The Sunday News
Shepias Dube Business Reporter
THE Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in partnership with the European Union (EU) has injected more than $5 million towards the Forests Sustainably for Communities, Environment and Shock Resilience programme (Forest Forces).
The project, which involves value addition of natural forestry products such as marula and honey, has been running from last year and will end in 2017.
It is being implemented in the eight districts from four drought-prone provinces of Matabeleland South, Matabeleland North, Mashonaland East and Manicaland.
Districts covered include Bulilima, Hwange, Lupane, Matobo, Hwedza, Mutoko, Chimanimani and Mutasa.
In an interview on Thursday FAO Zimbabwe spokesperson Mr Leonard Makombe said the project was meant to ensure food security in drought-prone areas.
“Overall objective of the project is to improve food security in arid rural communities through participatory sustainable forest management and valorisation of forest products, diversified livelihood strategies and enhanced capacity to deal with shocks,” said Mr Makombe.
He said agricultural production had gone down over the years as a result mainly of unreliable weather patterns hence the need to come up with alternative sources of livelihoods.
“Currently forests and trees are the foundation and safety net of rural subsistence living, and have innate potential to contribute towards poverty alleviation and food security, while at the same time enhancing ecosystem services and mitigating and adapting to climate change,” he said.
He said since most of the dry areas that are agriculturally marginal were well endowed with trees and forests, it was imperative to integrate agriculture with sustainable forest management and agroforestry to improve food security and food availability particularly among the vulnerable communities living in these areas.
Mr Makombe said the project had transformed rural communities where more than 60 000 households have been provided with a source of income.
“Existing forest based enterprises on honey production, marula oil extraction, baobab fruit processing, mopane worms packaging, etc are being strengthened and new ones being developed to high quality standards that will attract higher prices on the market and thus contributing to increased incomes for rural communities,” said Mr Makombe.
He said the project had already capacitated the farmers to produce by-products of honey such as wax, propolis and royal jelly, which would soon come on stream as appropriate equipment is made available to the beneficiaries.
However, he urged beneficiaries to refrain from environmental degradation as this would be against the spirit of the project.
“Interventions under the Forest Forces project are meant to complement whatever local communities are doing for sustenance of their livelihoods and this is done with due consideration of sustainability of the resources available to ensure that they are available today as well as in the future,” he said.
A bee farmer from ward 14 of Lupane who identified himself as Mr Mlala Ndlovu said the Forest Forces had helped him to combat hunger caused by persistent droughts.
“Value addition of honey is a lucrative business and through it I am able to cater for my extended family and send my children to school,” Mr Ndlovu said.
He was full of praise for FAO that helped him to exhibit at this year’s Zimbabwe International Trade Fair where he sold a lot of honey and made contacts with potential buyers.
The Forest Forces project is one of the various other interventions that FAO is undertaking in support of the Government.
FAO, working with the Government, has other interventions which include livestock, crop production and nutrition as well as irrigation among others.