A good daughter

By Chris Hufstader

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Just off to the side of a dirt road in Masahwa Ward is the homestead of Minor Chisero, 26, who lives with her two sisters, her young daughter, and five other younger brothers, nephews, and nieces. It is a busy homestead, with chickens and goats sharing the central yard with numerous children from the neighborhood playing and watching the Chisero sisters roasting groundnuts.

The matriarch of the family, Chisero's mother, was in Harare, 300 kilometers (about 186 miles) away getting medical treatment. She has been living with HIV for seven years'a long time for a farmer in rural Zimbabwe to survive with HIV—which makes Minor Chisero a very good daughter indeed. There is a lot of pride in Minor's voice when she says, "Yes, I am the one who takes care of her."

It is a close-knit group. "We work as a family in the fields, and we eat as a family," Chisero explained. "It is a little better now, we can eat three meals a day, compared to last year when we were only eating once a day."

The increase in food is due to an increase in crops they grew this season with seeds supplied by the Single Parents and Widows Support Network, through a grant from Oxfam America. The family had recently harvested five 50-kilo bags of groundnuts (about 550 pounds), seven bags (770 pounds) of sorghum. They were still harvesting their corn in late May, and were hoping to have as much as five bags.

This 2005-06 harvest was a lot stronger than their 2004-05 yield, when they grew only one bag of corn, three bags of sorghum, and two bags of groundnuts.

The increase in groundnuts this year is not only helping their diet, but their income as well. It is also making it possible for the children to attend school. Chisero and her sisters are roasting and grinding part of their groundnut supply to make peanut butter, which they are selling to cover their health care and school fees for three of their children. "All of the children here are in school," Minor said. "We pay the school fees by selling groundnuts, maize, and livestock."

School fees are 1.5 million Zimbabwean dollars per year, or about $US 15 at the official exchange rate. Peanut butter demands a high price in Mudzi: Chisero said they can get about a million Zim dollars for a liter of peanut butter (about $US 10 a pint).

Minor and her family are making the best of a tough situation. Although they are eating more than they were last year at this time, their meals consist primarily of sadza, or ground corn meal, the main staple food in Zimbabwe. As Chisero puts it, "Our meals are a little bit better—three meals a day, but it is still sadza in the morning, sadza at noon, and sadza at night. It is not a balanced diet."

But in between the sadza and peanut butter revenues, the family is coping for now. Chisero expects their food supply to last through September.

"This program helped us a lot," Chisero said. "If it was not for this seed we got last year we would not have been able to plant our fields, because we have no money."