September 1st, 2015
The Muonde Trust works by seeking out, encouraging and backing indigenous innovation in Mazvihwa. Its heart is a large team of skilled local action researchers and community extension agents who can draw as necessary on the practical skills of outsider researchers and trainers in a structure that is being de-colonized. Programs emerge, grow and evolve depending on what is exciting the community and program participants.
Everything at Muonde is focused on transforming the experience of development from one driven through top-down externally-derived resources and ideas (in which locals are a “target” and exhorted to “participate”) to instead one that people themselves own and that encourages the bottom-up generation and sharing of practical knowledge alongside providing empowering training when needed.
Investing in local minds rather than things, and doing it through inclusive peer-to-peer training means:
- Community members (men and women, young and old) feel their value;
- Local knowledge, culture and social networks become an asset;
- Indigenous innovators sense their worth and are encouraged to continue;
- Knowledge and skills are widely distributed across the community rather than being concentrated in a few professionals or leaders;
- Practical skills improve wellbeing in ways not dependent on external resources;
- Natural capital – soils, ponds, woodlands, are stewarded and grown;
- Solutions (even those taking advantage of external facilitation, such as with digital technology) are locally generated, understood, adapted and adapting;
- Innovations take root and spread within and beyond the Mazvihwa area without the need for institutional backing;
- Self-sufficiency, sustainability and resilience are enhanced; and
- The Muonde Trust remains small, nimble and facilitating and locally run.
Many of the programs with which Muonde Trust currently works are deeply rooted in the work that began in the 1980s, with its focus on community-based indigenous woodland management, water harvesting and access, indigenous seed varieties and so forth, but the difference now is that the community is now more deeply engaged and committed to finding their own solutions to their challenges. This shift is for three reasons: (i) surviving the economic crisis and increasingly erratic rainfall of the last fifteen years has transformed attitudes towards self-reliance and valuing the local, (ii) the thirty year action-research process has proven its value, and (iii) the increasing depth of local capacity to run institutions like the Muonde network. The major successes achieved in the last five years (and especially last two), and most especially with water harvesting and managing livestock through drystone walling have proven major motivators for engaging in the Muonde process.
The following are our current main lines of work:
Building on the work of team-member Mr. Zephaniah Phiri, now recognized as a global pioneer in water harvesting, as well as other local innovators in Mazvihwa, we use farmer to farmer networking and training approaches to hone and spread proven water harvesting, catchment management, micro-irrigation, wetland farming and permaculture techniques in this drought-afflicted region. This activity responds to (and strengthens) an explosion of local innovation in this area as local farmers seek to reduce their dependence on low and increasingly erratic rainfall and to conserve remaining soil. Click here for all articles related to Water Harvesting & Catchment Management.
As grazing commons are increasingly converted to a mosaic of fields the protection of those fields from livestock during the growing season, and the management of arable lands to provide feed for livestock year-round, have become central preoccupations for Mazvihwa’s farmers who therefore build elaborate brushwood fences annually. In many areas crop protection from livestock has become the greatest impact on crop yields. The resultant deforestation and the increasing time burden of fence building mean that there has been huge interest and innovation around in exploring alternatives. More than twenty styles of brushwood fencing were to use less wood but yet better deter livestock were developed but since these were insufficient people have begun turning to rigorous hedging and drystone walling as alternatives. The drystone walling revives ancient Zimbabwean traditions, reintroduced (ironically) by a volunteer traditional stone-waller from the Cotswolds. This program supports experimentation, documentation, and dissemination of these approaches which have taken off in Mazvihwa and are starting to spread across the region. Click here for all articles related to Livestock, Hedging, Drystone Walls and Fencing.
Mazvihwa is a community that celebrates the diversity and value of its woodland, for which it relies for almost every aspect of life and culture. Substantial research and many indigenous management innovations since the 1980s provide a solid backdrop to what the community want to do next: to establish a new network of nurseries to drive a further increase in home and field orchards (associated with increased availability of water through the dams and infiltration pits and better fencing to exclude livestock); and to explore agro-forestry options in their fields with both indigenous and exotic species to recuperate worn out soils and to maintain production on their better lands. Meanwhile detailed studies continue of two important woodland-related issues: the dynamics of mistletoe populations and the ecology and possible enhancement of mushrooms. Click here for all articles related to Trees and Woodland Management.
