Gender and Technology Training Guidelines
Session 15 - Case Studies
7. Survival skills of Tonga women in Zimbabwe
The Tonga people originally lived around the Zambizi River and its tributaries, but
were forced to leave this area when the river valley was flooded after the construction
of the Kariba Lake Dam and Hydroelectric scheme. When they were moved their
whole farming system was disrupted as where they were resettled was considered to
be the poorest in Zimbabwe in terms of soil conditions and rainfall. This meant that
the levels of agriculture production were not adequate to sustain food security for
average households of 7 members throughout the year. The drought relief the
government offered year after year was inadequate as well.
Tonga women through the years devised methods of coping with these harsh
environmental conditions. They innovated and adapted food production and
processing technologies and identified new sources of food. While the attempts by
expatriates and development agencies to promote drought tolerant crops have not
yielded any significant results the women have managed to identify, collect and
process 47 indigenous plants whose leaves were used for relish, and over 100 tree
species with a variety of edible parts.
From January to March when the traditional cereals are in short supply women collect
cereals from certain types of indigenous grasses and process these to produce a meal.
The Baobab tree is also widely made use of by women for various purposes. The
traditional morning meal of tea and bread has been substituted with porridge and a
drink made with the fruit of the Baobab tree. The Baobab drink is also used to treat
fevers and strobic complaints.
Women extract oil from the seeds of the Baobab. The bark can be pounded and burnt
to ash to be used as a kind of caustic soda in the preparation of other green
vegetables. A cash income can be gained as well by selling mats and rope woven with
the bark of this tree.
In times of drought women have started to use poisonous plants not normally used.
But these are made fit for consumption using skilled time consuming preparation
methods. A wide variety of green vegetables are used as well. They also collect rainy
season vegetables sun-dry them on metal sheets and store them in jute bags for
consumption during the dry season.
As a result of the Tonga women's knowledge and skills another fruit that has started
to be used widely is the Tamarind. Women climb trees to collect the fruit that they
store in jute bags for a period of twelve months until the next harvest period. The fruit
is of high nutritious value and does not rot, which renders it especially valuable in
drought stricken areas. The fruit is stored in traditional units that women make out of
mud, raised slightly above ground level.