Over time, many communities that had practiced zunde ramambo abandoned it. Recently, however, there has been a resurgence spurred by the positive impacts in communities practicing it, particularly in combating food insecurity.

A harvest for hunger in rural areas

Smart Makuyana braves the hot summer temperatures as he wobbles along the 3-kilometer distance (a little under 2 miles) toward the house of Chenjerai Maosa, also known as Chief Muusha to the local community.

Earlier in the day, the 79-year-old Makuyana — from Muusha village in Chimanimani, a town in southeast Zimbabwe near the border with Mozambique — contacted the chief to notify him that he had run out of food supplies. Makuyana lives with his wife and a young grandchild. All his children have left home for work elsewhere or are married. This is the third time in two months he has received food aid. “I cannot work in the fields on my own anymore, and my wife is also very old,” he says.

Makuyana is one of the beneficiaries of the “zunde ramambo,” which means “chief’s granary” in the Shona language. It is based on a traditional concept in Zimbabwe where, according to Maosa, communities come together to cultivate crops that will serve their collective well-being in times of need.

Over time, many communities that had practiced zunde ramambo abandoned it. Recently, however, there has been a resurgence spurred by the positive impacts in communities practicing it, particularly in combating food insecurity.

“Food reserves for the community, by the community.”


With only a 2-hectare piece of land (about 5 acres), Maosa’s zunde ramambo is one of the most successful, according to Raymond Saurombe, a chief from the same district.

Maosa says he was prompted to implement the program in 2020 by the food insecurity he witnessed in his community. “As a chief, you have responsibility to your people. People always come complaining of hunger, and I would give them food from my family reserves,” he says.

Food insecurity is a trend that cuts across the country, but especially in rural Zimbabwe. In the lean season of 2022-23, more than 3.8 million rural Zimbabweans experienced food insecurity, according to World Food Programme. Between 2009 and 2014, 8.3 percent of the country’s population was food insecure, according to a report by the United States Agency for International Development. That figure has increased in all but one year since then. Nationally, 26% of rural households in Zimbabwe are now likely cereal insecure, according to a 2023 estimate by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee.

Through the zunde ramambo, Maosa believes his community can alleviate the problem. So far, seven villages in Chimanimani participate in his zunde ramambo. The community works together on the land, which Maosa, as the custodian of land within his jurisdiction, allocated to the program.

After harvest, the village heads — who act as administrators — distribute the harvest equally among those who most need the help, including the elderly and vulnerable children. Others experiencing food scarcity before the next harvest may also receive help.

Although Maosa doesn’t have the exact number of households benefiting, he says since 2020, the zunde ramambo has taken care of 15 children, including orphans, children from child-headed families, and children affected by parental disputes. “The food help feed these children during times they stay with us, as some will be taken by the government department of social welfare or parents after resolving their disputes.” Families with elderly members have also benefited, he says.

The support also extends to funerals and community development projects by providing workers with food.

So far, the yields have been impressive, according to Maosa. “We now have food reserves for the community, by the community through zunde,” he says. For example, in 2022, community members harvested 4 metric tons of maize (4.4 tons) and 2 metric tons (2.2 tons) of beans. “We managed to sell about a ton and the remaining 3 tons we kept in the granary, and we still have some.”

After that harvest, the community planted potatoes. In December, they harvested 60 bags, each weighing 15 kilograms (33 pounds.

They also grow and sell produce and use the money to buy more foodstuffs if the granary runs out. “We also use the money to pay for fees for orphans and child-headed families and get seeds and fertilizers for [the] next crop,” he says.

Maosa hails the zunde ramambo for not only providing food, but for unifying villagers. “We have seen people voluntarily coming to participate from all the villages. Because of the unity, it takes us a day to plant and two days to weed, giving people time to also attend to their personal fields.”

After seeing the success of such initiatives, in November 2020, the government through the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development has been supporting the revival of zunde ramambos that had fallen into disuse by providing them with seed, fertilizers and chemicals, according to Barbra Machekano, the ministry’s acting director of communications and advocacy.

