In Zimbabwe, the Utariri Programme supports farmers to exit the ‘tobacco trap’ and venture into climate friendly alternative livelihoods characterized by short cultivation periods and low socio-ecological footprints. These include oyster mushrooms, small grains as well as apiculture.[1]

Utariri is an integrated programme combining biodiversity, climate change and livelihoods. It has been started in Zambezi Valley in March 2023 and deals with the climate crisis and the threat to biodiversity. At the same time, the programme aims to improve the livelihoods of local communities and to strengthen the sense of stewardship at local level (“Utariri” means “stewardship” in Shona). To achieve this, the programme aims at generating choices for residents to diversify their livelihoods and enhance their access to food and income.[2]

Promoting agro-ecological principles and crop diversification is a key aspect of the programme in order to improve food security and income security in the face of climate change. Furthermore, Utariri’s tasks include creating sustainable market links and value chains to enable farmers to benefit from the transition in the long term.

Some farmers already converted their tobacco barns into cultivation hubs for oyster mushrooms, and many more intend to do so. The mushroom business only requires the necessary skills, then it brings quick returns and can generate income all year round. The farmers’ sales markets are mostly local communities in which they contribute to food security with their mushrooms. Indeed, the demand for mushrooms is growing daily as many people cannot afford expensive food like meat or fish.[3]

With regard to cycles in agricultural production, mushroom cultivation is beneficial: agricultural waste can be used as a culture medium for the mushrooms and the residues from mushroom production can be used to improve the soil in farmers’ fields.[4]

Furthermore, other climate adaptable crop varieties are also used to contribute to the diversification of livelihoods in Zambezi Valley, for example sorghum, quinoa, chilli, sesame, cowpeas and peanuts. To this end, farmers are provided with seeds and extension services which have been intensified as part of Utariri.[5]

“We are leading the livelihood component; we are promoting the small grain production of cow pea and sorghum in Mbire and Muzarabani. We are also introducing sesame as a cash crop and chilli planted around fields to reduce human-wildlife conflict.”

Runyararo Motsi, FACHIG (Farmers Association of Community Self Help Investment Group) [4]

As of mid-2024, some achievements have already been recorded: 400 farmers have received training and mushroom farming starter kits, 88 farmers have been trained in cowpea and sorghum cultivation and 2,150 farmers have been supported with seed packs for small grains such as sorghum. A total of 718 farmers already benefit from improved food and income generating capacities.[6]

The current 3-year programme is financed by SIDA (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency), the previous pilot phase was financed by Danida (Danish International Development Agency).

Utariri is being implemented in the Zambezi Valley by DanChurchAid (DCA) together with the consortium partners African Wildlife Foundation, Bushlife Conservancy, Future of Hope Foundation, Farmers Association of Community Self Help Investment Group (FACHIG) and Zambezi Valley Conservation Network.