Kuziva Gore, a young communal farmer from Tsenga village in the parched countryside of Mt Darwin District, some 100km northeast of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, has no difficulty explaining how food rations can help to rebuild roads and bridges.
Last year Gore and his family struggled to get his seriously ill mother to hospital because a dilapidated old bridge across a local river had become unusable. She had to be transported 10km in an ox-drawn cart to the next bridge in order to reach the hospital in Mt Darwin.
“The damaged bridge, small as it was, could have cost my mother’s life considering the delays it caused us,” Gore told IRIN.
Today, thanks to a “food-for-assets” programme which helps vulnerable rural communities repair and develop essential local infrastructure in exchange for food aid, Tsenga's residents have reconnected themselves to the outside world by rebuilding the old bridge and repairing 8km of severely damaged road passing through their district. The newly repaired bridge and road have allowed local vendors to bring down the prices of basic commodities and for public transport to return to the district.
In return for their work, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) provided food rations to scores of households in Gore’s community which had been affected by a lack of rainfall during the 2010-11 farming season, while World Vision Zimbabwe provided building materials and technical support for the repair of the bridge. Villagers in three surrounding communities have repaired about 20km of road through the same programme.
WFP-led initiative is easing the hardships of food-deficient communities while at the same time helping develop their capacity to fend for themselves.
Implementing partners - including Plan International, World Vision, Save the Children and community-based NGOs together with local authorities - identify assets in food insecure areas that communities can work on and provide funding and resources, while WFP gives food rations to beneficiaries from needy households who carry out the projects.
WFP country director Felix Bamezon told IRIN the programme was started in 2009 in districts with a track record of recurrent food insecurity with the aim of improving livelihood opportunities for vulnerable households and reducing their dependence on emergency food aid.
In 2010 and 2011, about 20,000 households in Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, Masvingo and southwestern parts of the country received cereals, pulses and vegetable oil in return for their work on communal projects which included irrigation schemes, dam and well construction, repair of school buildings, installation of dip tanks, dairy parlours, nutrition gardens and piggeries. In areas where food can be bought locally, beneficiaries received cash instead of food rations.
“Communities now have improved livelihoods compared to the time before the assets were created. For instance, beneficiaries can now access markets in areas where roads were impassable, and those that started irrigation projects no longer depend on rainfall entirely," said Bamezon, adding that the programme is expanding to reach more districts in 2012.
Titus Mafemba, Plan International's provincial manager for Manicaland, confirmed that the cash and food-for-assets programme had had a positive impact in the districts where it has been implemented: “Family members from food-hungry communities tend to spend a lot of time looking for food and worsen their vulnerability by selling their assets and livestock, but the cash-and-food-for-assets programme solves this problem,” he said.
He added, however, that projects were constrained by the fact that work could only be carried out during the period between crops being harvested and the start of the next farming season to allow families time to concentrate on their own fields.
Monitoring reports by WFP indicate that the programme faces other challenges, among them shortages of building materials and expert supervision. Senior local government officials declined to comment on the food-for-assets programme, but a junior employee of the District Development Fund (DDF) who did not want to be named told IRIN: “We are supposed to be involved in the programme heavily, but we are understaffed and do not have adequate tools to make significant contributions.”
Under the Labour Ministry, the social welfare department has been running a separate but similar programme of its own since November 2011 with funding from the World Bank.
According to Moses Chourombo, national coordinator of the programme, rural district councils and communities identify projects and “community productive works teams”, as they are known, provide technical expertise, while World Bank funding is used to pay for tools and food rations for the workers.
So far the programme is only being implemented in the Midlands districts of Chivi and Shurugwi, but Chourombo said it would be used to develop a national policy for fighting food insecurity through communal projects.