Climate-change conflict resolution

When drought leads to food scarcity, Brethren in Christ program in Zimbabwe combines agriculture training and peacebuilding

Jun 8, 2020 by and

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As climate change takes its toll on Zimbabwe, millions who rely on agriculture are threatened with food scarcity. But Edfil Moyo, a subsistence farmer in Gwanda District, has been able to adapt.

“For the past five years, we have had adequate harvest to sustain our household until next harvest,” he said.

He has been using conservation agriculture to produce more yield than traditional farming in dry conditions. In the 2017-18 harvest season, Moyo was even able to grow extra maize he traded for three goats.

His success was made possible through Mennonite Central Committee-supported training from Brethren in Christ Compassionate and Development Services, an MCC partner working to improve quality of life and community self-sufficiency in Zimbabwe.

Sibonokuhle Ncube of Zimbabwe, right, noted the connection between climate change and violence during a 2018 U.S. lecture tour with Zacharías Martínez of El Salvador, left, and Durga Sunchiuri, an MCC staff member in Nepal. — Brenda Burkholder/MCC

Sibonokuhle Ncube of Zimbabwe, right, noted the connection between climate change and violence during a 2018 U.S. lecture tour with Zacharías Martínez of El Salvador, left, and Durga Sunchiuri, an MCC staff member in Nepal. — Brenda Burkholder/MCC

One of the program’s functions is helping communities cope with climate change. BIC CDS has trained Moyo and about 1,000 other farmers in conservation agriculture methods. The program also helps farmers transition to grow more resilient crops, trains them in disaster preparedness and works to improve water availability, among other things.

Hunger and conflict

Food security is just part of the story. Around the world, climate change is driving not only hunger but conflict as well. New rivalries begin as people struggle over resources, troubled histories flare and society’s most vulnerable people suffer injustices.

Former BIC CDS national coordinator Sibonokuhle Ncube has almost 20 years of experience working in community development. Throughout that time, she has seen the changing climate deepen rifts.

“Women and girls’ vulnerability has increased,” she said. As climate change causes natural resources to dwindle, female members of households must travel longer distances for wood and water. This increases their workload and prevents them from spending time on profitable work, keeping them in a vulnerable position.

The long travel also puts them at risk for being attacked on the journey.

Climate change intensifies divides between rich and poor as those struggling with poverty have even less access to power and resources.

“It has been a divider, creating more have-nots and perhaps preserving the space of many haves,” Ncube said.

Common thread: peace

BIC CDS staff are well aware that agricultural improvements alone cannot create holistic change amid hostility. When they work with communities, conflict resolution is built into every step of their process.

“We believe community cohesion is a strong driver of sustainability,” Ncube said. In all of the organization’s community work, from helping farmers increase food security to promoting health and hygiene, the common theme is peacebuilding.

Zimbabwe MCC representative Gopar Tapkida said MCC’s work in sustainable development and peacebuilding is based in Christian faith.

“It’s a call to follow the footsteps of Jesus Christ. This is why MCC is committed to supporting the church as it shares God’s message of peace, compassion in feeding the hungry and care for the Earth,” Tapkida said.

Dreams of harmony

Ncube has seen climate change solutions fall apart when community conflicts are not taken into account. In one Gwanda village, another organization was managing construction of a dam, and the donor came to visit. Community members supporting the ruling political party quickly found out the donor was affiliated with the main opposition party.

Not only was construction halted, but a “life-threatening conflict ensued,” Ncube said. When the community asked BIC CDS to take charge of the project, the organization used its peacebuilding approaches to resolve the conflict and got the dam back on track.

BIC CDS tries to prevent these problems by analyzing each community for gender imbalances, political issues, access to resources and other potential sources of conflict before a project begins.

Then, as staff teach adaptive farming methods, the training is infused with peacebuilding principles that help community members stop perpetuating conflict and injustice made worse by the changing climate.

In one community, farmers were in conflict because roving livestock would eat crops and disturb fields that didn’t belong to the livestock’s owners. After farmers were taught to plant fodder crops for livestock in a separate area, the simple adjustment minimized conflict.

Ncube dreams of a harmonious future for Zimbabwe, one in which communities can work together peacefully to have self-sustaining local economies.

“This is a dream,” she said. “But I’m driving this with my faith.”


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