Zimbabwe: Women support their families through urban vegetable farming

| July 4, 2016

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It’s a cold Sunday morning, and Nomalanga Gumede’s face and blouse are soaked with water spilling from the 20-litre bucket she carries on her head. The 45-year-old widow makes several trips to and from the borehole a few hundred metres from her garden. She fetches the precious liquid to water her vegetables.

This is her daily chore as a member of Sizimele Sodwa, orWe stand alone,” a women’s group in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo. The group grows vegetables to sell to supermarkets.

The urban farming club was formed in February 2013, and Mrs. Gumede joined in August 2014, four months after losing her job.

She lives in the densely-populated Bulawayo suburb of Sizinda. In 2014, she lost her job at National Blankets, a clothing manufacturer. She had worked there for more than a decade. Ever since, she has relied on vegetable farming.

Losing her job was devastating for Mrs. Gumede, who is supporting her four children alone, following the death of her husband in 2012.

Sizimele Sodwa urban veggie farming Zim2

Photo credit: Nqobani Ndlovu

She recalls: “I found it difficult to support my children after losing my job [and] before applying to join this [vegetable] scheme … I tried many things like selling airtime, but it all failed. I then decided to try urban gardening by joining the urban farming club [in my area].”

The women set up the self-help farming project to make a living and support their families. An NGO provided technical assistance and training to the women, who started with $500 US capital. The borehole they use was also donated.

Every week, the women supply big supermarkets with fresh vegetables like onions, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes. Mrs. Gumede says the women sell one kilogram of onions for $1.09 US and one kilogram of tomatoes for $0.79 US.

She takes home about $200 US in a good month, after sharing the profits with five other group members.

Jane Ngwenya is a founding member of the group. She says urban market gardening has some challenges: “It is labour-intensive because we use buckets to fetch water from a borehole to water our gardens. For example, to water one bed of onions, one has to make 10 trips to the borehole.”

She adds that, though it is sometimes difficult to find a market, she has no regrets about joining the women’s farming group.

Nesisa Mpofu is the senior public relations officer for Bulawayo City Council. She says the boreholes are helping residents like those in the women’s farming club to use nearby land for farming and other activities.

Ayanda Tshuma is an agricultural expert in Bulawayo. He says urban agriculture is important to urban residents’ lives, and needs to be promoted and protected. He adds, “It is also an opportunity for enterprising residents to augment their income, and also for households to access cheaper vegetables.”

Mrs. Gumede says that urban farming is really paying off; she can now afford to send her children to school. However, she says that, although the group is grateful to the city council for the land, it is too small for their future plans. She explains, “If we can get a plot, our lives will drastically change. Our plan is to raise enough monies to be able to buy a plot—or at least rent one.”