Respect began by forming two youth groups whose purpose was to get youth out of poverty. He then started a similar group that revolved around training youth in topics of agriculture, climate change, and entrepreneurship. With 14 acres of land received from local leaders and a grant of $5,000 from Global Entrepreneurship Week Zimbabwe, Respect founded CASL Trust (the Center for Agro Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Livelihoods Trust).
Respect is from a region that receives erratic and inadequate rainfall. While the farmers are eager, and have great soil to work with, they often lack entrepreneurial and technical agriculture skills, information, sustainable markets, and capital. Under Respect’s continued leadership, CASL Trust assists smallholder and family farmers, with special attention given to young farmers and women farmers. Once they began to gain recognition for their work, a generous grant of $50,000 from Global Environment Facilities development program allowed them to develop their facilities to include training and conference facilities, an agricultural library with internet facility, twenty greenhouses, fish ponds, and piggery, poultry, and apiary facilities. Additionally, the organization offers a nine-month training for youth in Sustainable Agricultural Entrepreneurship, Agro-ecology and Natural Resources Management.
Respect found out about EARTH while researching sustainable agricultural practices to use in his community. Unlike most EARTH students, Respect worked for many years before coming to the University. Once he began to read about EARTH, he knew it was the ideal place for him to learn and grow. Due to stiff competition and scarcity of scholarships, Respect applied for four years in a row until he was accepted. “Every year I just applied again. I didn’t change my story.” Recently, when asked what he would have done had he not been admitted, he replied, “I would have applied again!”
At the age of 32, Respect is one of EARTH’s older students, but he doesn’t see this as a problem. “For me it’s not an issue because I know who I am, I know my problems. During the interview they told me most of the students are ages 17 to 22. But coming from a background of youth development it’s not hard for me. I knew my vision and mission and I knew I could integrate.” With his acceptance, EARTH gained a student who had already been involved at a significant level in his community.This year, Respect worked with a few other EARTH students to design a solar dryer system appropriate for use in his community. “In my local community and many communities we are losing up to 40% of food. We don’t always have proper facilities for processing. Sometimes the market is flooded, and sometimes people have difficulty transporting their food to the market.” They based the design of what came to be known as the Smart Villages Solar Dryer Kiosk on solar dryers used on the organic farm at EARTH. “I wanted to take the idea and integrate it with some ideas from my community. I asked myself, ‘What type of resources do we have in our community that can enable us to use such a solar dryer?’”. In 2018, the Smart Villages Solar Dryer Kiosk was a recipient of the Green Innovators Award Zimbabwe.
Building upon this idea, Respect and CASL Trust recently started ECO-CONNECT, a social food processing company offering a product portfolio of dehydrated, nutritious, natural and affordable food using vegetables, fruit, and tea from the local communities. ECO-CONNECT works with various groups of smallholder farmers, youth, women, and people living with HIV/AIDS, setting up solar dyers in rural villages, buying agricultural produce from smallholder farmers and community groups, solar drying the produce, and selling the products under their brand name.Respect lights up when he talks about working in Costa Rica’s local communities. “The learning by doing aspect of EARTH is really helping me. Last year I was able to spend a week in San Carlos doing an internship at a dairy cooperative that is working with Costa Rica’s largest dairy products producer. After spending one week at the farm I felt I needed to learn more, so I returned to the farm during vacation and learned about how they work with the local community, how they treat their water, and how they produce electricity. I want to take the best ideas and bring them back to my community, to expand them, and to understand better what I had been reading and learning on my own before coming to EARTH.”
Respect is clear about his plans after graduation. “Going back home is a must. I want to continue the work of CASL Trust and continue with new initiatives to help my community.” He understands the importance of bringing expertise and education to his rural area. “In Zimbabwe right now we are one of the poorest in Africa in terms of literacy and education. I need to have a higher level of education then go back home and keep working on all of my initiatives. At some point I want to get a master’s degree in Agricultural Economics. There are not enough people with a high level of expertise in our communities. I want to take what I learn and bring it back home. I want to continue to take a leading role in the agricultural and social transformation of my community.”
Respect reflected on his time at EARTH so far. “Since I came here I am seeing and doing what I was only just reading about over the internet. Now I am getting the knowledge from an academic and scientific point of view. This is one of my greatest life opportunities. I am at the right place at the right time.”