Dried and Delicious: Earning an income from dried vegetables in Gokwe

The Mubvumbi Garden in Gokwe is part of an overall project being implemented under two projects: Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Livelihoods (IGSL) and Supporting Enhanced Climate Action for Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Development Pathway (SECA). The project is funded by UNDP and is being implemented by UNV and Government of Zimbabwe. The work being done in Gokwe is ongoing, with continued community engagement to enhance income-generating opportunities and mitigate the impacts of climate change and variability.

Gokwe is an interesting district in the Midlands, bordering Matabeleland North and Mashonaland West. The district has unique agro-ecological characteristics as it falls between two regions. Some areas receive rainfall, whilst others are subject to periodic seasonal droughts. Despite the seasonal dryness, the district is known for its intensive agricultural production, which includes horticulture, grains and livestock. --Shingirai Mthabeni, UN Volunteer with UNDP, Zimbabwe

Photo: ©UNDP, 2019
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The vegetable market

The production and sale of fresh vegetables is one of the main sources of income in the community of Mubvumbi. Commonly grown vegetables such as kale would be sold at the local market for 20-50 cents, depending on demand. Several challenges were faced by the community in selling their produce.

The impacts of climate change tend to be more severe where people rely on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods. Such is the case in Gokwe district, which has unique agro-ecological characteristics, as it falls in a region most affected by periodic seasonal droughts. The changing climate is an additional burden to poor people. --J. Mushosho, Programme Analyst, Environment and Climate Change, UNDP

Photo: ©UNDP, 2019 
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To preserve the shelf life of her vegetables, Ms Kazembe, a community member, would attempt to dry her leafy greens at home using improvised and unhygienic drying methods. 

I would try and dry the vegetables using makeshift drying platforms such as pieces of metal sheeting. The vegetables would sometimes go off during the drying process as there wasn’t enough sunlight. --Ms Kazembe, community member

Photo: ©UNDP, 2019
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Harnessing solar energy 

In 2018, with support from UNDP, solar dryers were bought to enhance the vegetable drying process at Mubvumbi and create a more refined and valuable final product. The dryers have also helped the Mubvumbi community to reduce post-harvest losses. 

Through training provided by UNDP and its partners, the community is now running a profitable fruit and vegetable drying enterprise. In addition to business and financial management training, the group has also been trained in solar dryer operations, food handling, and safety and hygiene.

The dried vegetables have a larger market base, with vegetables being sold in Gokwe, neighbouring towns, a local retail chain store in Kwekwe and in the capital city, Harare.  A marketing committee has been established by the community, responsible for ensuring continued market development. 

Photo: ©UNDP, 2019
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It was difficult selling fresh vegetables at the market, as there was a lot of competition, which would push the price down. You would incur a loss selling the vegetables at a lower cost, and would only earn enough money for transport to go back home. --Alec, community member

Alec is one of 50 community members in Gokwe (43 women and 7 men) working with the now-established Mubvumbi dried fruit and vegetable enterprise.

Ever since I began drying vegetables, I have been able to earn a higher income from sales. A 200g packet of dried vegetables is selling for $7.50.  We no longer worry about the vegetables going bad if they are not sold immediately, as the dried vegetables have a longer shelf life. --Alec, community member 

Photo: ©UNDP, 2019
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Trading vegetables for fish 

Aside from providing the community members with an enhanced source of income, community members have established a barter system where 50kg of dried vegetables exchanges for 35kg of dried fish in Binga.  

Water, health and hygiene

Through the direct support of UNV, a solar borehole was installed at the Mubvumbi gardens and has already improved the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) outcomes of the local residents. The borehole is providing the community with water needed to maintain their crops as well as providing a clean source of drinking water for the local community.

Since the installation of the borehole, we have seen the construction of standard toilets at the homesteads of the individuals active in the drying project. --UN Volunteer Shingirai Mthabeni

Photo: ©UNDP, 2019

This article was first published by UNDP Zimbabwe.

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Shingirai Mthabeni, UN Volunteer with UNDP Zimbabwe, operating a solar vegetable dryer with a community representative. ©UNDP, 2019