Stripping the fruit from the Garden of Eden
Picture: Angeline Munzara in her village Vumbunu, Zimbabwe, 1985
Angeline explains it takes stewardship of God’s creation to combat climate change and give children hope for the future
By Angeline Munzara, Senior External Engagement Advisor, Livelihoods
Growing up in Vumbunu village, Zimbabwe, I used to see my grandparents practice mixed farming, a system that involves growing multiple nitrogen-fixing crops such as beans and peas. Each year, they always planted drought-resistant crops such as sorghum and millet. Along the field contours, they planted cassava trees to stop soil erosion during the rainy season. They never applied fertiliser on the field and instead used organic manure, yet they still yielded a good harvest.
My grandparents also practiced tree-cutting rotations to allow some to regrow. They forbade us from cutting off certain trees, particularly wild fruit trees. Today, in World Vision, we would refer to this approach as “farmer-managed natural regeneration” that has changed the game for thousands of farmers (and their families) across Africa by protecting their land and keeping it productive.
In our youth, whenever we were sent out for firewood, my friends,siblings and I would help ourselves to indigenous fruits on the farm. We never lacked nutritious food because we could get it from both the field and the forest. My grandparents also practiced rain-harvesting techniques so we never experienced field flooding during the rainy season.
A change for the worst
All that changed in the 1980s to mid-1990s when structural adjustment programmes were the order of the day. My grandparents were selected to be lead producers of maize crop. Of course, a promise of a ready market with the grain marketing board was lucrative and irresistible. They started to receive fertilisers and maize seeds. Slowly, I watched my grandparents clear more land to plant the maize crop and get rid of the last of their indigenous drought-resistant crop varieties.
During the first few years, they had their bumper harvest – but in 1992, drought-hit. They lost their entire crop. We had no sorghum, no cassava, no indigenous crops. . We had no food reserves. Instead, we now had to rely on humanitarian assistance. Sadly, we eventually transformed from being a food secure family to a family that was vulnerable and reliant on external support.
Due to the drought and separation of my parents, life was hard in the village and my siblings. My and I had little choice but to move to the city of Mutare in search of secure livelihoods for the rest of our family. I lost my home, any connection with my friends, and the childhood there I always cherished.
This is becoming an all too common story. The innate wisdom of my parents’ generation who understood the importance of stewarding their land is slipping away to be replaced with faith in farming techniques focused on ‘get rich quick’ schemes of only yield and profit. These are techniques that neither respect the earth nor the needs of those who live off it. Each time I go back to my home village, I feel sad to see a once lush place turning into a desert. People continue to cut down trees to clear the land for farming as they move away from infertile lands. Some families have relocated to urban cities to look for greener pastures—not more land, but other ways to earn money.
Climate change chaos
Climate change is compounding these challenges by increasing the frequency and severity of disasters and contributing to conflict, displacement and fragility – entrenching children and families in cycles of poverty they cannot escape. Disasters caused by climate change can lead to families being displaced, sometimes forcing children to travel unaccompanied. Sometimes children are left behind by parents or caregivers who are compelled to leave them in search of work. Without anyone to look after them, children are at a much greater risk of all forms of violence including child marriage and child labour.
With the emergence of COVID-19, children already hard hit by climate change are facing a double blow. The results of World Vision COVID-19: Out of Time Report provide evidence that the most vulnerable families and their children are hardest hit in such crises. Over 100 million people are at risk of hunger, of weather-related disasters, and of becoming displaced. Due to a loss of income, these families are unable to provide basic shelter, decent food, and in some cases, evictions are forcing parents to separate from their children. It is clear to anyone working with vulnerable and affected communities, that the climate crisis is an issue of survival.
Stewards not owners
However, there is hope for the future if we all remember that the world does not belong to us; that we are stewards of the planet. Do this and we have a chance to restore this ‘Garden of Eden’. In the Bible, in Genesis 1:26 God created man after his own likeness and placed him in the Garden of Eden to rule and have dominion over God’s creation. However, this authority came with the responsibility to dress the land and to keep it (Genesis 2:15). What this means is that without taking care of the environment, we cannot eat from it. As a Christian organisation, stewardship of God’s Creation is also at the heart of World Vision’s core values: “We are stewards of God’s creation. We care for the earth and act in ways that will restore and protect the environment. We ensure that our development activities are ecologically sound.”
A global call to action
It is not just a faith-based organisation that believes that we look after God’s world for others - to recognise it as a precious resource. In 2015, Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan of action to protect the planet from degradation as they continue to promote prosperity. Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, affirms these values and explains, “We believe in a world where healthy, sustainable and inclusive food systems, allow people and planet to thrive. It is a world without poverty or hunger, a world of inclusive growth, environmental sustainability, and social justice. It is a resilient world where no one is left behind.”
The 2030 Agenda calls on governments, donors, civil society, faith actors, children and all stakeholders to take concerted action to combat climate change for the benefit of the present and future generations. COVID-19 presents an opportunity to build multi-stakeholder partnerships to implement climate-sensitive, child-sensitive, inclusive and greener recovery strategies to build back better and do the following:
- Invest in child-sensitive and inclusive interventions promoting a green recovery: Develop economic recovery interventions that integrate resilience to climate change and restore environmental assets central to food security, safety nets and natural resource-based livelihoods. This includes large-scale actions to decarbonise economies and restore degraded landscapes. These can reduce community exposure and vulnerability to climate-related hazards that disrupt and destroy livelihoods and local economies.
- Promote climate change and disaster risk reduction education among children –including by integrating them into school curricula –to educate and empower children to respond and adapt to climate change and reduce their vulnerability to disasters.
I long for a day to visit my village and see trees restored, water sources revived and soils replenished. I dream to see fields fertile again and fruit trees growing in forests providing enough nutritious food for children to eat and not having to travel long distances to fetch water. It is possible to replenish the Garden of Eden if the world accelerates action to combat climate change through “Farming God’s Way” through natural regeneration and practicing conservation agriculture.
This is my dream for 2030. However, this is not just my dream, but the dream of future generations. This dream is achievable with the concerted effort of everyone across the globe.
The Climate Week of Action taking place in the context of the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council meeting from 21-27 September is a good opportunity to promote these policies designed for building back better during and beyond COVID.
Join World Vision, PARD, UNEP, and Child Rights Connect on 24 September 2020 08.00 - 09.30 Am EST for a discussion on: Covid-19 Child Sensitive, Inclusive & Greener Recovery Strategies to Build Back Better. A beneficiary from World Vision Kenya’s Farmer Managed Regeneration will be testifying how this simple technology has improved the livelihoods of her family. Register here
For more information on World Vision’s climate-smart approaches to livelihoods programming please see:
- Why Are We Stewards of Creation? World Vision’s Biblical Understanding of How We Relate to Creation
- Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration
- Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration Manual
- Building Secure Livelihoods