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Kavitha Dispatch

Old Ways to Make New Changes -
Social Theories in Action

    "Give a person a fish, they'll eat for a day.
    Teach them how to fish - they'll eat forever" - Proverb

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No, it's not a Stairmaster...I am pumping water for the village!
I was starting to get a bit nervous since we're supposed to leave for West Africa in less than a week, and yet I was as confused as you probably are about what our next theme "Social Change in Theory and Action" actually means! Luckily for me, in my last week here in Zimbabwe, I was able to visit Intermediate Technology (IT) Zimbabwe, an amazing group working to make social change in a way that contradicts most government and non-government theories. You can keep your theories. IT Zimbabwe has found a way that actually works! Check it out!

Much of Zimbabwe is very dry and prone to drought. Many of the people you meet here will tell you terrible stories of the difficult times they endured during the devastating drought of 1991/1992. Crops all over the country failed, and as a result many people died of hunger and malnutrition. Even during years that aren't considered plagued by a drought, many communities around the country find themselves unable to grow enough food.

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Mr. Piri stopped by to share some  information at a community gathering in Chivi
Zimbabwe's government development agencies have come up with a number of methods to address this crucial issue of food security. They've started "food for work" programs where communities will do public works like road repairs and erosion control in exchange for food. They've implemented grain loan programs, where farmers get seeds from the government and are expected to pay them back when there is a year of surplus. The Zimbabwean government has also developed child support feeding programs. But do any of these strategies really provide food security for communities? If the government changes, or loses money, or just decides to stop their programs, are these communities better off? Have they learned how to be sufficient and feed themselves?

As we saw in Peru, development is all too often administered from the government or lending agencies to those that need it - like a teacher-student relationship. All these past efforts to address food security here in Zimbabwe have only been in response to a crisis. They provide only short-term relief. "As much as they have done to alleviate the problem temporarily, they have not provided a sustainable solution," explained Blessing Butaumocho, from Intermediate Technology Zimbabwe.

Since a community's needs vary depending on wealth, IT used a type of wealth-ranking test to gain a better understanding of what needs are important to people of different social levels. In Chivi, they conducted a thorough survey and asked individuals to rank other families in the community in different levels of status and wealth. This proved to be a very eye-opening, insightful exercise. By making participants explain why they put different families in different levels, they were able to understand how the local community defines wealth. Community members used a number of different indicators, such as livestock size, dietary patterns, types of roofing materials (asbestos, tin, grass), etc. to create the different levels. By conducting this wealth ranking, IT was able to determine the characteristics and attributes the community holds in high regard, and thus aspires to achieve. In addition to finding out what is important or necessary to the community, the exercise helped formulate a development goal for the project.
That's why IT and Blessing started their Rural Community Food Security Project back in the early 90's. They wanted to work with a community to try and develop a lasting way to address food security...together. Most rural development has been based on the "transfer of technology" model, a theory that is based on the assumption that farmers are unable to come up with solutions to their own problems. IT decided to try out a new theory and let the community design their own plans. "Before Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, rural communities never received government aid," Blessing points out. "What did the communities do back then? We decided to revisit the old solutions, the communities' solutions."

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The ladies discuss good gardening techniques
The Chivi community, in one of the driest regions in central Zimbabwe, was chosen to be the first to test this new approach to development. IT began the project by going into the community and identifying local organizations that could manage and oversee the project regionally. If this was going to be a community based solution, it shouldn't be run from IT's offices in Harare or Masvingo. After meeting several farmers clubs and other institutions that could take over the project, the next step was to determine what exactly were the community's needs. They conducted an in-depth survey, interviewing households in all different economic levels, and were finally able to develop an assessment of the community's needs. Then they mobilized the community to look at the needs and to look at the current practices to address those needs. The strengths and weaknesses of the current practices were discussed and the community together was finally able to start prioritizing their needs and what could be done to overcome them.

The Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) is an international non-governmental organization founded by the late Dr. E.F. Schumacher, author of Small is Beautiful. In working for a sustainable future, IT is supporting access to knowledge, information, and technology so that men and women can live in a secure, fulfilling and dignified way. They are doing great work like the successful Chivi project all over the world! Check them out on the web:
or email them at:

IT Zimbabwe

IT Peru

IT United Kingdom

IT Sri Lanka

IT Kenya

IT Publications

The results were incredible. Not only did Chivi go from a community that was unable to produce enough food for themselves to one that produces a surplus, but the members of the community have become empowered and now help to train others on how to help themselves. The local institutions in Chivi have taken over and are completely managing the project, and now the community is entirely in charge and is taking the process forward. They organize competitions to highlight good farming techniques, seed fairs to exchange saved seeds and knowledge, and field days to train people in other communities in successful methods. The Chivi Food Security Project has been so successful that it has been used as a model nationally by the Zimbabwean government and internationally by the World Bank and development groups in Europe and neighboring countries in Southern Africa. Read my other dispatch for more details on exactly what the Chivi community did to overcome their dilemma of food security.

"Now the question is, can the success be repeated elsewhere?" says Blessing, reflecting on the Chivi project and the participatory approach that was used. IT has started a similar project in the Nyanga district in northeastern Zimbabwe. In Nyanga, they have decided to look with a wider focus, not just at food security, but at livelihood security. The main objective is - can this approach apply in a different cultural and physical environment? Community members of Nyanga have already been to visit Chivi and other regions, and are learning about different innovative technologies. They have identified their local grassroots institutions and have begun to assess their needs. "We're still in the beginning phases of the project, so it's still hard to say what the outcome will be." It's a long process, but based on the incredible results in Chivi, and the impending likelihood of drought conditions again in Zimbabwe, it's a process they're more than willing to try. Now, that's social change in action!


Monica - Bon Voyage Shawn!
Shawn - Leaving on a Jet Plane :-(
Kevin - When Intolerance Rises to Intolerable Levels
Abeja - You Reap What You Sow
Kavitha - From Drought to Surplus, a Tale of Success
Abeja - Visiting a Tobacco Auction
Making A Difference - Send A Message!

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