Phillipa Rwambiwa is the director for Agricultural Advisory and Rural Development Services, Manicaland. She says that the government is also using these zunde ramambos it supports as learning centers for communities. “We have what we call farmer field schools, where farmers gather and learn through practical lessons. Extension officers have the duty to facilitate at these farmer field schools and also do field days,” he says.

“Nowadays people are scattered all over.”


But the programs aren’t without challenges. In communities that rely on rainwater, warming trends that affect rainfall have an impact. “We are lucky to have a river nearby, so we draw water for irrigation from it,” Maosa says. The river is about 3 kilometers (a little under 2 miles) from the zunde ramambo plot.

Rwambiwa says to mitigate these water challenges, the government has been drilling boreholes in different parts of the country through the Presidential Rural Development Programme.

To date, the program has drilled 2,524 boreholes, some of which facilitate zunde ramambo programs across the country, says Marjorie Munyonga, the corporate communications and marketing manager at the Zimbabwe National Water Authority. She adds that they plan to drill 35,000 boreholes nationwide by 2025.

The changing climate is only one of the challenges zunde ramambos face. Occasionally, government-supplied seeds and fertilizers arrive late, Maosa says, prompting the community to sell their produce to cover the costs. Other times, the government doesn’t always have all the seeds they need.

Evolving social structures have also called for modifications to zunde ramambos. In the past, running such a program was easy since communities lived in the same compound with their chief, says Chief Saurombe, who revived the first zunde ramambo in Saurombe village in Chimanimani, Manicaland, in 2001. The people a chief needed to organize to participate were right there.

“Nowadays people are scattered all over, as a chief’s area can cover a big area,” he says. “For one to travel, say, 10 kilometers to come work in zunde field can be a challenge.”

As a result, chiefs have had to create “mini zundes” managed by village heads. “Villagers can get [food] from their village heads. Once that is finished, the village heads can get [food] from the main granary at the chief’s place,” Saurombe says.

In fact, Saurombe’s approach is a little different. Unlike Maosa’s zunde ramambo, Saurombe allocates land of identical size to each participating family. After harvest, each family contributes a share of their harvest—two 25-liter (6.6-gallon) buckets of grain—to the zunde ramambo for vulnerable community members.

The secret to success, according to Saurombe, is to involve people. “If you want people to work freely and for transparency, just be a supervisor with committees chosen by the people on the forefront,” he says. The committee is comprised of representatives of women, youth and people with disabilities.

People have their own fields. “But I have seen working on a common field promotes unity, love and sharing of problems and finding solutions,” he adds.

Simbarashe Machanyangwa also believes in the power of the zunde ramambo. The headman from Ndakaamba village in Marange, Chimanimani, says he started a mini zunde ramambo in 2022.

“[It] was our first year but there was 50% participation, which is very encouraging,” he says, adding that he hopes many more villagers will take part as they see its benefits. Already, he is getting inquiries from villagers on when they can start tilling the land in preparation for planting.

“What we harvested went towards the elderly, child-headed families and feeding of mourners whenever we have a funeral in the village, so basically almost everyone benefitted in some way,” he says.

The borehole program is yet to reach Ndakaamba village. Machanyangwa believes their zunde ramambo could harvest more if they had irrigation systems.

“Since I am still able-bodied but old, I play this little part.”


Chasara Masango, from Chimanimani, sees the need for the community to come together for the success of zunde ramambos. He says despite his age, he still plays a part in his village’s zunde ramambo. The 72-year-old, who lives with his elderly wife, says each morning he wakes up early to help irrigate. He connects the water pipes to the irrigation system, sits under a shade and monitors the system.

“I benefit a lot from the zunde, and since I am still able-bodied but old, I play this little part,” he says.

But Tendai Maphosa is tempering his enthusiasm. Maphosa, who is from Maosa’s village, says he’ll give zunde ramambos a few years before he celebrates their success. While he believes in the success of the programs set up independently by chiefs, he worries about the government’s involvement.

“These rely on government input. What will happen once the seed or fertilizers stop coming? Will they have a backup plan?” he asks. The programs, Maphosa says, need dedication and passion for them to remain successful.

“Participation by community members may become limited because of that,” he says, adding that, in general, these programs are a good idea. If well-implemented, they will be good for communities, he says. — Global Press Journal

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