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Young women Agriculture Guides catalyzing food security in Zimbabwe

A women-led grassroots movement will catalyze enduring food security, equality and prosperity in Manicaland, Zimbabwe.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

CAMFED Zimbabwe

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

-CAMFED Consortium (large NGO operating and sharing knowledge and resources across Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi and Ghana) -Representatives of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement, Department of Agriculture, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX)– Buhera District -Zimbabwe Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development - national and district levels -Zimbabwe Ministry of Health and Child Care – Buhera, Chipinge, Nyanga districts

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Manicaland is a province in eastern Zimbabwe covering 36,459 km², in which we will focus on the districts of Buhera, Chipinge and Nyanga.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Manicaland is Zimbabwe’s second more populous province after Harare province. We believe it is where our vision for young women Agriculture Guides holds the greatest promise to reach the largest number of people who need it most.

2019 brought both drought and Cyclone Idai to Manicaland, severely damaging crop, livestock and agriculture infrastructure. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Technical Group and Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC) declared it to be in a  state of crisis with more than 0.7 million people estimated to be food insecure. Buhera district is experiencing a food emergency.

CAMFED has worked in Manicaland since 2001 within Buhera, Nyanga and Chipinge districts. Through partnerships with 166 schools, we have supported over 13,000 girls through secondary education there. From this investment has grown the CAMFED Association of educated, young, rural women who organize and act on behalf of girls and young women. The over 7,500 members in Manicaland are part of the wider 54,000-member CAMFED Association in Zimbabwe, and the 140,000-member pan-African Association. Embedded in their communities, they contribute as advocates and role models for girls’ education and women’s empowerment. Through structured programs, members volunteer: as Learner Guides at local schools to improve students’ learning outcomes and retention, as Business Guides to mentor young women entrepreneurs, and most recently, as Agriculture Guides to spread climate-smart agriculture practices among women farmers. 

CAMFED’s work in Manicaland has created a network of cross-sectoral community champions who co-develop, implement and monitor our programs. To develop the Agriculture Guide vision we are engaging these stakeholders who include traditional leaders, diverse community members and district government representatives including those from the Department of Agriculture, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX) as well as from other local CSOs.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The province of Manicaland in Zimbabwe, shares its eastern border with Mozambique. Its largely rural population lives in seven districts, while urban dwellers are clustered in three urban centers, including the provincial capital of Mutare. The province's largest ethnic group is a Shona subgroup who speak a distinct Shona dialect, Manyika, from which the province derives its name.

Buhera District extends across the south and west of the province with open grassland interspersed by granite hills and ranges. Even outside of the dry season which normally extends from May to October, rainfall is characteristically unreliable because much of the district lies in the rain shadow of the eastern border highlands.  Moisture in air carried by the southeast trade winds from the Indian Ocean is deposited on those eastern slopes, leaving little for the land just to the west.  Despite its unreliability, rainfall is the major source of water for the majority of household vegetable gardens and livestock. Produce from these gardens provide household sustenance and income. In the dry season, women must carry water to the gardens from available sources (streams or bore holes nearby) to grow their crops.  Most popular crops are maize, millet, roundnuts, and groundnuts. Land is administered by the local chiefs through a communal land system.

It is typical for families to have only two meals or less per day, prepared and served by the girls and women of the family. Sadza, a thick porridge made from mealie meal (ground maize), is the staple around which the meal is centered. As available, nuts or greens may be added as relish. Breakfast often consists of a cup of tea with vegetables. Diversity of foods within families’ diets and the amount available to them is highly dependent upon what they can produce. Families’ abilities to purchase food have been severely impacted in the last year by government economic reforms and austerity measures which have resulted in hyperinflation across Zimbabwe, making them even more vulnerable to the adverse effects of the drought.

In Manicaland, and more widely across rural Zimbabwe, strong social networks contribute to a high level of resilience among its people, as demonstrated by the dedicated community engagement of CAMFED Association members. In addition, a wealth of local and traditional knowledge, which has already enabled Zimbabweans to survive in a highly variably climate for centuries, is available to be tapped into. These elements are embedded in the foundations of the Agriculture Guide Vision.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Humanitarian assistance may be a short-term solution to Manicaland’s current food crisis, but without long-term solutions, food insecurity will persist and worsen over the next 30 years in the face of climate change and a rapidly growing youth population. Exacerbating these are challenges deeply rooted in cultural norms. Women are central to food systems in Manicaland. Yet, as they juggle multiple roles as food producers, distributors, and preparers, they are held back from contributing their full potential.

