An Interview with Chester Chituwu from CELUCT
Partners in the Spotlight - July 2011
An Interview with Chester Chituwu from The Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Management Trust (CELUCT), Zimbabwe
Where is CELUCT working and when was it first formed?
The Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Management Trust (CELUCT) is situated in Chimanimani district of Zimbabwe, just below the Chimanimani mountains and close to the border of Mozambique. The communities we work with are fairly small community because the area is highland and predominantly forested, so it is sparsely populated. We started working with the communities here in 1991. It all started by the community realising that their environment was changing – that their soils were eroding, their yields decreasing and so on. So they started looking into water conservation and soil revival and gradually the programmes we focus on today were born. CELUCT was not an officially registered organization until 1996, some five years later. Fairly early on in the life of CELUCT we established a Training Centre with – and within – the community. This is where the trainings around ecological farming practices took place and it is a space now which is used by the community for various cultural trainings and experiences.
What areas of work does CELUCT focus on?
CECULT has two main programmes of work. The first is sustainable agriculture and natural resources management (often referred to as permaculture). The second is building constructive community relations. The two of course overlap, and this is where some of the most critical work comes out. Within both of these programmes we place significant value on indigenous knowledge. It is for this reason that in all our activities we fully integrate the community members, as they are the knowledge holders.
The communities are also involved in CELUCT at board level. The indigenous leaders themselves elect a representative to sit on the Board of Trustees at CELUCT. There is a Deed that states that two thirds of the Board of the Trustees must be from within the community – so their voice is very much represented. The organization is there for them after all!
In what way is the community involved in the running of the Training Centre?
The ownership issue of our programme is really critical. It is the communities themselves who facilitate the trainings and workshops and they get paid a small sum for doing so when the trainees come from outside the community. So as well as initially being a space to revive traditional practices, now the centre offers livelihood support in its own way too. Further to this we don’t use outside caterers, we have five men and women from the communities who do the catering and they also get paid. The communities benefits financially, and are empowered because they take ownership of the centre.
In addition to the main training centre we have a number of training sites within the community. These are usually homesteads where particularly good practice can be shown, where yields have been increased or where water capturing and recycling is best shown in action. If your homestead is selected to be shown to visiting trainees then you also receive a small allowance – so it becomes a further incentive with the community to do the best they can in adapting to ecological practices or reviving traditional knowledge. This incentive to be better has helped to build the whole programme and strengthened the communities sense of ownership of the programme.
The farmers will analyze all the crops and ask one another ‘why did this work so well?’ ‘Why did this one not work so well?’ Through this process they can save the seeds which have the qualities which they most require – whether that’s based on yield, drought resistance, and so on.
As part of your work around reviving ecological farming practices, tell us about your Seed Saving Programme.
We work with the community to recover and revive the local seeds and we call this the Seed Saving Programme. When the seeds are half grown – during their germination period – the farmers will come together to compare one another’s crops. These are known as ‘Field Days’. The farmers will analyze all the crops and ask one another ‘why did this work so well?’ ‘Why did this one not work so well?’ Through this process they can save the seeds which have the qualities which they most require – whether that’s based on yield, drought resistance, and so on.
Again after harvest they bring the seeds to display the quality of the seeds they have produced. This is to show others what they might want to grow on their own farms, and to see which farmers own those seeds. So it becomes a market for a seed exchange, known amongst the farmers as the ‘Seed Fair’. After the Seed Fair the communities go on to have a Food Fair. This is the final stage of the process and is a great way for the farmers to share their knowledge of the qualities and uses of the seed - a variety of the indigenous food are produced by the farmers on this day for all to taste.
Tell us about your work around Sacred Sites protection.
What we have observed by working with the communities is that most water sources are sacred places. These sacred sites lie within the community and the communities are the guardians of them.
