Fireguards construction empowers Somabhula women
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.