Climate change will intensify environmental challenges, with droughts and floods increasing in frequency and duration, and rising temperatures causing infestations of pests and outbreaks of diseases by 2050. Farmers will require access to training on climate smart agricultural practices and to improved, resilient inputs.  While the government of Zimbabwe introduced a Climate Smart Agriculture Policy in 2018, without effective advocacy, its implementation is unlikely to reach women farmers who need it most. Worldwide, the FAO reports that rural women are less likely than their male peers to benefit from training and resources, resulting in a 20-30% productivity gap between the genders.

Climate change and overuse will also deplete sources of water and fuels for households. Their collection falls to women and some in Buhera already walk up to 30 km each day. Women will have less time to produce, sell and prepare food as these resources disappear.

Zimbabwe’s population is expected to double by 2050. With 60% of Zimbabweans currently under the age of 25, education generally, and education about food production is necessary to break the interlinked cycles of poverty and food insecurity.  School dropout rises when families are forced to prioritize food over school fees, and children are too hungry to be able to attend school and learn. During times of household stress, girls’ education is particularly vulnerable and too often truncated by family separation, early marriage, sexual exploitation, and extreme coping mechanisms, including transactional sex.

Exclusion of women from education contributes to malnutrition.  While women are responsible for preparing family meals, the 2018 Zimbabwe National Nutrition Strategy report confirms that inadequate knowledge about how to incorporate diverse, nutrient-rich foods keeps them from providing balanced, healthy diets for their children and themselves. As new kinds of biofortified crops and foods become available over the next 30 years, women as farmers and food preparers must learn about using these to improve the health of their families.

Lack of equitable policies make it difficult for women farmers to access land and the capital they need to be productive farmers.  As food sellers and distributors, many women in Manicaland lack the freedom necessary to safely travel to markets. Excluded from male-dominated food value chains they are unable to maximize earnings from what they produce above subsistence levels.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our vision flips power structures and cultural norms within the food systems of Manicaland, positioning young women at the forefront of a movement to improve food production, distribution and nutrition, battling the environmental impacts of climate change, and empowering growing youth populations to create a food-secure future for Manicaland.

 The Agriculture Guide Vision uses a proven innovative peer education model in which young women take the lead as trainers, mentors and role models.

  • Agriculture Guides will reach out to women farmers in marginalized communities to provide access to climate resilient agricultural practices and a channel for distribution of new resilient and/or biofortified inputs to improve farming productivity and family nutrition.
  • Working from within their communities, this volunteer corps will extend the limited reach of agricultural extension officers to ensure the government’s Climate Smart Policy is transformed from word into action at the frontlines and at scale.
  • As role models, the Agriculture Guides will break down gender barriers, building agency and confidence among the young women farmers to make decisions about farming and demonstrating to men the benefits of having productive family farms.
  • The young women Agriculture Guides will build upon their relationships with women, sharing their common experience as food-preparers to introduce and new and practicable ideas about nutrition to mothers.
  • Agriculture Guides and other CAMFED Association leaders will advocate among traditional leaders and government officials and other stakeholders to open up women’s access to financial capital, and land access. Experience shows that advocacy is most powerful when it marries strong voices with concrete examples of how change brings tangible benefits to communities. The Agriculture Guides vision promotes this kind of action advocacy.
  • Agriculture and Business Guides will link women farmers to new markets and help them to build their own supply chains.

Successful food production will mean families will be better fed, even with growing numbers of youth. Increases in yield, and in the incomes of women farmers will translate to direct improvements for children’s nutrition.  These will all work to stabilize family income and reduce pressures on girls to drop out of school. 

Our long-term vision promotes girls’ education in additional ways. As agents of change and leadership in their communities, Agriculture Guides are highly visible and effective role models for the growing youth population, particularly girls at-risk of dropping out of school, early marriage, and teenage pregnancy. They inspire girls to complete their education and pursue productive livelihoods in food production. Data show that educated, empowered women choose to have smaller families, ultimately reducing population growth and greenhouse gas emissions.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The vision we share is one of grassroots activism which unlocks the leadership of young women, Agriculture Guides, who are skilled, motivated and supported to improve food security and nutrition in Manicaland, working with a diversity of stakeholders in their communities and incorporating new and traditional knowledge.

