Zimbabweans have experienced recurring droughts over the past decade. Many rural families rely on rainfed agriculture and find it difficult to produce enough food to feed their families consistently throughout the year. Average annual agricultural production in Zimbabwe has been declining, and the country has been struggling to even meet the national annual cereal requirements, resulting in high cereal imports that most households cannot afford. Currently, high inflation and a deteriorating economy makes it even more difficult for vulnerable families to purchase food at the market.
Despite these hardships, it is inspiring to see the resilience of communities that USAID works with. When a community finishes building its asset, you can see community members’ dreams becoming a reality. A community asset like a small dam can help harness water to last well after the rains stop, sometimes for the entire dry season. Some communities go a step further to establish community nutrition gardens, where they plant crops for household consumption and to earn income, which ultimately puts them on a path to self-reliance.
To date, USAID has helped communities to create or repair over 1,700 community assets, such as dams, irrigation systems, spring protection works, cattle sales pens, dip tanks, seed banks, feeder roads, market stalls, and many more.
As a Food Security Specialist for USAID/Zimbabwe, I am constantly working to ensure that we are helping our beneficiaries tackle the root causes of food insecurity and strengthen resilience for generations to come. As we assess the deteriorating food security situation and the increasing shocks faced by millions of Zimbabweans, we adapt our activities to not only meet the immediate humanitarian imperative, but we also consider building resilience for longer term self-reliance.
Let me take you through the way that Food for Peace’s community assets programming works. The communities are responsible for identification, selection, and prioritization of the community assets that USAID funds. This process allows them to take ownership of the assets through the creation phase and also empowers them to manage and maintain these assets even after the program has ended.
Each month able-bodied, yet food-insecure, people work together to build community assets with technical guidance from USAID implementing partners and the government extension officers. In exchange, the workers receive food rations or cash transfers.
The technical guidance ensures that the community creates durable assets. USAID also supports the communities with construction materials, such as cement, protective clothing, and other building tools. In addition to the labor contribution, the communities also bring in locally available materials, such as sand, water, and cobblestones. Appropriate training on asset management and maintenance is offered to the communities to ensure sustainability beyond USAID funding.
These community assets reduce community vulnerability to droughts, dry spells, floods, and other hazards. These assets enable vulnerable households to produce consumable and tradable goods that effectively prepare them for—and help them recover from—shocks that would otherwise leave them in need of food assistance.
Following completion of the Domboshava community dam, I had the opportunity to meet Gracious Kafuridzo, a community member who said, "This dam will benefit us and many more generations to come. I am proud of what we have achieved because my grandchild now has bragging rights to tell others that his grandmother built that dam!"
Erina Machoko is a Food Security Specialist with USAID FFP Zimbabwe. She has more than 10 years’ experience in community asset development and acts as focal point person for all the FFA programs being funded by USAID in Zimbabwe. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture from the University of Zimbabwe and a Master’s Degree in Management of Rural Development from Van Hall Larenstein University, Netherlands.