Addressing conflict caused by limited resources

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Zimbabwe Brethren in Christ Church partner teaches peacebuilding in its agriculture training

By Emily Jones

As climate change takes its toll on Zimbabwe, millions who rely on agriculture are threatened with food scarcity, but Edfil Moyo, a subsistence farmer in the Gwanda District, has been able to adapt.

“For the past five years, we have had adequate harvest to sustain our household until next harvest,” said Moyo. He has been using conservation agriculture, a growing method that produces more yield in dry conditions than traditional farming. In the 2017–2018 harvest season, Moyo was even able to grow extra maize that he traded for three goats.

Moyo’s success was made possible through MCC-supported training from Brethren in Christ Compassionate and Development Services (BIC CDS), an MCC partner working to improve quality of life and community self-sufficiency in Zimbabwe.

One of the program’s functions is helping communities cope with climate change. BIC CDS has trained at least 982 farmers in conservation agriculture methods—including Moyo. The program also helps farmers transition to grow more resilient crops, trains them in disaster preparedness and works to improve water availability, among other things.

But food security is just part of the story. Around the world, climate change is driving not only hunger, but conflict as well. New rivalries begin as people struggle over resources, troubled histories flare and society’s most vulnerable people suffer greater injustices.

Sibonokuhle Ncube, the former National Coordinator for BIC CDS, has almost 20 years of experience working in community development. Throughout that time, she has seen the changing climate deepen rifts in her country.

“Women and girls’ vulnerability has increased,” she says. As climate change causes natural resources to dwindle, female members of households must travel much longer distances for wood and water. This increases their workload and prevents them from spending time on profitable work, keeping them in a vulnerable position in society.

The long travel also puts them at risk for being attacked on the journey, Ncube says.

In addition, climate change intensifies divides between rich and poor as those struggling with poverty have even less access to power and resources. “It has been a divider, creating more ‘have-nots’ and perhaps preserving the space of many ‘haves,’” Ncube said.

BIC CDS staff are well aware that on a backdrop of hostility, agricultural improvements alone cannot create holistic change. When they work with communities, conflict resolution is built into every step of their process from beginning to end.

“We believe community cohesion is a strong driver of sustainability,” said Ncube. In all of the organization’s community work, from helping farmers increase food security to promoting health and hygiene, she says the common theme is peacebuilding.

Gopar Tapkida, MCC representative in Zimbabwe said MCC's work in sustainable development and peacebuilding is based in Christian faith.

“It’s a call to follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ. This is why MCC is committed to supporting the church as it shares God’s message of peace, compassion in feeding the hungry and care for the earth.”

Ncube has seen climate change solutions fall apart when community conflicts were not taken into account. In one Gwanda District village, another organization was managing the construction of a dam, and the donor for the project came to visit the village. Community members supporting the ruling political party quickly found out that the donor was affiliated with the main opposition party.

Not only was construction halted, but “a serious life-threatening conflict ensued,” said Ncube. When the community asked BIC CDS to take charge of the project, BIC CDS used its peacebuilding approaches to resolve the conflict and got the dam back on track.

BIC CDS tries to prevent these problems by analyzing each community for gender imbalances, political issues, access to resources and other potential sources of conflict before a project begins, said Ndabenhle Ncube, the national director and program officer for BIC CDS (no relation to Sibonokuhle Ncube).

Then, as BIC CDS staff teach adaptive farming methods, the training is infused with peacebuilding principles that help community members stop perpetuating conflict and injustice made worse by the changing climate.

Peacebuilding and climate change adaptation are closely intertwined; as the community implements one, the other often follows.

In one community, farmers were in conflict because roving livestock would eat crops and disturb fields that didn’t belong to the livestock’s owners. After Ndabenhle Ncube and his field team taught the farmers to plant fodder crops for livestock in a separate area, he says this simple adjustment minimized conflict between farmers.

As Sibonokuhle Ncube has observed for many years, climate change goes hand in hand with conflict of all kinds. But she dreams of a harmonious future for Zimbabwe; one in which communities can work together peacefully to have totally self-sustaining local economies.

“This is a dream,” said Ncube. “But I’m driving this with my faith.”

Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ


Emily Jones is a freelance writer from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.