Is something happening we should know about? Our readers give us some of our best story ideas.

WhatsApp: +263 7 18636459
Twitter: @TheCB_News
Facebook: The Citizen Bulletin

Clay Work Transforms Lives, Combats Deforestation in Bulilima

Clay stoves being made in Bulilima not only give women income, but also reduce deforestation in their communities. Image by Lynnia Ngwenya

In Bulilima, women are finding hope and transforming their lives through the art of clay work. With the utilization of clay-made stoves and diversified income sources, these women are not only securing sustainable livelihoods but also making a positive impact in reducing deforestation in their communities.

BY LYNNIA NGWENYA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | JUN 15, 2023

BULILIMA (The Citizen Bulletin) — In rural communities, where viable means of living can be scarce, many villagers rely on agricultural pursuits to sustain their families.

According to the World Bank Group, food poverty in Zimbabwe predominantly affects rural communities that rely on agrarian livelihoods.

“Rural areas are four to five times poorer than urban areas, accounting for about 90% of the poor. Communal areas are at a particular disadvantage, with the food poverty rate more than 10 times that in urban areas,” says the report.

In Bulilima, the viability of farming as a means of survival is severely hindered by recurring droughts, with periods of consistent rainfall shortage lasting up to five years. As a result, farming has become an unreliable source of income, leading many women to seek alternative survival projects such as pottery and baking.

Sithule Moyo, a villager of Ntunungwe in Ward 3 under Bulilima Rural District Council, reflects on the hardships she endured before embarking on her clay work journey for survival. Despite her academic journey concluding at Grade seven, Moyo's life took a positive turn as she delved into the world of clay work.

“Rains are few in our area, so we would plant but harvest a few or nothing for many years.”

“I remember an instance when we had to walk for hours, with three children, to a relative who resides in Diba, after she had offered food and clothes if we manage to do some work in her homestead,” says Moyo.

While high unemployment threatens urban areas in Zimbabwe, it is the rural communities that bear the brunt of poverty and food scarcity. In these regions, some individuals resort to gathering firewood and trading it for food, a precarious undertaking that poses a significant threat to local forests and ecosystems.

Esnat Nleya*, a villager of Siyephi, vividly recounts the anguish she experienced when she had a mishap while cutting firewood and fell onto a tree. On that particular day, she was alone in the forest as her grandchildren were occupied with piece work, making it a challenging ordeal to seek assistance.

“We used to pile firewood in heaps to secure it for winter and sell it sometimes.  After I injured my back, I couldn't do much for my family,” says Nleya.

However, the trajectory of these women's stories dramatically shifted when they crossed paths with OXFAM.

“Oxfam taught us how to survive on clay work. They taught us to make clay cupboards, stoves, sofas and tables. We mix clay, water and colorful soil or ashes so as to produce a good looking product,” says Moyo.

“We offer these services at a fee. The items start from R500 going upwards, depending on the size. Some of our products are exported to South Africa and Botswana.”

“Since I started the clay work business, I have managed to take three children to school. The eldest has completed her Ordinary Level; she is now in college. We have groups of three or five, where we share skills and make certain products. The group income is then shared after six months.”
Sithule Moyo, villager of Ntunungwe

With the availability of local resources for clay products, Nleya has been able to secure a livelihood, ensuring she can now provide for her grandchildren.

“I make stoves and sell them. I sometimes make plates for selling shows or competitions. My grandchildren now go to school, they are well fed, they have clothes from clay works,” Nleya.

Women making a clay cupboard at Siyephi village in Bulilima. Image by Lynnia Ngwenya

The clay handwork business, despite its benefits, encounters certain challenges. One of the main hurdles is the constant need to seek out new customers, sometimes even in distant districts. Success in this field heavily relies on building a strong reputation and cultivating goodwill among clients.

“Sometimes we travel for customers in other districts. I have gone as far as Gwanda, Esigodini and Mangwe in this business.”

“It's a challenge to leave a family for days and go to a place with people whom you would have met on the phone. It's a risk that we take on many instances, but it's worth taking.”

“Sometimes we make products and people fail to pay on time or not pay at all,” adds Moyo.

To thrive in the market and cater to the diverse needs of customers, it is crucial to diversify the product range. By offering a wider variety of clay products, artisans can attract a larger customer base and stay attuned to evolving market demands.

“People want different things, therefore your work has to be outstanding, it's the survival of the best in the market,” says Nleya

The business also involves networking with other clay makers in terms of pricing and skills transfer.

“We meet with clay makers from other villages so that we share experiences and how we can price,” Moyo.

Through their interaction with Oxfam, these women discovered the possibility of achieving financial independence by diversifying their sources of income. They learned that relying on a single income stream is not necessary, and exploring alternative avenues can lead to sustainable livelihoods.

“We were equipped with skills for independent survival. We formed baking and farming clubs. We sell our baked products in village meetings and other local gatherings,” says Moyo.

ALSO READ: Insiza Community Organisation Breaks HIV Barriers, Empowers Lives

Oxfam not only provided women in Bulilima with income-generating skills but also imparted the knowledge that clay-made stoves can contribute to reducing deforestation within communities. By promoting the use of these stoves, Oxfam empowered the women to make a positive environmental impact while earning a livelihood.

“People should reduce the cutting down of trees because it is a factor that reduces the opportunities of water soaking into the soil, therefore causing less production in agriculture,” Oxfam says.

Nleya, a beneficiary of the Oxfam workshops, highlights the positive impact of clay stoves in reducing firewood consumption and effectively curbing excessive deforestation.

“Clay stoves consume less firewood, therefore reducing excessive deforestation,” she says.

While the workshops initially saw limited interest upon their launch in 2018, an increasing number of community members have since embraced the acquired skills. As a result, the local area now enjoys a flourishing ecosystem characterized by abundant trees, demonstrating a heightened awareness and appreciation for the importance of conserving vegetation.

Do you have a hyperlocal story to share?

WhatsApp us on: +263 71 863 6459.  Email us on: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Since You’re Here, We’ve a Small Request…

Our hard-hitting hyperlocal reporting and analysis reaches one in every three people across the greater region of Matabeleland, southwestern Zimbabwe. That means our content reaches approximately 60,000 readers each week. However, in order for our well-rounded journalism to reach more people who need it to make informed decisions about their lives and their communities, we need to build a strong audience of followers that would receive our rigorous reporting in just one place. Because of exorbitant internet data costs, we know most of our readers use messaging apps such as WhatsApp to get all our content in one place. But the platform, predominantly used by our readers, is not primarily designed for content distribution and reader engagement. That is why we’re building a WhatsApp Bot to navigate this challenge. But in order for this strategy to work effectively to serve our needs, we want all our casual readers like you to be part of our growing WhatsApp Community. To be part of this community of registered users, WhatsApp the word "JOIN" to +263 71 863 6459. We look forward to engaging and building a lasting relationship with you. Thank you