Feeding Zimbabwe: Association of Women's Clubs

By Oxfam America

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The Association of Women's Clubs (AWC), an Oxfam partner in Zimbabwe, has roughly 60,000 members (mostly women) in rural areas throughout the country. After purchasing grain for over 13,000 families from farms, local millers, and grain suppliers, the AWC distributes it to the most vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe-- especially in the Seke, Wedza, Chikomba, Mhondoro and Murehwa districts.

AWC's greatest strength is its connection to local communities. Beneficiaries for food relief are selected based on vulnerability with priority given to the elderly, the chronically ill, widows, orphans, and child-headed households. Food is distributed in the presence of the community, and people are encouraged to speak up if they feel that there is a discrepancy or injustice in the allocation system.

Local women run the impartial, apolitical food distribution system. The organization is well established and has a good reputation, and the communities themselves are directly involved in the distribution process through their AWC members and representatives.

As of early March, the breakdown among the 13,200 beneficiary families was as follows:

  • Elderly: 2,775 (roughly 21%)
  • Orphans: 2,615 (roughly 20%). Children head 35 of these households, the rest are households that have taken in orphans. Grandparents provide most of the foster care.
  • Sick and disabled: 1634 (12%)
  • Able-bodied destitute and AWC members in need: 6,176 (47%)

Individual families receive 20 kg of maize per month or 50 kg when supplies are adequate. Household size is taken into account with larger households given greater amounts. Efforts are made to deliver in each area once a month.

The system is extraordinarily successful because it places a priority on transparency, ongoing community involvement, women's control of the distribution process, the "prohibition on politics" within AWC business, non-local AWC staff monitoring, and local leadership awareness and support of the distribution process.

Zimbabwe is facing a food shortage that will most likely continue until the next harvest season in April, 2004. AWC is expanding its relief program, adding additional rehabilitation measures such as bean distributions, water pumps, and micro finance programs.