On Thursday, January 7, USAID Director of Southern African Affairs, Bradley Bessire, and Deputy Mission Director, Bruce Abrams, visited Amalia project sites in the Gwanda district as part of a two-day field visit for Mr. Bessire in Zimbabwe. The trip’s objective was to contextualize the USAID/Zimbabwe portfolio and to evaluate the scope and severity of the current lean season and El Niño’s impact on food security in Zimbabwe. The USAID delegation first visited two completed Amalima Cash For Assets (CFA) initiatives: the rehabilitated Mtshabezi dip tank and newly constructed Mbuyane Dam. Visitors also met with the Vukuzenzele Villiage Savings & Loan (VS&L) group and spent time at a distribution at the Mtshabezi Clinic.

Cash for Assets is a component of Amalima’s strategy to building community resilience that gets vital cash in the hands of vulnerable households and supports Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) plans in the program’s four target districts. Amalima pays beneficiaries a daily wage for labor in support of the production of shared community assets, as prioritized in the community’s DRR plan. The Mtshabezi dip tank, one of these shared assets, now helps prevent tick-borne diseases for 1,800 cattle belonging to 200 households, in turn strengthening livelihoods in a place where the climate is not favorable for crop production. The Mbuyane dam will provide a source of water for around 3,000 livestock to drink from in an area where access to and availability of water is a significant challenge.

The USAID delegation met with the Vukuzenzele Villiage Savings & Loan (VS&L) group, which includes 17 women using group savings to engage in poultry production as a joint income-generating activity. The group rears indigenous chickens, and has saved more than $1,400 to date. The members of Vukuzenzele VS&L also participate in Amalima conservation agriculture (CA) training and have worked together this season to ensure that each member’s plot is prepared using CA techniques.

The delegation also visited a food distribution at Mtshabezi Clinic, which highlighted Amalima’s response to the low 2014/2015 rainfall season and resulting poor harvests.  In 2015, Amalima received USAID approval to provide an additional protective ration of lentils, sorghum, and fortified vegetable oil during lean season months (November – April) to supplement the existing individual beneficiary ration (fortified corn soy blend and vegetable oil). This helped to ensure that increased food insecurity and ration sharing brought on by the drought does not hinder program progress in preventing chronic malnutrition. At a nearby homestead, our USAID visitors also participated in a healthy cooking demonstration using a fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly Amalima eco-stove.

Deputy Mission Director Bruce Abrams stressed to communities that Amalima’s purpose and USAID’s aim is to shift from dependence on food assistance towards complete self-sufficiency through improved agricultural and livestock production, income generation and community resilience. Throughout the visit, the current El Niño drought conditions were a topic of interest. The group solicited feedback from each community the Amalima team visited, taking account of their experiences and comparisons with past seasons.

The drought makes food security an even greater issue for 2016.