The midday sun is fierce as we arrive in Chibuwe, but this hasn’t deterred the Red Cross volunteers who have been hard at work ploughing the land for hours.
It doesn’t look much at the moment, but in a few months it is hoped the earth will provide a rich bounty of tomatoes, spinach, onion, carrots, and aubergines.
“This is our wonderful nutrition garden which will benefit the whole community,” explained Zimbabwe Red Cross volunteer Lucky Mazangesure.
The crops have been carefully picked by the Red Cross to be both more resistant to drought and provide a wide range of nutritious food.
This is important in this district of southern Zimbabwe, which hasn’t seen rain for almost a year and is home to many malnourished children.
‘Little fresh food’
In the district of Chipinge, approximately 36 per cent of children under five suffer from malnutrition.
“There is little fresh food to go round at the moment and people are surviving on a meal of porridge or maize,” said Lucky.
“There is a big need for nutritious food here as many under-fives suffer from stunting and there are 70 young people with HIV infection living here.
“We have been working for a week to plough the earth and now we are so excited to start growing lots of different crops like root vegetables and tomatoes.
“We have planted drought-resistant crops and we are planting trees too, to stop the soil running off when it does eventually rain.”
The garden will help generate fresh produce for food parcels, which will then be distributed in the community.
“Food parcels will be given to children and then pregnant and lactating women to keep their strength up and to try to combat the problem of stunting in children,” said Lucky.
Nutritious food for babies
It is no coincidence that the garden is just metres away from the busy Chibuwe Village Health Centre, which sees more than 1,500 patients a month.
Around 20 women a month give birth at the health centre. Soon all will go home with a package of seeds and fresh produce from the garden.
The food packages distributed are also coupled with health advice from Zimbabwe Red Cross volunteers who visit pregnant women in their homes.
This is all part of a five-year community resilience project part-funded by People’s Postcode Lottery. This garden is one of two funded by them.
The project aims to help 25,000 vulnerable people living in the districts of Chipinge and Mwenezi adapt to and withstand shocks they face such as droughts and climate change.
Prescillar Jezah, who is seven months pregnant, is among those eagerly awaiting the harvest from the garden, as is her two-year-old son Tafadzwa.
“It is so important to know that after you have given birth there will be some nutritious food for you and your baby. The Red Cross has made us feel cared for again,” she said.
“A Red Cross volunteer came to my house and encouraged me to give birth at the clinic rather than at home so it is safer. He also taught us about how to stay safe and clean and about how diseases like cholera are spread.”
Red Cross volunteer Tafadzwa Jambaya has visited 250 households in Chibuwe raising awareness of health and hygiene.
“I love improving people’s knowledge and keeping our community safe and healthy. I have been telling volunteers to come and help in the nutrition garden,” explained Tafadzwa.
“Pregnant women are able to get some gentle exercise and also learn how to replicate what they are doing here at home.”
Despite frequent droughts only a third of farmers living in Chipinge practise irrigation farming, which enables crops to grow with little rainfall.
To combat this, the Red Cross is teaching farmers the latest in climate-smart agriculture, and simple water harvesting tips. So when the rains do eventually come, they can collect enough water to meet at least some of their needs.
As hundreds of cattle have died in the last year due to drought, villagers have also been encouraged to keep more hardy animals such as goats, pigs and chickens.
There’s no missing the chickens. They noisily strut around, evidence of a popular ‘poultry layers’ project where villagers can come and learn about animal management.
Plus there is another big benefit to keeping chickens, as Lucky explained: “We didn’t used to eat eggs here but now they are so popular as we get so many from the chickens and they are so nutritious. We love the little bundles of goodness in Chibuwe now.”