Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

Out of Africa – from a nation ‘in crisis and hope’

Cathy Rutivi

A lesson of patience and resilience

Authors Name: Cathy Rutivi
Organisation(s) name: Consumers International, Africa
Contact: crutivi[at]

My country
My country Zimbabwe is a land locked country in southern Africa that borders South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia. Zimbabwe gained its independence from Great Britain in 1980 and it has been ruling for the past 28 years! At independence, the Zimbabwe dollar was 1Z$=2US$ and now with 1 US$ you get approximately 150 million Z$. Zimbabwe was once called the breadbasket of the SADC region in the 1980s and 1990s but it is now a net food importer. It has the worst inflation in the world with an annual official inflation of 165,000%, but is believed to be around 400,000%. Zimbabwe has been a nation in crisis in the last 8 years due to a variety of factors that include the politics of land reform. The taking over of white commercial farms for redistribution to blacks has contributed to Zimbabwe being a pariah state in the eyes of western nations. This has had a negative impact on the economy creating difficulties for Zimbabwean people.

Zimbabwe has had 3 elections since 2000; however the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections have been the defining moment in Zimbabwe’s political transition. Many issues featured in the electoral campaigns, of which the economic issues, service delivery, and land reform were key. But four weeks after the much awaited elections in Zimbabwe, there are still no presidential results.  This has brought a lot of stress related illnesses, anxiety, loss of hope and uncertainty among Zimbabweans of all works of life.

People’s hopes have now been eroded, and we may continue to suffer because the agriculture season was very bad, the crops failed, and there is no food now, which is the harvest season. We do not think there will be enough food to last us till the next season in March next year. All Zimbabweans now do is wait and pray and hope for God’s intervention.

Some of our people young and old are now leaving the country to neighbouring countries in search of food and work. Some are running away from the post election violence against rural and urban people. Most of us would like to remain in our country as we have great hope in it and believe that as citizens we can make the change we desire and want. My people are strong, resilient and capable to overcome adversity. It is through the power of education and hard work that has kept us going. We believe things will turn around and be normal again. We have become the laughing stock of the SADC region but despite the future looking bleak, I think that the best is beyond the horizon.

Right now my country is going through the worst kind of economic crisis in the history of mankind. Having an economy that is almost collapsing is quite unimaginable, with unemployment of over 80%. Zimbabwean people however, wake up every day to go into the streets, to our work to try and get what we can find and feed ourselves and our children. Money has ceased to have value anymore, with personal budgets running into trillions and quadrillions of dollars. Most people here are now poor ‘billionaires’ and trillionaires. Everyday the exchange rates to major currencies move up and down responding to the parallel market forces. Many people ask why Zimbabweans have not taken to the streets and revolted. They may think that we are too passive but we have seen war before. We had guerrilla warfare in the 1970s and people in urban and rural areas all felt the brunt of the war. We are tired of violence and if by not revolting we are called passive then we would rather remain that until we get an answer from God. We believe that God loves Zimbabwe and has the right answer for our country. In the meantime we wait for the election outcome and watch the inflation figures add more zeros…..But we wait in great anticipation…..

My family
Hello to you all! I am Cathy and I live in Harare, Zimbabwe. I was born in Masvingo which is the oldest city in Zimbabwe.  I look forward to meeting and interacting with you all at this forum. I am a single mother of a 15 year old boy named Itai, (which means to do) who is in his 3rd year of high school. He is a sport fanatic, he loves and plays cricket and rugby at school and he hopes to become a professional cricketer or a lawyer. I go to church to keep my hopes and dreams alive. I am not a negative person so I spend a lot of my time surrounded by friends and colleagues who give me joy in debates on national and family issues. I get my inspiration from my spiritual mother who has raised six children after my father passed on in 1977. I am the youngest in my family of five (three sisters and a brother, after loosing my elder brother in 1998) and as the baby I always got what I wanted. My favourite holiday is Christmas – family time; as all my sisters, brother and their families all congregate at my mother’s house in Masvingo and we sing, talk, laugh, cook and share exciting events in our lives. I also have great friends, at home and some scattered across the world who have been a part of my life. I value their support and friendship very much as this has kept me going.

