With over 300 members on its mailing list and more than 200 followers on Facebook, Food Matters Zimbabwe was set up with the goal of growing a citizens’ food movement. Two years from its inception, the group’s activities ebb and fall depending on the time and resources of its voluntary core group.
The first area it tackled was that of Genetically Engineered Crops, hosting a debate on their use in Zimbabwe at Harare’s Book Café in May 2013. From this, the Non-GE Group under the Agricultural Research Council was formed. This is still an informal group, however it has produced some documents that have been circulated to policy makers. The group is due to be formalised later this year. The issue of GE crops continues to be a regularly raised subject on the mailing list.
For many, Food Matters Zimbabwe is a mere mailing list, and indeed both the email list and the Facebook site are a platform for sharing and discussing ideas around food in Zimbabwe and exploring lessons from beyond the country’s borders. However, its impact is revealed by member Emily Hwengwere who says, “It keeps us informed so that we make informed decisions concerning what we grow and buy for our own families.”
Members sign up in their own capacity, but many work in organisations involved in community agriculture and bring their experience to others in the group.
As Emily goes on to say, “Personally the group has enlightened me so much on the need to promote indigenous farming practices and the growing of organic foods. I am very careful what I buy and how I grow my vegetables in the garden. Having worked in the development field for years now, I often cite examples from Food Matters when training entrepreneurs especially those involved in agriculture.”
Ian Little, a Zimbabwean now living in Australia is particularly vocal on the list. He believes that it is of vital importance to maintain food independence for Zimbabwe. “In large countries,” he says, “there needs to be regional or local independence, i.e. more groups within. Why, because I agree with the view that most countries and communities can feed themselves by facilitating production by local small family farmers, supplying local markets.”
Beyond the email list and Facegroup page, members have also played a significant part in initiating the Traditional and Organic Food Festival, so far held in December 2013 and September 2014, and the subsequent Traditional and Organic Food Forum, with its wide range of partners including BIZ, ZOPPA and PELUM. The forum is made up of around 30 organisations. The Food Forum is also planning a longer-term campaign to promote healthy eating in Zimbabwe, with an emphasis on traditional and organic foods.
And what does the future hold? Plans are that it should grow into a citizen’s food movement or at least contribute to the development of a citizens’ food movement in Zimbabwe. “Food Matters Zimbabwe will eventually be a necessity,” says Ian, “when industrial food production systems collapse. It would be far more rewarding if Food Matters Zimbabwe gained prominence and wide spread support before a crisis situation were reached.”