Working towards self-reliance: The story of Melfort Old People’s Home in Zimbabwe

Article, 15.03.2021

Zimbabwe's economic challenges have made the elderly, who make up 10 percent of the country's 15 million people, more vulnerable.

Working towards self-reliance: The story of Melfort Old People’s Home in Zimbabwe
From right to left, Mr. Daniel Francis (Superintended of Melfort Old People’s Home), Mrs. Sonia Thurnhofer (Diplomatic Spouses Association – Swiss Embassy) and a worker from Melfort Old People’s Home. © Embassy of Switzerland in Zimbabwe.

The situation for the elderly, who, by definition, are people over the age of 60, and because of their mental, physical and poor financial status are considered vulnerable, is sad, owing to increased cost of living prevailing in the country.

The decline is evident in institutions for the elderly such as Melfort Old People’s Home on the outskirts of Harare which are mainly funded by independent donors, but whose contributions are at times too little and a token considering what is required on the ground.

Melfort Old People’s Home like other homes for the elderly in Zimbabwe has been hit hard by rising inflation and more often is unable to cope with the steep increase in the cost of essential services such as food, health, water and electricity.

Without government support and strong social safety nets, old people’s homes face a daunting task for survival.

As noted by the superintended of Melfort Old People’s Home, Mr. Daniel Francis, “the dependence on donor support is not sustainable. As an institution, we are working towards self-reliance and to achieve that goal, we have embarked on a number of self-help projects that are already assisting us in feeding the 20 elderly people in our care, while selling the surplus for income.”

“The projects include fish farming, goat rearing, rabbit husbandry, horticulture and maize farming,” said Mr. Francis.

Integrating livestock, aquaculture and crop farming has enabled Melfort Old People’s Home to achieve sustainable agro-ecological production that has resulted in the preservation of soil biodiversity and soil fertility through the recycling of nutrients and organic matter.

Besides providing nutritious benefits to the old people at the institution, fish is playing a particularly effective role in the recycling of nutrients at the home. Mr. Francis say they are using pond water for crops watering and livestock wastes as feed and fertilizer for the fish.

These various activities are also providing the elderly with activities to keep them occupied and reduce boredom.

Mr. Francis also highlighted how the old people’s home is planning to revive a chicken rearing project that used to provide meat and eggs for the elderly at the home and also add a piggery component by the end of the year if all goes well.

The projects running at the moment, are enabling the home to reach nearly 50 percent of their needs and the plan is to reach 100 percent by 2022. 

Mr. Francis said this while receiving rabbits from Mrs. Sonia Thurnhofer from the Swiss Embassy in Harare – a personal donation set to improve the nutritional status of the people at the home.

Rabbits have significant potential to improve the food security of families around the world and Mrs. Thurnhofer pointed out that they are a relatively simple enterprise, which can produce modest income and help upgrade the diet of the old people at the home with minimal input and labour costs.

“Rabbit husbandry is a good example of how the vulnerable elderly can obtain protein and income with minimal investment,” said Mrs. Thurnhofer.