Digital infrastructure and food systems in rural communities of Zimbabwe
Gwaka, Leon Tinashe
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This study examines the relationship between digital infrastructure and the sustainability of livestock systems in Beitbridge, Zimbabwe. The study aims to answer the question: Do digital infrastructure transformations impact the sustainability of livestock systems in rural communities? By answering this question, the study contributes towards efforts to enhance food security in rural communities, achieve Sustainable Development Goals (1, 2, 5 & 9) at grassroots levels as well as achieve the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation. The study details a digital infrastructure intervention in Beitbridge and applies post-positivist approaches towards the intervention’s impact assessment to develop recommendations on whether digital infrastructure interventions should be prioritized in rural communities towards improving food security. The study was conducted in four villages of Ward 15 in Beitbridge and the target population were livestock system actors. Using a mixed methods approach, data collection, with the assistance of locally recruited research assistants, was conducted between 2015 and 2018. Qualitative data were collected using community visioning workshops, key informant interviews, focus group discussions and participant observations. Household survey questionnaires were used to gather quantitative data. Data analysis was completed using a mixed methods approach. The first objective of the study, using the Socio-Ecological System framework, was to characterise the livestock system, explore livestock contribution towards household food security and determine the livestock system’s sustainability. The study established that livestock play multiple roles towards household food security contributing to different dimensions of food security. Households sell livestock to generate income to purchase (access) food and include animal source foods in their diets even though different consumption patterns of different livestock species were observed. Apart from this, livestock also play sociocultural roles. However, the study established that the livestock system is fragile, stemming from multiple factors such as poor governance and a lack of appropriate infrastructure. Secondly, using Kleine’s Choice Framework, the study investigated the potential of digital technologies to contribute towards sustainable livestock systems. Study findings suggest that digital technologies can enhance the dimensions of choice of livestock system actors. However, a lack of digital infrastructure inhibits the integration of digital technologies in the livestock system. The potential of these technologies and the fragility of local value chains has however triggered interventions by government and non-governmental organisations including the MOSMAC project in Beitbridge rural.