Community Study Circles
Supporting adults’ learning and income generating projects
The Study Circle program, which started in 2008, is not simply a programme for studying. The idea is that a group of adults come together to undertake some form of production which will generate income. Using materials from the book boxes delivered to the rural elementary schools, and with the help of our community officer, they learn how to work democratically to make group decisions and undertake production together, while gaining technical knowledge about their chosen activity. Twenty-one study circle groups were operational in 2018 with a total membership of 175, the majority of whom are women. Two of these groups were formed in 2018. The groups were involved primarily in three activities: commercial goat rearing, poultry keeping, and nutrition gardens. A once successful group making soap has encountered problems as has one engaged in hand crafts. While they are dormant at present, they will be assisted to refocus.
One of the aims of the study circles is to assist villagers who have always engaged in subsistence production to move into commercial activities so as to be able to purchase consumer items for their families, pay school fees and buy clothing for their children, and maintain and improve their homesteads. In other words, raise their standard of living by working in groups. In recent months considerable progress has been made in forming associations which will enable the groups to work together to commercialise more effectively.
Small grains produce from the Ntepe Study Circle in 2016
Projects of the Community Study Circles:
Three groups are operating vegetable gardens. These grow leafy vegetables, onions, carrots, maize, sugar beans, tomatoes, primarily. Most of the vegetables are sold locally on a daily basis, meaning that the local community have access to fresh vegetables and the members themselves are able to provide vegetables to their families every day. The money made from sales gives the members an income with which they can pay school fees and purchase consumer items for the family. Some is always ploughed back to buy seeds and equipment.
The groups also assist needy community members. One Study Circle sold $15-worth of vegetables four times a week in support of the Kindergarden school-feeding programme. Another group assisted four orphans with school stationery from the proceeds of their garden. Yet another group supported two elderly people with fresh vegetables 3 times a week.
Capacity of production is always limited by water supplies, as rains are erratic and borehole water levels frequently fall. This results in the members reducing the area under cultivation, alternating times of drawing water and crops sometimes going for days without watering, producing lower yields or resulting in total crop failure. Two of the three groups now have solar pumps, although one is shared with the community, and currently under repair.
One of the most successful nutrition gardens is Sibambene at Tshanyaugwe. After struggling for many years with a hand pump, they have been fortunate to receive support from a Swedish family who have provided a solar driven water pump. This has enabled them to have unlimited water supplies and their yields have increased dramatically. They raised over $1,000 from a maize crop in February 2018 and while their next maize crop was destroyed by army worm, they again raised over $1,000 from selling tomatoes. They were also growing choumoellier and sugar beans and rehabilitating some orange trees planted years earlier which had been starved of water.
Solar-power to irrigate vegetables makes it possible to produce at commercial level
Ten study circle groups are engaged in goat projects. Members rear traditional Matebele goats, which can reproduce one kid annually. Their combined stock at the end of 2018 stood at 228.
The main expenditures are for fencing and for medicines to keep the goats healthy. To mitigate the effects of food shortages, due to drought conditions, the goat-rearing groups grew fodder in their gardens. This supplementary feed for the goats improves the goats’ dietary levels and helps the nanny goats during their gestation period and after giving birth. Through trainings attended by goat groups, the study-group members learned to keep healthy goats by vaccinating, dosing and dipping. Furthermore, fodder production by the groups impressed the Government Agricultural Extension Department, which has since engaged these groups to produce seeds to extend fodder production in other communities.
An important development in 2019 has been the creation of a goat feedlot by the ten study circles. They have built pens where they fatten the goats together, then sell them and share. Each group places up to 6 goats in the feedlot at a time. The photo shows the manager, one of the study circle members, who takes an extra share for managing the feedlot. This project has the potential to substantially raise incomes, ad has attracted the attention of a well-organised goat buying agency which buys for sell in Bulawayo butcheries.
10 Study Circles that raise goats have come together to create a feedlot which increases the value of the goats for sale. They have hired a manager for the feedlot
Nine groups are involved in raising poultry. Three keep commercial chickens called broilers, while five raise the indigenous chickens which are also popular as they are said to have more flavor, and they do have a developing commercial market in restaurants. In 2018 one group sold chickens for over $10,000 and after ploughing back money for future development were able to share $555 to each member. Another group of five is now sharing $800 every six weeks.
A member of one of the poultry groups feeding their chickens
Meetings and Discussions
Six meetings were held during 2018 focussing on planning, progress of projects, associations, conservation farming, small grains, food storage, fodder preparation, and malaria.
Members of the Sibambene Study Circle holding a meeting under the shade of the newly installed solar panel
Gwanda Study Circles Farmers Association (GSCFA)
We are very excited about the formation of this association in 2018. It will bring farmers together and assist in the formation of economies of scale that will be instrumental in the marketing of their products. The association will attract established and organized buyers rather than informal traders engaging in farm gate sales, thus increasing the profit margins of the farmers.
During 2018 association workshops were held in four wards, and these will continue. Some workshops are simply to raise awareness among the study circle members and enable them to understand the benefits. Then training is done to enable them to meet the standards required by the buyers.