Fire­guards con­struc­tion em­pow­ers Somab­hula women

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - National News/feature - Love­more Zi­gara

THE En­vi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment Agency (EMA) is em­pow­er­ing women in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties through con­struct­ing fire­guards and sell­ing the grass for thatch­ing in ci­ties. EMA upped its game in fight­ing veld fires - flora and fauna’s worst en­emy – fol­low­ing many years of los­ing prop­er­ties to un­con­trolled fires by ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. De­spite mas­sive ed­u­ca­tion cam­paigns by EMA, fires con­tinue to cause havoc in com­mu­ni­ties and var­i­ous fire hotspots dot­ted around the coun­try.

One such veld fire hotspot is Somab­hula area in the Mid­lands prov­ince. The area is mainly grass­land. It has, for the past five years, topped veld fire in­ci­dents in Vungu Ru­ral Dis­trict. Last year alone, 26 000 hectares of land were de­stroyed by veld fires in Somab­hula.

In­stead of moan­ing, women in Somab­hula’s ward 15 are see­ing a sil­ver lin­ing on the dark cloud brought by the rag­ing fires. Their ef­forts to com­bat the fires have turned out to be a money spin­ning ven­ture. Us­ing knowl­edge im­parted to com­mu­ni­ties by EMA to erect fire­guards to pro­tect their prop­er­ties in the newly re­set­tled ar­eas, the women are har­vest­ing grass they are cut­ting around the plots as they make fire­guards and sell­ing it in Gweru as thatch­ing grass.

Ms Lu­cia Chi­ron­goma, who ven­tured into the busi­ness when the fire sea­son started in July said dur­ing the short space of time, she has man­aged to buy build­ing ma­te­rial and pay fees for her grand­chil­dren.

“I cut grass around my farm to con­struct fire­guards and sell it to peo­ple in the city who now love grass-thatched prop­er­ties. I man­aged to buy three win­dow frames for the house I am build­ing. I also bought three bags of fer­tiliser and man­aged to pay fees for my grand­chil­dren.

“I have so far raised $750 from this ven­ture. We are reap­ing dou­ble re­wards from the fire­guards that we are con­struct­ing – we are pro­tect­ing our plots and lives from un­con­trolled fires while mak­ing money out of the grass,” she said.

A bun­dle of thatch­ing grass is sell­ing at 30 cents each and some of the women can fetch up to $300 in a sin­gle trans­ac­tion.

It takes a min­i­mum of nine or 10 bun­dles to thatch some of the struc­tures.

Many Somab­hula women’s lives have been trans­formed by the fire­guard mak­ing project. The fire­guard con­struc­tion ac­tiv­i­ties are ful­fill­ing one of the ob­jec­tives of the coun­try’s gen­der pol­icy which seeks to sup­port ef­forts to “trans­form in­for­mal liveli­hood in­come gen­er­a­tion into vi­able eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties and broaden agro-en­trepreneur­ship in dis­ad­van­taged ru­ral, re­set­tle­ment and ur­ban ar­eas.”

The gen­der pol­icy’s ob­jec­tives is de­rived from the United Na­tions Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGs). Somab­hula women’s money spin­ning grass project seeks to re­alise ob­jec­tive num­ber one of the goals - that is end­ing poverty.

Ward 15 coun­cil­lor, Sibongile Matavire, says women in the area have taken the ini­tia­tive to im­prove their com­mu­ni­ties.

“The women in this area have em­pow­ered themselves through their ef­forts to mit­i­gate the ef­fects of veld fires. In the past un­con­trolled fires used to raze our plots and we would lose live­stock and other valu­ables but I am happy that through such tough ex­pe­ri­ences women have come out stronger. They have man­aged to turn the tide and see eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“When a woman is em­pow­ered, the fam­ily doesn’t starve and through this ini­tia­tive women can now man­age to fend for their chil­dren. We thank EMA for the ed­u­ca­tion they im­parted to us which also opened our minds to see that we could make money through the con­struc­tion of fire­guards,” she said.

