The hunger issue: Communities work together in Zimbabwe

Almost a billion people go hungry every day and 165 million children under five suffer from malnutrition – a startling fact when you consider there is enough food in the world to feed everyone.

In the lead up to the G8 summit, where eight of the world’s leaders will be discussing how to tackle hunger on a global scale, I have been looking at the British Red Cross’ response to this complex issue. Last week I focused on the link between HIV and hunger in Lesotho. This week I am looking at how communities are working together to overcome food insecurity in Zimbabwe.


On-going economic instability, recurrent droughts and poor agricultural practice in Zimbabwe have had a devastating impact on people’s ability to produce food. The severe extent of their struggle is highlighted by the fact that a staggering one child in every three is chronically malnourished.

The Zimbabwe Red Cross, in partnership with the British Red Cross, is taking significant steps together with the people of Mashonaland West province to tackle the root causes of hunger.

Ellie Lewis, southern Africa programme support officer says: “Ending hunger is a long journey – ultimately it can only be achieved by working with local communities and supporting them to produce their own food.”

Communities working together

With support from the Red Cross, vulnerable households have established community gardens and are being trained to grow a variety of nutritious crops such as sweet potatoes, cassava and cow peas.

Ellie says: “Increased crop production means households are able to sell surplus vegetables to generate a cash income. During times of food shortage, food prices increase and people often barter the additional crops in exchange for staple foods such as maize and essential items like soap.”

Households often sell their assets – such as livestock – to meet their immediate needs, leaving them more vulnerable to hunger and poverty in the longer term. The Red Cross is helping to restock household livestock, which can also benefit the wider community in time.

Ellie explains: “The Red Cross provides households with goats of breeding age, and when they produce kids, the original household keeps the kids and passes the breeding goats onto another community member.“

The relationship between water and food

Farming is constantly at the mercy of recurrent drought, so access to water and irrigation techniques are crucial if communities are to access food all year round. With this in mind, irrigation and water harvesting techniques are all part of the Red Cross programme.

Sand abstraction techniques – drawing water from dry river beds in semi-arid regions during the dry season – provide communities with water to irrigate their crops as well as safe water for drinking and domestic use.

Access to safe water has the power to transform a community, as Ellie points out: “Hours previously spent fetching water or taking care of children with water-borne illnesses can be used to grow more food or start a business.”