the extraordinary young Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” I, for one hope, that Zimbabwe can get that educational dream back on track and give every Zimbabwean child that chance.

Written by John Farndon, Author
Edited by Hannah O’Riordan, ZET Operations Manager

John Farndon will be speaking at our event next weekend, to celebrate Zimbabwe and 30 years of ZET. You can buy tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/zet-30th-anniversary-discover-zimbabwe-tickets-36953536021#/ 

If you would like to write for ZET Blog, please contact our Operations Manager on contact@zimbabweeducationaltrust.org.uk


ZET Blog: Government Action on the Environment

The government of Zimbabwe has recently been very aware of the need to protect the environment and minimise the severity of the carbon footprint indented by the country’s populous, and has taken various steps to enshrine environmental protections in law. Environmental reform is essential, not just in supporting national and international sustainable development plans, but also in leading to a wave of socioeconomic reforms which create an opportunity to considerably reduce poverty.

Zimbabwe underwent a constitutional reform process which allowed environmental issues to be included into the country’s supreme law. Before this reform, the constitution lacked any clear articulation on how the country was to conserve, use and share the benefits of natural resources. Now, the National Environmental Policy and Environmental Management Act have been introduced to facilitate the sustainable management of natural resources at both local and national levels.

The Environmental Management Act aims to: facilitate sustainable management of natural resources, protect the environment from pollution or degradation, and initiate future plans for the management and protection of the environment. These objectives align with the constitution, creating an environment in which future generations can enjoy their right to a clean, healthy, safe environment. This policy also creates a platform for sustainable national development, whilst reducing climate change.

The mainstreaming of biodiversity into regional, national and international development frameworks has proved complex, as it involves finding strategies to maximise the benefits of biodiversity and minimise its loss through all productive sectors – including agriculture, fisheries, forestry, tourism and mining.

The Wildlife Act is one of many legislations which have lobbied for and made moves towards outlawing the consumptive use of wildlife in Zimbabwe, and protecting biodiversity. There have been efforts to protect endangered elephants and rhinos for decades, indicating the massive divide in perceptions between the government and the people when it comes to the value of natural resources and wildlife in local communities. Governments need to support rural people to connect with natural resources in their area, and foster a sense of stewardship for these resources on the basis of genuine local ownership. In time, this stewardship must translate into institution-building, for a more comprehensive protection and management structure of the environment, wildlife and natural resources.

The need for a global water management review has gathered momentum since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Water sector reforms in Zimbabwean law have been initiated to respond to the increasingly complex and unsustainable current water management structure. As global momentum on this issue increases, sub-Saharan Africa has placed much emphasis on reform to watershed management, and Zimbabwe is no exception. The government have now classified the environment as a legitimate ‘user’ of water supplies in Zimbabwe. This has led to protections on the environment’s water supply – tackling pollution and providing populations with clean and safe water, which has clear and immediate benefits for population health and also benefits agricultural activities.

It seems the government is beginning to take clear and tangible steps towards sustainable development, environmental protection and natural resource management – with immediate and long-term benefits to citizens and to the environment. Of course, more work is needed both from this government and from international actors.

Written by Kudakwashe Kutesera (Foundations for Farming)
Edited by Hannah O’Riordan (Operations Manager – Zimbabwe Educational Trust)

If you would like to write for ZET Blog, please contact Hannah O’Riordan at contact@zimbabweeducationaltrust.org.uk

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