Knowledge Chikondo is a 35-year-old farmer who lives with his wife and three children in Kondo Village, Zimbabwe. Knowledge struggled to make a living as a farmer until he was helped by a Christian Aid project called BRACT, which is run by a group of four local partner organisation including Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe (BIZ) and Silveira House.
Knowledge explains: “When I first started farming, life was really tough. The weather was erratic. Some years we received decent rainfall but other years we got only a few very intense storms then nothing. I was growing groundnuts and sorghum, but yields were poor and the income I got was too low to support my family. I had a real problem finding decent markets and the buyers who I approached offered very low prices for my products.”
Knowledge heard about the BRACT project when BIZ came to his village to survey the types of wild fruit that were available, such as a fruit found locally called Nhengeni (Ximmenia caffra). Nhengeni seeds are valuable because they contain oil which can be extracted to make cosmetics.
Knowledge said, “The good thing about wild fruit is that it grows on its own without any input from people. All you have to do is make sure the trees don’t get damaged and harvest the bounty each year. I used to love eating Nhengeni fruits when I was a kid herding cattle with my friends, but I never thought you could actually make money out of them until BRACT came along."
Knowledge and his wife have been trained on harvesting and preparing the seeds and they work together. Knowledge explains that “Harvesting must be done in a very hygienic way, so we wear clean clothes and take soap and a container of water with us to wash our hands regularly during harvesting.
To process the fruit, I have to remove the skin and wash the seed. It’s quite a process. I have to put the seed in a cloth bag and scrub it on the rock with sand. When the seed is clean, we sort it to remove any that are poor quality then we put it in a clean container and take it back to the homestead where I have made a drying structure using shade cloth supplied by BIZ. The seeds must not dry in the sun as this can affect some of the valuable chemicals that they contain.”
Knowledge has also received training from another partner involved with the BRACT project called Silveira House. They have trained him to be a welder, which provides him with an alternative source of income. He is also part of a group that shares welding equipment and a savings and loans group as part of the project.
Knowledge says “I can provide for my family, pay school fees for my children, household expenses and invest in my other projects.”
Knowledge feels that his participation in the project has raised his standing in the community and he is better respected. He hopes to save enough money to buy a welding kit of his own and set up a welding business.
Knowledge says “When I first started collecting wild fruits my friends thought it was foolish but now that they have seen my success, they all want to join in.”