Picturing Progress

A project to evaluate the impact of a food security programme in Zimbabwe

Project Summary:
Community members in rural Zimbabwe use participatory photography as a tool to share their experiences of the Red Cross’ ‘Food Security & Livelihoods  Programme’, exploring what change looks like at a local level.


Project Location:

Project Managers:
Kate Watson

Kate Watson

Zimbabwe Red Cross Society
British Red Cross

British Red Cross

PhotoVoice worked in partnership with Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS) and the British Red Cross (BRC) to undertake an impact evaluation of ZRCS’s Food Security and Livelihoods (FSL) Programme which ended in 2015. This five year programme targeted 9,000 poor households in rural regions (in the Mashonaland West and Midlands Provinces) of Zimbabwe. It aimed to strengthen agricultural recovery and increase food availability for 9000 poor households in four rural districts (in the Mashonaland West and Midlands Provinces).

The PhotoVoice Impact-Evaluation project follows the existing end of project evaluation and programme report completed by ZRCS in 2015. Two years after the programme’s completion, PhotoVoice worked with ZRCS staff and 14 community members of the Lower Gweru region, to support them to use photographic evaluative techniques to measure and communicate the benefits, challenges and successes of FSL activities, providing insight into the sustainability of the programme and informing future food security and community resilience programming.

Zimbabwe has been facing immense challenges for the past decade from several factors, which include: disasters related to droughts, epidemics, high-inflation, challenged public health delivery services, poor harvests resulting in food insecurity, and threatened livelihoods. These factors have been affecting both the demand and supply-side of food and has contributed to increased vulnerability for urban and rural populations in Zimbabwe, as they struggle to earn a living and get enough food to eat.

In December 2008, approximately 5.1 million people (45% of the population) were in need of food aid as estimated by the World Food Programme. According to the WFP Zimbabwe Country Office, food insecurity remaining a major challenge for the majority of the population, with seven million people receiving food assistance during the peak lean season in Zimbabwe until the 2009 harvest in April and May. The FSL project aimed to strengthen agricultural recovery and increase food availability by supporting vulnerable households to generate their own food and income with agricultural and livestock training and support.

The project contributed to the existing evaluation undertaken in 2015 which looked at the scale of impact of the FSL programme. It aimed to enrich the learnings from the existing evaluation by providing in-depth insight into the unique experiences of participant and their perspectives on the impact of the FSL programme two-years on, thereby building stories of change.

In February 2017, PhotoVoice began by training staff from ZRCS in participatory photography theory and practice, providing the skills to support the project and for the evaluation of their ongoing Community Resilience programmes. PhotoVoice then travelled to rural Lower Gweru where community members and beneficiaries of the FSL programme, were provided with participatory photography training and a platform to voice their opinions.

Through photography, participants were supported to define priority issues, draw upon their personal experiences of FSL activities, and measure the impact against their expectations, fears and aspirations for the programme, thereby providing qualitative insight and building individual ‘stories of change’. By working with a a diverse range of community members, including child heads of households, those who were chronically ill and those who were pregnant or breastfeeding, their insights sought to add value to the existing ZRCS evaluation the project, and ensure that local expertise and learnings from these individuals are included in informing future food security programming.

On completion of the community workshops, a local exhibition and community engagement event was held was held in the community school. The project has generated a lot of curiosity and interest from the whole community, and beyond celebrating the achievements of the participants involved, this event is an opportunity to share the participants’ messages and best-practice methods.

By creating a platform to raise awareness about the FSL initiatives and the livelihood issues they seek to address, it brought to together a range of stakeholders, including Councillors, Ward representatives, Community Heads, ZRCS staff; generating a constructive, solutions-based dialogue on the issues featured and facilitating wider community engagement in sustaining and expanding the FSL activities.

Participants worked to identify key programme areas – small livestock donation, nutritional gardens establishment, seed selection training and micro-financing initiatives (Internal Savings and Lending Schemes- ISALS), and used there new skills to explore the benefits, successes and challenges of these activities – highlighting the inter-related nature of the impact of these activities in what was described as “the chain of benefits”.

“The project was marvellous – I have gained knowledge on using cameras and telling important stories through my pictures. Thank you for lifting us higher and higher.”

Participants have developed their camera and story-telling skills and feel more confident about feeding back their experiences of the programme to ZRCS and sharing best practices with the wider community to strengthen the continuation of FSL activities.  

  • 100% of participants agreed that the project had increased their confidence to take photographs and describe the images to communicate issues around food security and livelihoods
  • Describing the impact of the Exhibition & Community Engagement Event, 100% of participants agreed that the project had raised awareness and shared best practices within their community and with decision makers (Councillors, Ward representatives, Community Heads, etc.)
  • Following the exhibition event, 92% of participants agreed that they felt more confident about their community working together to continue and strengthen FSL activities.

“I am impressed at the quality of the photographs and the insightful detailed descriptions. They are powerful and can raise awareness on the issues we deal with and how we are coping and moving forward. I am proud of the members who took part and feel the project has energised all of us – we are motivated again to continue working to address the issues thanks to this project and the event has raised awareness with the decision makers here, sharing important lessons.” – Village Head

The project provided valuable insight and key learnings from the FSL programme in Lower Gweru. The work produced creates a strong visual Impact-Evaluation which builds upon the existing evaluation and provides further insight into the programme’s sustainability. Two years after the programme’s completion, managing the resources and activities provided by ZRCS continues to be a community priority area. As the activities expand and go from strength to strength, the community as a whole has begun to take ownership of the activities. 

“It was so interesting to attend the exhibition event and see the participants’ work – an eye opening experience where I really feel I heard the community members’ voices. Normally, we take the stories of beneficiaries and re-tell their stories to other stakeholders. In this way we speak on behalf of them but today, with the images they had taken – it felt as though they were directly speaking to us and the public.” – ZRCS Midlands Province Manager

Participants’ work and the lessons that it conveys will inform and strengthen the ZRCS’s forthcoming Resilience Programmes implemented across Zimbabwe, and local staff now have a strong knowledge and skills base to use Participatory Photography as part of the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of these programmes. The M&E framework can be implemented in other regions, with the methodology adding valuable insight and visual data with which to measure the impact of, and understand potential community change resulting from the Resilience Programme. This is a strong basis upon which ongoing engagement and insight can take place.

Read Kate Watson’s, former PhotoVoice Projects Manager’s fieldwork blog here.

Header Image: © Catherine Sibanda 2017 | PhotoVoice | Zimbabwe Red Cross | ‘Picturing Progress – Food Security & Livelihoods’ | Zimbabwe

“Our nutritional gardens are located in front of this bridge – so that we can take buckets to the river and water the gardens. But as you can see, there are cracks and we are worried that the water will drain away and our gardens will dry out as there is not borehole nearby – so no alternative for getting water. There is also a risk that the waters might flood and destroy the gardens and the effort we have put into them.”

Project Gallery: