By Tatenda Kanengoni, bird story agency
21-year-old Tatenda Gambiza is the poster child for a local movement begun by a Zimbabwean drama lecturer and spoken word poet that uses permaculture to tap into traditional farming practices and get people growing food to sustain themselves and the environment. Gambiza is also, now, a farmer with a piece of land.
Up before dawn and going about the daily chores required of a sustainable agriculture practice is a daily routine now for Tatenda Gambiza, a ritual she learned during training at the Bontle Bahao homestead, located in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West province. Now, however, she’s no longer training. This 21-year-old is farming, thanks to two years of training and the recent purchase of a plot of land. She’s the poster-child for a one-woman campaign to bring sustainable agriculture to the women of Mashonaland.
“l was 19 when l started the permaculture programme,” said Gambiza when interviewed by phone.
“Permaculture changed my life… it allows me to grow my food and teach others about organic life,” she added.
Gambiza’s operation in Seke, Chitungwiza, just over 100 km from Bontle Bahao, is a huge leap for a young woman who grew up without her father and was taken in by a welfare organisation that supports orphaned children.
Back at Bontle Bahao, where Gambiza trained, the day starts with chores around the household before students head into the field to take on scheduled tasks, including garden design and livestock rearing. Other skills, including financial literacy, etiquette, and sexual and reproductive health classes are learned at a vocational training centre, all part of an organisation founded by drama lecturer and spoken-word poet turned permaculture specialist, Linda Gabriel.
“Permaculture pushes you to go back to what your elders used to do; in our case, before colonialism, they had natural solutions,” explained Gabriel, who has chosen eco-friendly permaculture as a means to empower herself and the women of her community.
“My work as an artist has always been about highlighting the plight of women. You get to a point where, you know, marching in the streets, performing on stage, is not enough. So, I wanted to find solutions to the problems women were facing. In trying to soul search, I said, ‘farming!’ If you go back to the histories of our grandmothers, there were fewer cases of diabetes, high blood pressure, and fibroids. You find that most of it goes back to food that you’re putting into your system,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel originally studied applied drama and theatre at the University of the Witwatersrand and went on to work in drama before the urge to make big changes overtook her. She managed to get a permaculture internship in Germany and then qualified in permaculture design in Mozambique before returning home to piece the puzzle together and design a nine-month permaculture programme tailored toward young women and girls.
Gambiza is one of the project’s early success stories. It is early days for her on her plot, which she bought with assistance from the welfare organisation that helps the orphanage. While she finds her feet, experimenting with the soil and ensuring that she can build a sustainable operation, she has cash-generating projects on the go.
“I am carrying out some projects like chicken and rabbit rearing,” Gambiza explained.
“We are also working on building permanent raised beds to grow more organic food. I hope to teach fellow community members about sustainable farming ways and make more money from my project,” she said of her newfound status.
Permaculture is a rising movement in Africa, a sustainable, self-sufficient farming design whose principles are rooted in nourishing natural ecosystems. What makes the movement unique, according to the Permaculture Research Institute, is that it is “being advanced largely by and for the most vulnerable segments of the population.”
Gabriel’s programme helps trainees like Gambiza earn a sizeable income through their work at the centre, which is where they live for the duration of the training. The course includes a three-month on-the-job attachment at an affiliate permaculture centre.
Equipping and empowering young girls and women from disadvantaged backgrounds with permaculture knowledge to help them
Becoming self-sufficient in an eco-friendly way is, Gabriel, believes, one small way of turning back the tide of growing unemployment amongst youth – and building a new future on the continent.
36-year-old Gabriel’s vision is also born of experience. She was born and raised in Norton, a town outside Harare, by her mother and grandmother, who farmed on a small field within their homestead.
“It was a peri-urban setup where my grandmother had a small field; we worked in it during the holidays and weekends. My grandmother tried to grow as much as possible, so that’s my basic farming background,” she explained.
She recruits students like Gambiza from an orphanage in the town of Norton, as well as from a refugee camp, and is keeping things small as she gets going.
“For me, when I’m talking about impactful work, I’m not talking about thousands, I’m talking about five people, ten people,” she said.
And yet the impact of her endeavours is already being felt across the local community, as Davidzo Chizhengen, who runs a livestock consultancy service, explained.
“Linda’s permaculture initiative has benefited me in terms of how I should structure my garden and the knowledge of different herbs which should be part of my everyday diet, plus a wide array of health benefits. Now my community is benefiting from me with the knowledge I benefited. I am now passing it to them now,” says Davidzo.
According to Gabriel, the next generation of the African child is “the current one, doing the right things.”
Just. like Tatenda Gambiza.
bird story agency