Drought is the most important climate shock affecting livelihoods and agricultural production of mostly rural households. In a bid to reduce the effects of climate variability, coping strategies are being embarked on in most rural areas of the world so as to reduce poverty and food insecurity and one of them is community gardens.
The purpose of the study was to objectively look at the dynamics at work in community gardens, that is, the significance the gardens have on poverty, food security and income of rural farmers. The study was carried out in Bikita District, Masvingo Province found in the drier south-eastern low-veld area of Zimbabwe. Rural farmers in this area have been hit the hardest by drought and the changes that climate change has brought about to agricultural production. This has resulted in a greater proportion of farmers being unable to meet their food and income requirements making them more vulnerable to climate shocks. How the gardens are assisting the rural farmers in coping with drought as a climate shock was also considered.
Data collection made use of both primary and secondary techniques. Structured interviews were administered to a total of 130 randomly sampled community garden participants. The study also used semi- structured interviews which were administered to the donor agents involved in the gardening projects, that is, CARE and CARITAS International Organizations. Key informant interviews were also administered to the district extension advisory officer involved in the projects. The study also made use of a focus group discussion in order to capture farmers perceptions of climate change and the general impact of community gardens on the community as a whole.
SPSS was used to calculate all frequencies and descriptive statistics as well as Chi-square test; Fishers exact tests; cross tabulations; percentages; mean and median variances presented in the study.
The main findings of the study showed that: community garden participants were mainly women (86%) who are left in the rural areas to fend for the households alone as husbands have migrated to cities and the Diaspora in search for better opportunities.
A greater number of farmers expressed ignorance on the existence and risks associated with climate change but agreed that temperatures have increased and rainfall has decreased in the past decade. There was also no significant association between age groups and knowledge of existence of climate change. Chi-square test results showed a significant association between age groups and how they rated the impact of climate change adaptation projects (p=0.030). The economically active age group of 40-49 years did not respond positively to the impact of climate change adaptation projects. They rated the climate change adaptation projects as somewhat helpful. A number of the interviewed farmers (53%) indicated that, they do not acquire income from sale of their crops and vegetables. Most of the harvested produce is used for household consumption as 86% of the respondents also highlighted that as the main reason they joined the community gardens. However, a number of the respondents use income acquired to obtain basic necessities, pay for child education and maintaining their farm business.
Results also showed some major benefits associated with community gardens. Social benefits include: social capital, development of farming skills and collective effort; economic benefits include: increased income, nutritious food, community based employment, better quality of life, education and training; Environmental benefits include: sustainable agriculture. A major constraint that farmers agreed on was the insufficiency of water. Chi-square test results showed a significant association (p=0.003) of age groups and how they rated the source of water for irrigation. The older aged groups of 50-59 and 60 and over were more negatively inclined towards the sufficiency of water supply and rated it as totally insufficient. Other shortcomings indicated also included: long distance to gardens, lack of fencing and protection, birds and predators and limited institutional support.