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Zimbabwean women leverage traditional knowledge to sustain livelihoods

HARARE (XINHUA) – Early in the morning in Domboshava, a village near Harare, two women were gathering herbs in a lush green forest.

A branch at a time, the women carefully pruned the shrubs, making sure they leave the plants in good health.

Locally known as Zumbani, or Lippia Javanica by its botanical name, the plant is believed to possess medicinal value, and has become widely sought after during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is believed to be helpful in treating flu-like symptoms.

A stone’s throw away, by a rocky mountain edge, two women could be seen plucking flowery plants from the ground.

As clouds gathered from a distance, they continued picking the herbs before dashing back home with their treasured collections.

At their workstation, two elderly women sorted dried plant roots from traditional handmade weaved baskets. Another woman effortlessly pounded some baobab fruit seeds using traditional handcrafted wooden mortar and pestle.

Tsitsi Machingauta pounds traditional herbs in Domboshava. PHOTO: XINHUA

The women are members of the Women’s Farming Syndicate (WFS), an organisation that aims to eradicate poverty among rural women through sustainable agribusiness and the use of traditional knowledge systems.

Their wide range of products include traditional herbs, tea, spices, traditional handicrafts and various products made from wild plants and fruits. The products are natural with no artificial additives and are handmade by rural women.

Founder and National Coordinator of WFS Tsitsi Machingauta said the goal of the organisation is to create value by harnessing resources widely available in the community.

“As the Woman’s Farming Syndicate we are using what is readily available within our environments to create products that are marketable both locally, and internationally to actually generate sustainable livelihoods for ourselves,” Machingauta told Xinhua.

Inspired by her grandmother, who had vast knowledge of plants, Machingauta said the idea to commercialise traditional knowledge systems came about out of a need to find a sustainable income.

While indigenous knowledge systems in treating diseases remain one of the most valuable intellectual resources owned by rural communities in Zimbabwe, Machingauta said it has been the least mobilised resource for sustainable development.

“So I realised that if we then leverage on these traditional knowledge systems to have sustainable livelihoods for women, it means that women can actually have decent lives where they are, with what they have within their communities, at their fingertips,” Machingauta said.

“Through this initiative, the women’s farming syndicate has enabled women to have decent livelihoods and to have a living wage, through the traditional knowledge systems, and through being able to commercialise it,” she added.

Local people have a long history of plant usage for medicinal purposes.

In most cases, practitioners, who are usually senior citizens, provide services based on traditional medicinal knowledge of local plants free of charge, or for a small fee.

Despite the increasing acceptance of traditional medicine, the rich indigenous knowledge is not adequately documented and is mostly passed on from generation to generation.

While the Zimbabwean government formally recognises traditional medicine, traditional healers have remained largely marginalised in most medical circles.

Machingauta said indigenous knowledge systems are a valuable national resource. Therefore, ensuring their protection should be a national priority.

She said China offers valuable lessons on how traditional knowledge systems can be used in the modern era, saying the Asian country has managed to preserve traditional knowledge for centuries.