Grandmothers against HIV in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe – women-led home gardens buffer against hunger pangs

Zimbabwe – a country that once held the world’s record for hyperinflation in the 2000s – is not immune to the present-day effects of global inflation and hunger arising from Russia’s blockade of Ukraine grain shipments. 

However, Zimbabwe’s mothers have a fun, bespoke solution – home backyard gardens seeding vegetables, beans, rice, and poultry meat to supply their homes.

Good news

“When we heard the war would block wheat from Ukraine, we were afraid of the worst,” Bridget Moyo, a mum of three in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city says of her initial fears. 

Meanwhile, single mother of two Fiona Moyo has been getting through the block by feeding raw pumpkin leaves to the dozen or so rabbits growing in a disused room of her half-finished house in the capital Harare. 

“The good news is that our home gardens have not only nourished families but kept food prices manageable,” she says. 

“Thanks to home pens; we eat fat-free rabbit meat for nearly zero cost; fresh carrots from our home gardens are on the menu weekly; the cabbages lining our driveways, some we even sell to strangers.”

Women are doing well on the food front despite fearing global hunger from inflation. This is because "years before punishing inflation and the Ukraine war, they realized growing their own food at home is beneficial for the pocket and nutrition," says Grace Fazenda, a coordinator of Urban Women in Agriculture 

“Zimbabwean women are realizing it is much wiser to plant okra and onions than lily flowers in home driveways,” she says. 

In 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on Food Rights declared that Zimbabwe was on the verge of man-made starvation with 60% of the population considered ‘food insecure.'

“Pots were empty. The prices of tomatoes and corn trickling into city markets could not be met on a teacher’s salary, then,” recalls Connie Meya, an independent agronomist in Mutare a border city. 

“We went around teaching women that growing kale and rice in the spare land at your house buffers you from the food prices that are market driven.”

Sharon Gabela, a mother of one in Bulawayo, is part of a network of 20 other mums who grow everything from beetroot to cucumbers in their home backyard gardens. 

“In two years, we already produce so much surplus that we have opened a women-held market stall where we sell surplus eggs, cucumbers, spinach, to schools, small clinics, and residents and share the profit among ourselves.”

Gabela is proud to say, thanks to their industrious home farming, the price of a crate of a dozen eggs in her neighbourhood fell from $5 to $3 at a time global food cost-pull inflation* is trending upwards

“This is a sweet example of women in developing countries taking issues of food sovereignty in their hands and refusing to be victims of global food imports and imported inflation. It’s a thrilling model to copy,” Meya says.

But home gardens in Zimbabwe aren't always smooth sailing. Growing vegetables for sale and raising poultry or any other animals is illegal in terms of city bylaws. Sometimes, dodgy municipal officers raid poultry pens and demand bribes, Meya says. But largely authorities in Zimbabwe turn a blind eye because they are aware the need for food is big and the prices of food in commercial stores are beyond the means of many.

“The backyard gardens might be unlawful, but authorities know these food enclosures serve a far greater good,” she says.

*Cost-pull inflation occurs where peoples’ demand for food stays the same, but the costs to actually produce that same quantity of food are going up, which are often passed on to the end consumer.