BY ANDREW KUNAMBURA
THERE is certain stillness in the air as one drives through Chilonga communal area in rural Chiredzi, broken only by the sound of off-road vehicles carrying visitors.
Even as winter kicks in hard, the iconic Chiredzi heat still bakes the earth.
With trees already reduced to skeletal remains ghosting into the sky, the landscape is barren and swathes of flatland extend beyond eye limit.
It is hard to believe that any crop can be grown in this area.
But at a time when many seem to have given up on optimism with regard to the area’s future, given also the politics of the recent times, stories of sheer perseverance act as a silver lining to the tainted picture.
The area is not only characterised by the extreme poverty of its people, but is also known for hopeless lives its dwellers lead.
Yet, in every sad story, there is that one individual who refuses to give up, daring to defy the odds and to embark on an undertaking, which in the end will leave everyone in bewilderment.
It is the captivating story of 47-year-old Ratidzo Tiringindi, a resident of Tonono Village, ward 7 in Chilonga communal area, Chiredzi, who dared to undertake an ambitious multi-discipline agricultural venture with a gripping story behind it.
In just five years, she has managed to turn her one hectare piece of land in the once barren plot of sand in this non-coastal dry region into a green pocket, now littered with fresh ripe exotic fruits and swelling under the Chiredzi sun, which proved to be no respecter of the prevailing cold front.
It is not only an icon of premier farming, but also an epitome of breathing life into barren land.
Today, the scenario has gone for a complete toss in just under five years and here on this very wasteland stands a tall, gracious campus. Ironically it now is a greenbelt consisting of dozens of fruit plants and trees, which have grown up to fruition.
She has also established a thriving aquaculture enterprise comprising of six fish ponds filled with the scrumptious tilapia, which she regularly harvests to supplement her family’s protein requirements and sells to other villagers.
All this has been possible because of Tiringindi’s tireless efforts, complemented along the way by a grant she got from the Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF) through its Enhancing Community Resilience and Sustainability (ECRAS) initiative aimed at enhancing Chiredzi and Mwenezi household and community resilience by improving their absorptive, adaptive and transformative capacities.
The ZRBF is a fund of $100 million, which is supported by the ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement, the European Union (EU), the Embassy of Sweden, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), formerly DFID.
The ZRBF-ECRAS initiative is funded to the value of US$97 million and is being implemented locally by Care International, Plan International and Icrisat.
“I started this initiative in 2017 after my husband left to look for work in South Africa.
“I did not want to be that wife, who would sit around and wait for the husband to bring food and money home,” Tiringindi said.
“So I started by planting my fruit trees, but water became a challenge.
“However, ECRAS helped me drill a borehole and buy irrigation equipment. This changed everything and as you can see, I have developed this into a full-fledged orchard with a variety of fruits.
“In total, there are 56 fruit trees in my orchard.”
The orchard has ripening orange and other citrus fruits, mango trees, paw paws which give fruits all year round, among other fruit trees.
At the other end of the plot, she has established a thriving nutrition garden where healthy vegetables and legumes are grown.
“I do not miss urban life. I am living it up right here,” she remarked as she led us to one of the six ponds teeming with tilapia fish.
“My children do not miss fish.
“They have become a key component of our diet and we also sell to others in the village and beyond.
“I am planning to expand this project to realise more from it.”
Tiringindi has also not confined herself to crops and plants, but has expanded into livestock farming and is a proud owner of 175 goats, several sheep and 23 cattle.
“I started this project with only 10 goats, but I now have 175 of them.
“I had no cattle, but I managed to sell some goats and bought cattle.
“In March this year, I sold 40 goats and realised good money out of which I have managed to improve the systems here,” she said.
“For instance, I bought solar panels and a more potent water pump. So now I do not need to rely on ECRAS because I can stand on my own and also help other women here to start their own projects and grow them.”
And true to that, she now has six follow-on farmers, who are learning the ropes.
Tiringindi further indicated that ZRBF has indeed helped her to become resilient even to any form of calamity.
In the last cropping season, villagers here watched haplessly as swarms of locusts devoured their crops, which had been blessed by a rare period of abundant rains.
While other villagers are counting their losses and starring into a bleak future, Tiringindi says she is able to stand.
“The situation is really bad. We harvested very little in the fields, but I will definitely be able to feed my family because I can simply sell my goats or cattle and buy grain,” she said.