The agency is con­fi­dent of re­duc­ing fire out­breaks this sea­son, if its strate­gies are uni­ver­sally em­ployed coun­try­wide.

Un­con­trolled fires in the dry sea­son are a na­tional scourge that has dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on the en­vi­ron­ment and hu­man be­ings.

EMA says 2010 re­mains the peak of veld fires in re­cent years to date. In that year a to­tal of 1 152 413 hectares were lost. Also, 25 peo­ple died while 20 ele­phants, five head of cat­tle and three don­keys were killed in the in­fer­nos. Prop­erty worth $544 200 was gut­ted by the fires that year.

That woman are eco­nom­i­cally em­pow­ered and fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent fits well in Zim-As­set. The eco­nomic plan’s so­cial ser­vices and poverty erad­i­ca­tion clus­ter seeks to im­prove the liveli­hoods of the cit­i­zenry through empowerment.

For women in Somab­hula empowerment has come through the need to con­serve the en­vi­ron­ment.

Ms Try­phyn Moyo who is also part of the project said they can do bet­ter if they can have a ready mar­ket for their prod­uct.

“We have ben­e­fited but the mar­ket is still sub­dued be­cause as we speak I still have 1 025 grass thatch bun­dles which still need buy­ers. We still need help from the au­thor­i­ties so that we can have a ready mar­ket for our grass.

“We have the best grass in the coun­try. It is the same grass from Somab­hula which has thatched houses in Gweru, Kwekwe and Bu­l­awayo. Even some hote­liers in Vic­to­ria Falls pre­fer this type of grass. So there is a need for peo­ple in busi­ness to come on board and part­ner us,” she said.

While the Somab­hula women have come up with a noble ini­tia­tive, their main un­do­ing is that they are op­er­at­ing as in­di­vid­u­als.

Com­mu­nity lead­ers urged the women to come to­gether and form an as­so­ci­a­tion which will make it eas­ier for them to sell their thatch­ing grass.

Deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Zim­babwe Cham­ber for Small to Medium En­ter­prises (ZCSMEs), Mr Rab­son Hove said the women should come to­gether so that in their num­bers they can be able to meet the mar­ket’s re­quire­ments.

“The women should now come to­gether be­cause there is power in num­bers. They can form their group and brand themselves and it be­comes eas­ier for them to look for a mar­ket and meet the big or­ders es­pe­cially by those in the hospi­tal­ity sec­tor.

“What it there­fore means is that they will now have to be qual­ity con­scious which will fur­ther push their brand and cre­ate a niche mar­ket for themselves. It means they sell their prod­uct at the pre­vail­ing mar­ket rates,” said Mr Hove.

EMA’s Mid­lands ed­u­ca­tion and pub­lic­ity of­fi­cer, Mr Ti­mothy Nyoka, is con­fi­dent the eco­nomic ben­e­fits drawn from the fire­guard mak­ing project by the Somab­hula women will trans­late into a re­duc­tion in the in­ci­dence of veld fires.

“As EMA we are happy that Somab­hula women have come up with their own ini­tia­tive through the ed­u­ca­tion we gave them. I hope many com­mu­ni­ties will see the eco­nomic ben­e­fits from good man­age­ment of our en­vi­ron­ment. As EMA we have also in­tro­duced bee­keep­ing pro­jects in some com­mu­ni­ties as part of our ef­forts to show com­mu­ni­ties the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion. The thatch­ing grass project has thus killed two birds with one stone by eco­nom­i­cally em­pow­er­ing women in the com­mu­nity while also re­duc­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion through com­bat­ing veld fires. This is one of the key SDGs which seeks to ‘sus­tain­ably man­age forests, com­bat de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion, halt and re­verse land degra­da­tion, halt bio­di­ver­sity loss,’” he said.— @lavuzi­gara1.

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