Fully implemented in Manicaland, the vision for an Agriculture Guide program will not only reduce the threat of food insecurity for over a million people there, but it will do so by developing a foundation of knowledgeable, empowered and connected women food producers and distributors, who will have increased agency and economic power to provide nutritious food for their own children and for their communities more widely.

Marginalized women farmers will have been reached with training and new inputs tailored to increase their outputs in the face of the climate challenges they are facing. Women who need it most will be reached by training from Agriculture Guides to make more efficient use of fuel and water and new foods, so that their household management tasks do not impinge upon the time needed to produce food and to incorporate new sources of nutrients into their families’ diets.

Women producers will be earning income through sales of food and accessing new markets. Through trusted networks built with other women food producers and distributors, they will provide food more efficiently, and with less waste to more consumers.

Women’s leadership in food production and distribution will be recognized and celebrated, opening doors for more women to bring their previously neglected wisdom and experience to critical decision-making and policy development for food security in their communities and in their country.

With greater food security, and more household income, young people in Manicaland will be able to complete their educations and gain the skills they require to create their own productive livelihoods and solutions to new challenges.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our vision is one of thriving, resilient communities in Manicaland freed from food insecurity with food systems rejuvenated by the full participation of women. Equipped with knowledge and access to resources, they will assist smallholder farmers to produce nutritious food in rich surplus for their families and communities in the face of climate change. They will inspire rising generations of young people to see food production as an admirable, modern career

Our vision builds on a proven model for increased food security led by the movement of educated young African women of the CAMFED Association.  Sharing a background of rural poverty, around one-third of CAMFED Association members are agripreneurs. These young rural women know from personal experience the rural woman’s critical role in ensuring her family’s food security, and the power of taking collaborative action. Their dynamism is fueled by the culture of philanthropy, grassroots activism underpinned by members’ commitment to using their local expertise to design training content and effect long-lasting change.

In 2013, CAMFED launched a breakthrough initiative to train young women across sub-Saharan Africa to become Agriculture Guides - champions of sustainable agriculture to improve food security in their communities. These young women have improved the productivity, sustainability and profitability of their own smallholdings and encouraged wide adoption of practical, affordable and locally-relevant climate-smart techniques – such as inter-cropping and drip-irrigation using waste plastic bottles - and technologies that value indigenous traditions. In collaboration with EARTH University in Costa Rica, an innovative leader in sustainable agriculture with a unique pedagogy centered on practical learning, CAMFED developed a tailor-made course for African women, designed to support them to train rural communities to adapt to climate change.  

To date, Agriculture Guides have reached over 8,500 individuals, mostly women and young people, through cascaded training, demonstration farms, community meetings and mentoring. Agriculture Guides reach young people in their communities to build their resilience to climate challenges.  Participants reported up to six-fold increases in their yields, better enabling them to feed their families, generate an income, and improve community nutrition, for example addressing child hunger by setting up school meals programs. Agriculture Guide Beauty from Kwekwe, works with mothers who provide nutritious meals for the local school throughout the year.

Agriculture Guides have trained a critical mass of rural women to address the impact of climate change upon their household management activities.  They provide instruction on how to build energy-efficient stoves from local resources, not only reducing firewood usage, but also reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Agriculture Guide Clarah, together with other young female leaders, organized fuel-efficient stove construction workshops across six districts in Zimbabwe. The stoves use half as much firewood and reduce smoke pollution by up to two-thirds.  Clarah reflects, “You have to realize that women are the ones most affected by the smoke from firewood. You know the chores being carried by African women. It’s very risky for girls to go in the forest to look for firewood.”

Under the initiative, Agriculture Guides are teaching young rural farmers how to integrate poultry and small ruminant production with crop production, and using manure to enhance carbon sequestration. They mix legumes with cereals; grow crops with varying root lengths to optimize moisture and nutrient use, and mulch with farm waste to restore soil organic matter. Learner Guide Esnath encourages farmers to enrich the soil by preparing it with manure and mixing crops such as maize and beans, increasing land productivity and reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers. Judith is teaching students, through demonstrations, to supplement crop farming with animal husbandry. She teaches farmers in surrounding districts how to combine contour ridges with cover crops to reduce erosion, and how to conserve soil moisture.

