With the rains now in full swing and the prediction from the Metrological Services Department for above-average rainfall, the 20/21 farming season is now fully underway.
Much is expected of the presidentially endorsed “Pfumvudza” program rolled out by the government to enhance household security and adapt to change in climatic patterns. Farmers in Shashe Agroecological school in Masvingo district are tracing back their roots and tapping into existing known systems of farming. The farmers are putting into practice Agroecology, a conservation agriculture technique that makes use of local resources to promote water and soil conservation whilst promoting household security.
Shashe Agroecological school, is home to 12 families that benefitted from the land reform programme of the early 2000s. The area is located in agro-ecological region five (5), a region categorised by short rainy seasons with precipitation amounts of 650mm or less each season. The hot and dry season lasts for nine to ten months which has a significant negative impact on agricultural produce. The soil is sandy making production of the country’s main staple food, maize a difficult and expensive endeavour. Experts’ advice on the growth of small grains in the area to enhance food security and nutrition. The school was set up to provide a platform for smallholder organic farmers in Zimbabwe in order to contribute to the knowledge pool on Indigenous farming data. It is also a pilot for promoting agroecological practices in Zimbabwe and ensuring food sovereignty and understanding of environmental farming sustainability.
Characteristics of Agroecology.
During the site visit to the school in early December 2020, various agroecological practices were on display on the farms visited. Some of the techniques on show include water harvesting, fish farming, vermiculture, traditional seed multiplication, organic manure, agroforestry, nutritional gardens, soil conservation, integrated crop and livestock production amongst a host of other methodologies. Farmers also shared insights as to how they managed to successfully implement their practices with similar blueprints for other farming enthusiasts.
Water and soil conservation water and soil are quintessential elements in agroecology. It is therefore very important for farmers practising agroecology to conserve water and soil for better crop production and yields.
Make use of available small spaces in Agroecology every piece of land is utilized to be productive. Smaller pieces of land offer the farmer greater room to experiment on crop varieties for better on-site data gathering.
Mixed variety of food sources are crucial in providing nutrient-rich diets. Farmers are encouraged to have more than one food source on their land to ensure they have adequate nutrition sources. Nutritional gardens, small livestock production, agroforestry and herb gardens are all indicators of thriving agro-ecological land-use practices.
Communication between farmers is key in gathering data and improving farming methods. Farmers share successes and disparities during the cropping season so as to come up with best practices and approaches that ensure greater yields on their land.
Use of organic inputs. Most of the inputs on an agroecological land are found locally. Farmers make use of manure, mulch, locally produced indigenous seed and natural pest repellents to keep their produce healthy and free of disease and pests.
Some of the key outcomes achieved by farmers in Shashe Agro-Ecological School include
Nutrition based diets through the promotion of traditional small grains over other grains such as maize.
Increased food variety through the promotion of intercropping and livestock production.
Increased seed varieties through the creation of seed banks.
all farmers in Shashe had a seed archive/bank which served educate other stakeholders of what they are producing on the farms.
Seed storage and creation of on-field data on the performance of techniques used and yields achieved.
Improved water and soil conservation techniques.
Increased awareness of agroecology practices to surrounding farmers.
Mainstreaming of youth and gender issues within the agroecological practice.
Increased interest and participation in agroecological practices within the district
Improved ecosystem health through improved land-use practices.
Improved partnerships between farmers, extension officers and organisations.
Increased number of practising farmers.
Improved resilience and less reliance on hybrids and donor aid.
Challenges and gaps
From the interactions with the farmers, they noted the need to introduce localized mechanisation equipment to reduce the labour strain.
There is also a need to come up with financing mechanisms to make the practice more bankable and appealing to the private sector.
Convectional agriculture is still very popular amongst most farmers hence the need to embark on more awareness programs and promote agroecology practices.
Agroecology still needs to be mainstreamed in policies as mitigation and adaptation strategy to climate change.
From the site visit, there is still a need to utilise renewable energy in the form of biogas digesters. There is plenty of feed for biogas which can be used as a substitute for wood fuel which is still the dominant source for heat energy in the area.
Furthermore, farmers need to introduce pollinators on-site to promote pollination. Apiculture also serves to provide another source of food and nutrition for the farmers and their families.
There is a need to process and market agroecological produce and commercialise it to turn it into an income-generating endeavour for the farmers.
There is also a greater need to rope in more young farmers to the program and let them utilise their digital skills to help promote agroecological practices.