Biofortified Foods Bring Relief to Vulnerable Women and Children in Zimbabwe
Sakile Kudita | Josephine Boyle | Jen Foley
August 31, 2021

Local partnerships and support from the Government of Canada are enabling the delivery of urgently needed nutrition to orphans, survivors of gender-based violence, school children, and other vulnerable populations in Zimbabwe, where disruptions due to COVID-19 have severely impacted public health and people’s livelihoods.

Amid a high and rising prevalence of malnutrition, HarvestPlus and its partners in Zimbabwe identified a few particularly vulnerable groups to engage in locally growing biofortified crops and to provide food and nutrition support—with a focus on women and girls, who are often left behind by other interventions. 

Cultivating nutrition for orphans to grow and thrive

Biofortified foods will soon be eaten at Vimbainesu Children’s Home, a rural family-run orphanage in Zvimba—a district of Mashonaland West Province—where land was identified as opportune for growing biofortified crops to feed the children. The orphanage hosts 50 children, ranging in age from 2 months to 18 years. The home also provides foster care, mostly for girls who have been sexually abused by family members. 

Donations to Vimbainesu have shrunk considerably since the onset of the pandemic. To support the children and girls during this difficult time, HarvestPlus is donating biofortified planting material and facilitating agricultural training through the Zimbabwe Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX) to boost the long-term productivity of the nutritious garden space. The produce grown will yield approximately 5,000 kilograms (kg) of vitamin A maize (VAM) grain, 300 kg of iron beans, and 500 kg of vitamin A orange sweet potato (OSP)—sufficient to feed the children for over six months. 

Harvesting better wellbeing for survivors of gender-based violence

Survivors of gender-based violence residing at Mazowe Dambatsoko Shelter in Mazowe village in Mashonaland Central province will benefit from eating biofortified maize, beans, and OSP that will be grown on the shelter’s quarter-hectare plot. Since the onset of COVID-19, the area has seen a sharp increase in cases of sexual abuse, especially against children—consistent with the rise in global cases of domestic violence during the pandemic. 

The shelter offers temporary residence to survivors and has reached its maximum capacity of 35 people, whom it hosts for anywhere from two days up to eight months. Shortly, the residents will be able to eat more-nutritious staple foods: HarvestPlus is donating enough seed to produce 1,000 kg of VAM grain, 100 kg of iron beans, and 250 kg of OSP with AGRITEX and the Ministry of Health and Child Care, providing nutrition and technical agricultural training to survivors on growing biofortified crops.

Filling a feeding program gap for students

A tuition-free school on the outskirts of the capital city of Harare—at which 250 children are normally taught and fed by non-paid volunteers and approximately 450 more from the community are fed—suspended its activities due to COVID-19 lockdowns, leaving a gap that HarvestPlus will help fill with biofortified foods. The school, which is located in a severely underdeveloped informal settlement called Caledonia, is run by ZIMwana Worldwide Trust.  HarvestPlus is donating enough seed to the Trust to grow 5,000 kg of VAM grain, 300 kg of iron beans and 1,000 kg of OSP for the feeding program on their 2 hectare plot.  HarvestPlus will also be donating 1,000 kg of VAM grain and 100 kg of iron beans to help the trust resume the school feeding program as soon as possible after lockdown restrictions are relaxed. 

“The children here enjoy orange maize sadza (cooked maize meal). They call it sadza remabanana (sadza made from bananas) due to its yellow color and nice flavor,” said Pastor Rumbidzai Judith Kamba of ZIMwana Trust. “It’s good that HarvestPlus has come to give [the children] what they already enjoy and it will also make a big difference for their health,” he added. 

The Trust will also be an entry point for nutrition and biofortification training in the broader Caledonia area.

The Integrated Food Systems Approach to Build Nutrition Security Project

This work in Zimbabwe is being implemented through the HarvestPlus Integrated Food Systems Approach to Build Nutrition Security project, a collaboration with the Government of Canada, which aims to deliver rapid and equitable improvements in nutrition and livelihoods through biofortification in Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Pakistan, and Zambia. 

In Zimbabwe, over 30 percent of children under five suffer from vitamin A deficiency and one out of every three children is anemic. Malnutrition has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdowns disrupted supply chains and people’s ability to earn income needed to purchase sufficient food. The provision of nutrient-rich biofortified foods, as well as agronomic and nutrition training, provides relief to help meet the immediate food and nutrition needs of vulnerable individuals while also enabling them to become more resilient to future shocks, and improve their chances of reaching their full potential.

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