Broken boreholes. Rivers of sand. Women spending hours every day walking long distances.

Ask anybody in the district of Lupane what their biggest day-to-day challenge is and lack of water is their instant response. Yet this is not the enduring image that I have of the day I spent visiting Progressio-supported projects in Lupane.

Water rationing

The night before my visit to Lupane I had stayed in the town of Bulawayo, where, during my stay, it had been announced that water rationing would increase from three to four days a week. In rural dry and dusty Lupane, the situation is even worse.

Our drive began passing one broken borehole after another.  It would have been easy to conclude that the situation is hopeless. But before long Cliff Maunze (a Progressio development worker with partner organisation Environment Africa) introduced me to the first of several community gardens that were on the day’s itinerary.

‘Our power’

When we arrived at the garden, named ‘Amandlethu’ (meaning ‘our power’), in the Menyezwa ward, five women were vigorously pumping water. Close by the pump I saw greenery for what felt like the first time that day.

A group consisting of 17 women and five men run the garden and whilst the women are pumping, others are walking the water the short distance from the pump to their crops. The garden produces enough food to feed the households of those in the group as well as ensuring a nutritious diet. The chairwoman showed me the liquid fertiliser that the group is producing and using on their crops.

Women pumping water in Zimbabwe

In conversation with those present, I learnt that the borehole provides enough water for the garden but not enough for everyone’s basic needs. Other sources of water require a much longer walk. Pumping water is hard work and the women struggle in this physically demanding act.

In the far corner of the garden was a toilet block built with collective savings of the group. In what became standard practice during my trip, I was proudly and very generously presented with vegetables freshly plucked from the ground.

‘Real development’

As we drove away from the site, Cliff chuckled ‘Now this is real development’. Individuals and communities who are given an idea, trained in the basic skills and supported with the initial inputs are truly empowered as they take ownership of the garden. Communities themselves dig the foundations, rehabilitate broken boreholes, plant the seeds and tend the crops.

Cliff explained that this not only provides a long term, sustainable solution to food insecurity (as opposed to hand-outs) but also gives people their dignity and independence by proving to the participants what they can do with what surrounds them, if the natural resources are responsibly managed.

‘Going forward’

We visited a garden established in April 2012 and already thriving. The success of Siyaphambili (meaning ‘we are going forward’) in Simbombo ward is being driven by Mrs Khumalo, the chairwoman.

Here the group of 33, including 12 widows and two child-headed households, were intercropping, using methods of moisture retention, growing herbs in between crops and planting fruit trees.

In addition to there being a management committee, including a treasurer and secretary, I was told that each garden has a water point committee, which manages and maintains the borehole, again with the collective savings of the group.

Real empowerment

As we drove along dusty roads, Cliff pointed out and waved to people working in other community gardens and tending to beehives.

During the day we visited Mr and Mrs Sibanda in Lupaka ward who have trebled their yields by using conservation farming techniques and have been able to purchase solar panels with the profits.

These are stories of striking and significant change. At the community gardens that I visited I had seen empowerment in its most tangible form. Communities, and particularly the women within them, are overcoming challenges of water scarcity for themselves and as a result are producing nutritious food for their families, and sometimes a small surplus to sell.

Lis Martin is Progressio’s Environment Policy Officer.

Photos: Lis being handed freshly picked vegetables from Siyaphambili community garden in Simbombo ward; women pumping water, Amandlethu community garden, Menyezwa ward.