When we first approached the idea of working to protect or revive the sacred sites with the community they were very pleased. It is the local leaders who decide what can be worked on with the community – so they could easily have said that they didn’t want us to be involved in their sacred sites. But some of these sacred water sources had dried up and they were pleased that we wanted to work with them and to use their indigenous knowledge as a means of protecting and reviving them. We re-planted the indigenous trees around these water sources and most of them were restored over the months that followed. This was extremely positive for the community and for the environment as whole.
The club has really become the nucleus of all traditional knowledge which is discussed in the area. If there are ever any problems or issues for the community to discuss or resolve then the club get together and first ask ‘what would our ancestors do?’
How has CELUCT been working with the Elders, or traditional leaders of the communities?
We provide a space for the traditional leaders to hold their own workshops to discuss issues. These are facilitated by the leaders and they invite other traditional leaders from the district to share their knowledge and issues with them. In a bid to keep their own cultural identity, in 2007 we established with them a ‘Culture Club’. There are now around 100 members in the Culture Club. It came out as an idea through dialogues between CELUCT and the traditional leadership. The leaders suggested that maybe they needed a club where people could come and learn about their culture.
The leaders of the club are fairly young (middle aged), but within the club there are also some Elders, so knowledge transfer is also part of the club. The club has really become the nucleus of all traditional knowledge which is discussed in the area. If there are ever any problems or issues for the community to discuss or resolve then the club get together and first ask ‘what would our ancestors do?’
Whenever there is a training now we involve the Culture Club - they come to talk about their culture to whoever is taking part in the training. They perform traditional dances and so on, but this isn’t just about the performance – they explain how this is a part of their culture and they explain many other cultural traditions. It’s not simply a display like one that might be given for tourists, without context or explanation! The club also visits schools – so there is a lot of intergenerational learning going on around this. We now have a Cultural Centre close to the original Training Centre.
How has CELUCT been working to build ‘constructive community relations’? Is there an element of conflict resolution within this?
When all this dialogue and activity is going on you are bound to come across some misunderstandings or disagreements within the community. Because of this, the communities asked us how we could help them to deal with these, and we came up with our programme ‘Building Constructive Communities’. Out of this programme the idea of the ‘three circles of knowledge’ was born. The three circles are the Indigenous Knowledge Circle, the Spiritual Knowledge Circle and the Analytic Circle. All three must be consulted as a means of solving the problem or resolving the conflict which has occurred.
The Indigenous Knowledge Circle is the first which is consulted in the process. When you come across a problem you must first of all dig deep and ask how were our elders and ancestors able to deal with this? So already they acknowledge that there is something very positive which can be found from their indigenous knowledge system. Then they must refer to the Spiritual Knowledge Circle. At this stage you ask, how would you deal with the problem according to your religious or spiritual beliefs? If you are a Christian how would you deal with it? If you practice the traditional spiritual beliefs how would you deal with it? Whatever your belief system is, good will be good and bad will be bad – they realize that their beliefs overlap in this way, because the core group of leaders is very mixed and so this is a good way to make them see the commonality of their beliefs. The final consultation is within the Analytic Circle. This is the knowledge that you acquire – either through formal or informal education, reading and so on. This is the third and final reference point that the community must use to deal with their problems. Although the Analytic Circle is the more ‘current’ system, it is vital that it is not the starting point. First they must dig deep within their traditional knowledge and practices.
Within this system we also use a symbol such as the number ‘3’. We urge the community to look at the shape from four different angles. For some it looks like an ‘m’, for some a ‘w’, for others an ‘E’ and for some a ‘3’. By observing how the shape can look different from four different perspectives we remind the community that there are many ways of looking at things and those different opinions and perspectives must be respected.
Through both of these processes we remind the community that while we are one, we are bound to have different views but this in itself can and should also bind us together. We also say that we don’t direct negative energies to these issues but instead work with them to find constructive outcomes – hence using processes such as the Three Circles.
The ABN would like to thank Chester Chituwu for taking the time to be interviewed and congratulate CELUCT on their great work. To find out more about CELUCT's great work by visiting their website.
Latest Photo Albums