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Community Drought Mitigation Project

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Project Final Report (7 mb)


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Executive Summary

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) believes that sustainable development requires policies and practices that integrate environmental stewardship, economic development and social well-being. In 1993 IISD developed a sustainable livelihoods framework to integrate policy, local adaptive strategies and contemporary knowledge, leading to sustainable livelihood systems. To test the framework, IISD implemented one of the nine community drought mitigation projects (CDMPs), funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in partnership with a local organization, Environment and Development Activities (ENDA-Zimbabwe).

Group Photo

From left to right: Dr. Daniel Mtetwa (Managing Director, ENDA), Dr. Nola-Kate Seymoar (former Deputy to the President, IISD), Charles Agobia (Project Manager) and Bowdin King (Local Project Coordinator)

The project entitled, "Enhancing Sustainable Livelihoods in Drought-Prone Areas: Building on Adaptive Strategies" was implemented in the Makaha Ward of Mudzi Rural District Council of the Mashonaland East Province and in the Mlambapele Ward of the Gwanda Rural District Council of Matebeland South Province of Zimbabwe. The objectives of the project were to:

  • Enhance community capacity to adapt to shocks and stresses and harness sustainable livelihood options by bringing into focus through Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) the local knowledge and skills by which the communities have for generations maintained livelihoods in the drought-prone areas of Gwanda and Makaha;
  • Demonstrate that local adaptive strategies, when reinforced by appropriate policy and technologies, can lead to sustainable livelihoods and reduce community vulnerability to drought, and to promote the widespread adoption of this approach in drought-prone regions;
  • Apply the sustainable livelihoods approach to land and biodiversity conservation in arid and semi-arid lands;
  • Sensitize policy-makers about the linkages between policies, community adaptive strategies, science and technology and sustainable livelihoods of the poor; and
  • Help policy-makers redesign policies and the policy-making process to help households and communities achieve sustainable livelihoods.

Implementation Challenges

The project faced a number of challenges during its implementation period; among them were the following:

  • The delivery of the project from a distance, since project officers were based in Harare, far from the project areas. The IISD project manager was based in Winnipeg for the first half of the project. This made effective delivery and beneficiary participation in first half of the project very difficult.
  • A lack of accommodation and office facilities for project staff seriously affected the delivery of the project, as it was difficult for the project officers and field assistants to interact with the community. Serious project activities were undertaken for only a few days a month, when the project officers were in the area.
  • ENDA-Zimbabwe's top-down rather than bottom-up approach to the design of the CDMP and in the initial stages of the delivery of the project made community participation in decision-making difficult, even though local institutions such as Community Drought Mitigation Committees (CDMCs) were created to take ownership of the project. To address the issue, the project had to put more emphasis on training of the CDMC, the local leaders, in the last half of the project period and in empowerment of the community.
  • ENDA-Zimbabwe's lack of expertise and capacity to handle the policy component of the project and poor networking ability with like-minded institutions made the policy analysis and promotion of the concept of sustainable livelihoods among decision-makers impossible.
  • The minor drought of 1997 resulted in the borehole in Gwanda providing insufficient water for the community garden, hence the community garden in Gwanda had to be relocated to the nearby river, where it could provide sufficient water for both human consumption and watering the gardens.
  • The design of the project called for establishing just two community gardens per ward, which were not able to support all the households in the project areas. Hence, those villages close to the gardens benefited more and the gardens became more or less village gardens. To address the problem, the program officer, together with the first local project co-ordinator, obtained funding from the Canada Fund for two more boreholes and gardens.
  • The design of the project did not have any provision in the budget for training, marketing and construction of office facilities in the project areas. Hence, the budget had to be revised to allocate some funds for training and construction of office and accommodation facilities in the two project areas.
  • As the project was implemented, there were a number of staff turnovers and changes in the management structure of the project. The policy analyst and the agriculturist/environmentalist left the project after two months. The local project coordinator and the agronomist left in December 1997. The staff turnovers had serious impacts on the progress of the project. For example, the simultaneous departure of the local project co-ordinator and the agronomists left the project with only one professional staff member for four months, during which the project came to a standstill. The failure to replace the environmentalist resulted in the environmental aspects of the project not being carried out.

To address these implementation challenges, IISD redesigned the project in the first half of 1998. CIDA agreed to relocate the project manager from Winnipeg to Harare in July 1998, so he could manage daily activities more effectively. IISD and CIDA shared the cost of the relocation.

Project Achievements

Despite the challenges described above, at the end of the two years and nine months, the project had increased each community's ability to be self-reliant, enhanced their capacity to engage in development dialogue with government and donor agencies, created awareness among the community about the value of local knowledge and of their own capacities for self-reliance. The communities' understanding of the integration of indigenous and contemporary knowledge, adaptive strategies, and their relationships to sustainable livelihoods was greatly enhanced.

A number of appropriate technologies for soil and water conservation practices were demonstrated. Demonstrations of various technologies in the gardens and farmers' fields, field and garden days, farmer educational tours, and classroom training were provided by project officers. More than 80 agricultural/ water/soil conservation demonstration plots were established to compare old and new methods and for communities to appreciate and understand the benefits of the simple and appropriate technologies.

The technical skills and management training provided by the project empowered the communities, enhanced their identity and solved some of their problems. The project also strengthened the link between the community and the local government representatives in the area.

To promote the use of indigenous crop varieties adapted to drought, the project adopted two approaches. One involved lending of open-pollinated indigenous crop varieties to farmers at the beginning of the season, which they returned at the end of the season. The second approach involved creating Seed Exchange Committees (SEC) in each project area to manage the lending and collection of indigenous seeds from farmers at the beginning and end of the cropping season. The SEC also organizes annual seed fairs and exhibitions at the end of each cropping season so that farmers can share knowledge about best cropping practices and availability of indigenous crop varieties within their respective areas.

Figures 3a and 3b: Soil and water conservation technologies demonstrated.
Soil and water conservation technologies demonstrated.

The two community gardens established under the project have had significant benefit and impact on the households that became members of the gardens. The community garden activity fit very well into the overall farming system of the two communities and provided them with fresh vegetables during the periods of drought. One of the most remarkable impacts of the CDMP is the ability of communities to generate income from the sale of vegetables, especially in the dry season, when household income is generally low. Substantial amounts of income were generated by the members of the gardens, who used the proceeds to purchase such items as bicycles, goats, kitchen utensils, and to pay for their children's school fees.

Figure 4: Seed fair and exhibition. Vegetable Garden

Seed fair and exhibition

Vegetable Garden

Community adaptive strategies that have led to sustainable livelihoods or those that have the potential to lead to sustainable livelihoods were documented, using monthly progress reports and pictures of important community development activities including changes in the environmental status of their respective areas. These were presented in documents and photographs prepared with communities in their local languages as well as in English.

Policies, which reinforce or constrain the sustainable livelihood systems of the communities, were identified and documented by Dr. Sam Moyo of the Southern African Regional Institute for Policy Studies. A report was prepared outlining the experience of integrating indigenous and contemporary knowledge into knowledge systems that assisted the communities to meet their objectives of achieving sustainable livelihoods.

The project manager outlined the concept of the sustainable livelihood framework at a rural district development committee (RDDC) meeting. It was through this type of meeting and visits to the project that rural district government officials and NGOs were made aware of the link between local knowledge and technologies and an enabling policy environment for sustainable development. The acceptance and appreciation of the sustainable livelihood approach by the rural districts is evident by their request for the project to be extended to cover entire districts rather than wards.

© 1999 International Institute for Sustainable Development

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