Striving for Resilience: Lessons Learned from Experiences of Drought and Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe


Executive Summary

Achieving positive impact while working in the field of resilience is a challenge faced by practitioners across the globe. While resilience aims to improve the ways in which individuals, households, communities, civil society and institutions within a system have increased their ability to prepare withstand and recover from adversity, shocks and stresses (such as floods, storms, drought, food insecurity and economic instability); we cannot always determine when and where these impacts will occur. Therefore, when natural or manmade hazards do occur in areas where resilience activities take place, it is imperative to follow up with vulnerable communities to improve learning about the experience.

As a result of the El Niño induced drought (beginning in November 2018) and the devastation of Cyclone Idai (March 2019) which affected communities across Zimbabwe, Trócaire undertook a study in August 2019 to gain greater insight on the impact their resilience work in select communities of Matobo and Bikita Districts. The study does not present the full story of what occurred throughout Zimbabwe, but it does highlight some lessons learned along with providing recommendations to improve resilience programming in the future. The lessons learned from this paper are described in greater detail throughout the work, with major findings highlighted below:

  • Households in Matobo and Bikita Districts, in general, have higher capacity to prepare for drought than cyclone/flood due to their familiarity with the hazard.

  • Most households taking part in the use of small grains and agroecological practices are food secure, even throughout drought period. Furthermore, they appeared to have higher capacity to prepare and cope with the drought compared to nonprogramme participants

  • There is a paradigm shift occurring throughout Matobo and Bikita Districts that maize is not needed as the only household crop. Part of this could be attributed to failure of maize as a result of perennial mid-season dry spells and droughts, a general embrace from agricultural extension officers for agroecological techniques and promotion of small grains, much improved from previous years. Additionally, the enabling policy framework which promotes agroecology and small grains guides the government extension staff is a major component of this

  • There is a better understanding and good uptake of water conservation techniques. One reason for this could be that these techniques are presented in a participatory way, through learning centres and lead farmers. This is greatly improved from the colonial past when these techniques were mandated in communities who showed little interest in implementing something forced upon them. The communities have had the experience of their water bodies silting

  • There is a general understanding of the importance of early land preparation (pot holing, mulching). In Bikita, farming is made easier because labor is spread out across time, rather than piling all field work at the onset of the rains.

  • Some agro-ecological practices, promoted by Trócaire, such as pot holing, contour trenches and runoff pits helped build resilience to both cyclone and drought

  • There is an increased awareness among the farmers in both Matobo and Bikita on the need to embrace agroecological practices (potholing, mulching, use of cover crops, organic manuring, use of bottle drips, infiltration trenches) that promote moisture retention.