The Agriculture Guide initiative takes a holistic approach that recognizes the cumulative value of practical, low-cost adaptations at farm level for building resilience into the grass roots of rural economies, in contrast to some approaches to a top-down push of technology which is not always affordable and sustainable for rural farmers. Agriculture Guides, re-introduce communities to more sustainable indigenous traditions such as fallowing, therefore limiting erosion and reducing degradation. Marginalized farmers are being equipped with the skills to build water-purification and desalinization systems, and introduced to solar dehydrators, helping them to preserve seasonal foods like mangoes for year-round nutrition.

In our vision, members of the CAMFED Association and community members in Manicaland will continue to co-develop and adapt the Agriculture Guide model to target training on locally-relevant climate smart strategies to optimize the yields land. Methods such as crop rotation, drip irrigation and food preservation will be delivered by trained Agriculture Guides, each working with clusters of women. Through local partnerships with the AGRITEX, the Ministry of Agriculture’s agency in the provision of agricultural extension services that is tasked with improving crop yields,  clusters of women farmers will be linked to access to  inputs optimized for local use, such as seeds for bio-fortified crops, e.g. zinc/iron-enriched beans and vitamin A-enriched, drought resistant maize support. Through partnership with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Agriculture Guides can help clusters access grants for supplies such as equipment for water harvesting, drip-irrigation systems, food preservation or growing food production businesses.

The power of women helping other rural women to produce food, is transformative.  Women will not only be better able to feed their families, but they have the potential to transition from subsistence farmers to food sellers and distributors – growing household income and employment. Members of rural communities have gained paid employment as a result of increased farming productivity. The first fourteen Agriculture Guides reported creating 55 new jobs on their farms.

Coming together in training and peer support, women are able to transcend their traditional culture-based exclusion from food value chains. Training and working together builds not only knowledge and experience, but also the trust that helps them to create their own supply chains.  In Zimbabwe, female poultry farmers have formed informal producer organizations to assure supply and quality to hotels, restaurants and supermarkets. Across Africa, women supported by CAMFED have developed value chains in which channel a wide variety of agricultural produce including fruits, grains and legumes, and feeding waste from processing back into their livestock farms.

Previously disenfranchised rural women, working as Agriculture Guides, have gained the respect and recognition of their peers, families, and traditional leadership. “When they see me, they see an achiever.” declared Clarah. They are female role models showing girls that with education and peer support, they too can become self-supporting leaders in their communities. Rewarding their contribution to farmers in the Chinsali district of Zambia, Senior Chief Nkula donated 200 hectares of land donated to CAMFED Association members for their use as a demonstration farm for community members, serving as a youth training ground, agriculture business cooperative and school food supplier.

The size and reach of the CAMFED Association in Manicaland, and the fact that members are already educated, and part of the communities are key to achieving our vision. A representative of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education in Zimbabwe described the tremendous value offered by the CAMFED Association (CAMA), saying, “CAMA has an urgency and a spread which the Ministry just can’t achieve... CAMA helps the Ministry reach the most vulnerable faster than we can… it’s a huge resource to have CAMA already so networked across the country.”

The effectiveness and potential for scale of CAMFED’s vision for Agriculture Guides has already been recognized internationally. The UN awarded CAMFED with a 2019 “Women for Results” UN Global Climate Action Award and our approach was highlighted at COP25 in Madrid in December 2019.

Strong evidence for the feasibility and scalability of the Agriculture Guide approach is provided by the success of a similar model implemented by CAMFED in the education sector. CAMFED has built a structured volunteer program enabling CAMFED Association members to return as Learner Guides to their local schools, providing school children with classes and personal mentoring. In exchange, Learner Guides receive financial and educational benefits.  Independently conducted evaluations reported program outcomes include significant increases in student retention and learning outcomes.  To date, CAMFED has engaged over 9,233 women as Learner Guides across five countries, who have collectively supported 715,000 children, bringing 14,858 out-of-school children into school. The Learner Guides themselves reported gains in recognition from community leaders, as well as high levels of employment following their participation.

All of the above speaks to the power of the young rural Agricultural Guides to act as pioneering agents of change and catalyze improved food security in Manicaland.  As Agriculture Guide Mary from Nyanga states, “I have done justice in my district. I feel in my heart that I would continue doing it until I feel that women have been empowered. I need to move women in my society.”

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