My work
My work has been centred on Consumer issues. I am excited about preserving the planet and its biodiversity. I am passionate about ensuring that the consumer voice is heard and listened to by those that make policies and decisions that affect consumers’ daily lives. This is a priority for the Consumer movement and my organisation. I also love informing youths that include my son, his friends and relatives about consumer issues, this allows me to further develop my knowledge and disseminate issues at a relaxed level to tomorrow’s leaders.

My organisation
Consumers International (CI) is a federation of consumer groups dedicated to the protection and promotion of consumers' rights worldwide through empowering national consumer organisations and campaigning at the international level. It currently represents over 230 organisations in 113 countries. In the past few years CI has been working on the GMO issue through participation in the global debate, launching and mounting regional campaigns, in different parts of the world and lobbying governments to take precaution until safety is assured.
In Africa successful campaigns were undertaken in creating awareness to consumers. The consumers’ concerns largely revolve around their right to safety and healthy environments and the right information and choice. Consumer organisations, in partnership with other civil society organisations have done a tremendous job and have achieved a number of notable successes in delaying the spread of GMOs or GM products before the necessary safety checks and measures have been put in place. CI is currently working to increase the prioritisation of biosafety in the developing world for the benefit of biodiversity and consumer health and safety and to enable consumers to exercise their right to access a healthy sustainable environment, to choose and to be informed, and to be skilful advocates of their own interests in this area. This is also aimed at building the capacity of consumer organisations in the developing world to play a leading role in ensuring implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CPB), particularly with respect to public awareness and participation, the Biosafety Clearing House and risk assessment and risk management, as well as effective national legislative frameworks.

My major event a couple of weeks ago
It was just after the Easter holidays and the most significant thing that happened during this break is that my mother, aunt and I visited my great aunt (my maternal grandfather’s sister) who lives some 300kms away from me in Bikita village further south in Masvingo Province. I had the adventure of the peaceful village life for that short while. She is the only surviving member in her family. We are not sure of her age but based on others her age is estimated to be around 95 years old! I hope I got those genes!  My great aunt was very pleased to see her nieces Regina and Helena (that’s my mother and her younger sister) and of course myself. I had to be introduced as ‘the last born of Regina’ for her to situate me. I cursed myself for having left my camera, this would have been a great memory for my mother and myself as I do not know if I will ever get a chance to see her alive again.  But it was a great opportunity to be around her and to see how she tried to remember some of the people and events that had taken place in her life as she discussed with mother and aunt.

She is now quite old and frail and small but she still walks on her own. Her favourite past time is spent sitting around a fire in her small kitchen hut.  She reminded me a lot of my own late maternal grandmother who also lived to be 90 years. I am blessed to come from such a family. The challenge for me now is how do I take care of my self, and watch what I consume so that I can have the same opportunity. I ask myself constantly how I should take care of my environment and preserve it for my future generations. As I look at these two old ladies’ lives, how they have lived their lives as compared to mine, I can only hope that I will look back and reflect one day with my own grandchildren. I hope then that the earth would still be a better place to live. In the next days to come on 7th May I will turn 40 years old, another great milestone in my life. In Zimbabwe life expectancy for an adult is about 35 years old so I am blessed to be alive and healthy. This birthday means a lot to me as I have exceeded life expectancy here and is reason enough to celebrate it all year with my family and friends. 

On a lighter note….My favourite meal of leafy vegetable mix and sadza

This is one of my favourite meals and the vegetables are grown on most gardens in Zimbabwe. My friends Carol and Mabel came by and we shared the meal together. When we eat our food with friends, it always tastes better eating from the same plate as we love arguing about who has taken more meat or vegetables than others! That keeps us close as friends. After a long trip away from home I always look forward to this meal especially after consuming processed and foods sold and served by hotels and airplanes.
And finally…
My dreams are for a better tomorrow for my people and a secure future for our children in my country.  I will continue to work hard to survive these challenges and hopefully live long enough to tell great stories to my grandchildren!

As an African I will continue to appreciate the diversity that exist and recognise the different cultures and values of all, and hopefully through understanding and relating with each other we can continue to shape a better world for those ahead of us. Together we should strive to safeguard the planet through biodiversity based agriculture to ensure environmental sustainability and provision of safe food for consumers, and livelihoods security for many generations to come, and I believe that urgent change must start with us here and now!

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Local Organising Committee