By Modreck Maeresera, Kulanu Board Member and President of the Harare Lemba Synagogue in Zimbabwe.
In 2017 and 2018, Kulanu, in partnership with the Harare Lemba synagogue, carried out two development projects in the Bedza Lemba community in Zimbabwe. These projects involved building two weirs, or concrete dams, in two of our streams so that our livestock would have a source of water throughout the year, including during droughts. Our community, with funds raised by Kulanu through its donors, successfully carried out these projects. Today, where the livestock used to die during drought, there is now abundant water to last through the dry season and even through drought years. This has a very huge impact on our community as a whole. Children who used to miss school to take cattle long distances to drink water can now focus on learning and playing. The village cattle herd that was shrinking is now growing. This is a miracle in a community that values cattle. Our livelihood comes from using the cattle for milk, to till our land, and to provide manure to fertilize the fields.
The success we had in building the weirs had far-reaching effects on the whole community. Seven villages of people with different political, religious, and ethnic backgrounds came together to undertake a project that changed their lives. Lemba Jews, Muslims, Christians, and practitioners of the African traditional religions came together to confront a common enemy: water shortage. We had succeeded beyond expectations and in the process managed to save the village herd as well as to save our children from the long trips taking our cattle to distant watering holes while they missed school. This was proof that the villagers could achieve much by working on their own rather than depending on the dysfunctional government that fails to provide its citizens with basics. One very vital effect was that the water harnessed by the weirs fed underground aquifers such that the borehole drilled in the community now has abundant water to last throughout the whole year — even in the dry season. In December 2018, a capacity test done on the 50-meter deep borehole concluded that we can pump 7,000 liters of water per hour from the borehole without exhausting the flow. The borehole is fitted with a diesel generator that can pump 300 liters of water per hour and that effectively means we have more water than we can pump out. It is this success that inspired the next project. It gave us the confidence to do more to take control of our lives. Summed up by the weir project manager Mr. Esmond Zvakavapano, “This is a start but doesn’t need to be the end. We can have three more weirs in this stream, and we can start a fishery and a vegetable garden. We need to have something to occupy ourselves with, even in the dry season. Most men, for lack of anything else to do, spend the whole dry season loafing around. Young people leave the villages for the city. Hopefully, if we have a way to meaningfully contribute to our community throughout the year, it will restore our dignity and pride as people.”
Our success with water broadened the horizon of possibilities for us. Where the weirs saved the livestock from droughts, the borehole can be used to start an irrigation project that can save the people from famine. We have enough water to irrigate 10 hectares of land (a hectare is approximately 2.5 acres) and we have the potential to effectively and permanently deal with our food insecurity problems by producing our own food. This is especially vital in a community that always looked to donors to provide them with food during droughts and famine times. This need is made all the more clear by the current drought. Many families are without any food; without donor aid many face starvation. This has highlighted the need to deal with this problem once and for all. We have the most important resource —water— and with enough financial resources, we can insure ourselves against droughts and famines like we did when we built the weirs. We will never have to live with the fear of not having enough to eat or the fear that our children will be forced to drop out of school because all our community’s resources need to be channeled towards food. In 2016, the Harare Lemba synagogue community was saved from one of the worst droughts in living memory by a food distribution program sponsored by Kulanu. However, because of climate change, droughts and famines are going to be frequent and we can’t always depend on donors and Kulanu. Fortunately, Bedza village is becoming more independent because our land can be much more productive with abundant water. In 2017, with money raised through Kulanu, we fenced 10 hectares of land in Bedza and installed main drip pipes on five of those hectares, and installed drip lines in two of those hectares.
“…we will be able to produce food for our needs and we won’t always have to look to donors for food aid.”
Now, as 2020 approaches, our plan is to use the land and the water in Bedza to produce food for the Harare Lemba synagogue community, with the latter leasing the land from the former. The Zvakavapano family, who owns the land where the development is taking place, will benefit from the fence and drip infrastructure, and in return, they will lease 10 hectares of the land to the Harare Lemba Synagogue to produce food for its use for seven years for only $1 per year.
Half the food will be used for the Shabbat lunch program at the Harare Lemba Synagogue as well as for distribution to the Harare Lemba Synagogue community. This will effectively eliminate our food problems since we will be able to produce food for our needs and we won’t always have to look to donors for food aid. The other half will be sold and the money will be used to fund operations at the farm. That way we will meet our objective to provide food for our community as well as to make sure the project will be self-sustaining.
The crops we have targeted for production are beans and potatoes. A Harare Lemba Synagogue member who is experienced with drip irrigation has relocated to Bedza to manage the project. In November 2019, Mr. Obey Kandawasvika, the manager, and his team finished planting potatoes on two acres of land in Bedza and they are laying more drip lines so they can plant the next batch. Kulanu has raised funds to start production work on 1.5 hectares and, God willing, if enough funds are raised we will put the 1.5 hectares into full production before expanding to cover the whole ten hectares. Our immediate needs are to add 25 liters of storage tanks so we can have enough water stores. We also need to replace the diesel generator with a solar generator. Solar generation is cheaper and more effective in the long run. Around Pesach (April) 2020, we will harvest our first potatoes! That will mark our freedom from food shortages and dependence, and it will mark the success of a project that will give us food security. We are confident, with the help of our friends and sponsors, that we will make it happen. It is our hope that hunger will be a story of the past, and that, as we did on the weirs, we will be celebrating finding lasting solutions to problems that confront us. It is our desire that we won’t be mourning about how circumstances beyond our control are ruining our lives. We will be celebrating having taken destiny in our hands and cushioned ourselves against future food shortages by giving ourselves food sovereignty.