Mazvihwa, with an annual rainfall of less than 500mm/year and an altitude of around 800m is too dry and hot for reliable maize production, even without the growing impact of climate change. Nevertheless decades of cultural, marketing and extension pressure focused on shifting people from indigenous varieties of their traditional small grains (millets and sorghum) to hybrid maize varieties (primarily R201 and its derivatives developed in the 1960s). While R201 is surely one of the best ever hybrids produced for African small holders it was still maize, and as a dent variety it was too soft and vulnerable to weevils to store between wet and dry years. Action research in the 1980s and early 1990s in Mazvihwa was conclusively in favor of millet but didn’t convince extension agents, aid agencies and even farmers that it would be better to shift away from maize. But then came the economic and other crises of the 2000s and farmers in Mazvihwa reverted to open-pollinated and traditional varieties, including those introduced to the area at the end of the 1980s by the team now comprising Muonde Trust. Recent efforts are focused upon ensuring availability of indigenous varieties of bulrush millet seed following years of drought but a major unmet need is to re-introduce the de-hulling grinding machines that save women from having to pound millets. The health advantages of indigenous varieties are also capturing Muonde and the community’s interest. Click here for all articles related to Indigenous Seeds.
A host of indigenous innovations are being explored by the women of Mazvihwa to better design and manage domestic water, food preparation workspaces, kitchen fires and household architecture. This program supports the documentation and dissemination of these innovations that improve the health, comfort and efficiency of their work, as well as the beauty and quality of life of their families and homes. Click here for all articles related to Domestic Architecture and Kitchen Spaces.
As plastics rapidly expand into peoples’ lives in Mazvihwa – meeting a wide range of needs – concerns are growing as to how to dispose of them safely and effectively. This program builds on initial studies that underline how difficult this will be, and the risks associated with burning plastics and integrating the residues with organic wastes. Click here for all articles related to Disposing of New Wastes.
Today’s Zimbabweans are as equipped with cellphones as anyone else, and the youth enter the digital age with yearning and skill. This Muonde program supports the introduction of computers and IT training to the schools, provides practical training in the collection and sharing of digital materials, and provides the platform for the community to share its stories digitally. Click here for all articles related to Digital Technology.
There has been a major expansion of western-style housing since independence and people are now re-thinking architectural designs of these buildings to better match the local climate, environment, culture, and actual needs for space. They are also seeking ways to make their homes more beautiful and in tune with their landscape. Meanwhile building materials create one of the greatest cash needs and drain funds out of Mazvihwa. All this is leading to local innovation and a hunger for practical techniques and approaches from outside. The Muonde Trust has however, yet to develop work in this area in which there is great potential for interested volunteers to find with locals and teach a new generation of building skills using local materials and in designs that speak to indigenous cultural values. Click here for all articles related to Architecture.
A continuing education effort at the local Gwavachemayi Secondary school at Mhototi in Mazvihwa so that women and men who did not complete their secondary schooling, especially during the economic crisis years of 2000-09, can return and take their “O” levels; coupled with a scholarship program, especially for girls, for students successfully completing “O” levels but unable to raise the funds needed to go for “A” levels at nearby Takavarasha and hence be eligible for university. Material-appropriate books to launch libraries in the local schools (including the three primary schools, Gudo, Gwen’ombe Dip and Mototi) are also crucial. We will also engage as interns Mazvihwan students studying in local universities, and help some special cases with their fees. Click here for all articles related to Education.
Several thousand people from Mazvihwa are now living on former commercial ranching lands that they overran through the “jambanja” process in the early 2000s, especially on estates formerly owned by Union Carbide, De Beer and (in a more complex way) Rio Tinto mining companies. To complement a book under preparation based on three decades of research and engagement in the land struggles of this area, the Muonde team are currently assessing the needs (and beginning to support the efforts of) the farmers on these various resettled lands, especially in regards to soil and water management, tree issues and drinking water. Click here for all articles related to Resettlements.
Confident of their Karanga cultural values and indigenous knowledge, the Mazvihwa community (and therefore Muonde Trust) enthusiastically welcomes occasional volunteers who come with respect and a spirit of sharing. They are particularly interested in “practical dreamers” who have hands-on experience relevant to their challenges of improving their lives in a semi-arid environment, especially from other indigenous communities around the world. The women in Mazvihwa are particularly keen to have more women visitors. Our first local volunteer was Ms. Alice Ndhlovu, the first woman from Mazvihwa (Gudo) to earn a Masters in Development Studies who was then working for an NGO that supports local initiatives in this region. Ms. Ndhlovu generously agreed to help Muonde with management advice and support in her spare time. That relationship thrived such that she now she works for Muonde full time! We welcome other volunteers wherever they are.