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Mutare — “We have fully embraced this project, although not everyone is willing to join we are confident this time if the rains fall we will have a better yield,” said Clement Bvuma, a rural subsistence farmer from Mutasa central constituency.
Bvuma was commenting on Pfumvudza, a government backed scheme aimed at boosting crop yields through conservation farming and driving sustainable livelihoods for rural farmers through income from selling surpluses and cash crops.
“Once they have seen us getting good produce that we can keep for food and also sell, I am confident that more people will join as they will see benefits for themselves,” said Bvuma.
As Bvuma made these comments he, together with fellow villagers, were waiting for delivery of their first quota of seed and chemicals from the local Mutasa Rural District Council, Hauna business centre.
Government is promoting adoption of the farming concept aimed at climate-proofing the agriculture sector based on three main principles minimum soil disturbance, crop rotation and use of mulch to boost productivity.
Relying on minimal tillage this technique is credited to Foundations for Farming, which introduced a crop production intensification programme as a sustainable way of concentrating resources on a smaller piece of land.
Foundations for Farming is Zimbabwean based organization started by a white farmer Brian Oldreive aimed at bringing transformation to individuals, communities and nations through faithful and productive use of land.
The concept, a practical and viable solution for local subsistence farmers, reduces labor demand, boosts productivity from low investment and provides extra income.
Pfumvudza adheres to conservation farming principles of minimum soil disturbance techniques, farmers only till or dig holes where they will be planting their seeds and leave the rest of the land undisturbed.
Mulching helps to conserve moisture and suppress weeds during the summer season and also ensures that as mulch decomposes it acts as manure to promote soil structure improvement while providing nutrients to the plant.
The technique also emphasizes on utilizing manageable small land plots to enable farmers to effectively provide supplementary irrigation during dry spells.
For maximum benefits, crops are planted timely with adequate preparatory activities, which require minimum mechanization, as it includes digging of planting basins by hoes before the start of a rainy season.
Tackling climate change, food insecurity
With Sub-Sahara Africa exposed to shocks due to the effects of climate change, frequent droughts and limited precipitation, Zimbabwe has not been spared resulting in the country experiencing serious food deficits.
In response to climate change induced droughts and perennial food shortages leading to food insecurity which compound vulnerabilities of rural communties, government has introduced the conservation framing technique.
Subsistence farmers like Bvuma, across the country have eagerly embraced the concept.
In the vernacular Shona dialects Pfumvudza translates to a new season, when the cornucopia of flowering flora and fauna not only signify the coming of a farming season, but represent sessional regeneration.
Perhaps the name itself, which inspires hope, is reason why the initiative has been embraced in Marira Village in Mutasa central Ward 19, by ninety five (95) families in a settlement of 203 households.
Subsistence farmers from Marira communal area in Mutasa central, a village southeast of Mutare along the Nyanga highway, are amongst more than a million farmers who have received training in the new farming concept nationally.
Village head, James Marira says it’s the successive droughts and a deteriorating macroeconomic environment that has pushed villagers to pledge selling two thirds of their produce to the GMB.
He said unlike previous programs that have been tainted by politicians, this was open to all villagers who wanted participate and boost their family yields.
“We have had one bad season after the other, so we are ready to even try the new farming techniques because government is giving us the seed and teaching us how to do produce more,” said Marira.
“This is a government program that was open for all despite political affiliation so many people want to attempt and see how the program goes, others preferred not join for their own reasons.”
Zimbabwe already ravaged by prevailing macroeconomic instability, has received erratic rainfall over the years due to climate change, which has also increased occurrence of natural disasters, leading to food insecurity.
In the 2019/20 agricultural season Zimbabwe only produced 1.1 million metric tons of maize, of the staple cereal, a significant reduction of last year’s 2.4 million metric tons- less than half the national requirement.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped matters, according to the World Food Program (WFP), 8.6 million Zimbabweans (or 60 percent of total the population) are projected to be food insecure by the end of 2020.
Government is pinning its hopes on this innovative farming concepts under the Agriculture Recovery Plan being spearheaded to guarantee food self-sufficiency and commercialize smallholder agriculture.
Dr John Bhasera, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, recently said the program will seek to reverse combined effects of drought and economic recession and spur growth of the rural economy.
He says at least 715 000 farmers countrywide have been trained for the conservation farming, while mobilisation of input suppliers and manufacturers has been confirmed in readiness for the 2020 summer cropping season.
Dr Bhasera said the Presidential Inputs scheme will also leverage on the ‘new farming technique’ as it will prioritize farmers who would have adopted the Pfumvudza concept.
“So far 715 000 farmers have been trained on Pfumvudza. We have had an overwhelming response to the concept. There is tremendous progress on such critical activities such as holing out (preparing planting basins), mulch harvesting, liming and manure accumulation,” he said.
“Farmers will be able to be food self-sufficient with surplus contributing towards the strategic grain reserve. We are promoting farming as a business.
“For optimum benefits, planting on the food security plot should be done timely and this requires adequate preparatory activities that include digging of planting basins before the start of the season and timely acquisition of inputs,” said Dr Bhasera
“The early land preparation allows the farmer to plant their crop with the first effective rains. To allow for supplementary watering or irrigation, the food security plots should, where possible, be placed near water sources.
“It is encouraged that farmers prepare two plots, one for cereals (maize or small grains) and one for legumes thus providing a protein source to complement the cereal,” Bhasera said.
Government has trained more than one million farmers across the country have on the new concept, with most of them already carrying out land preparations for the 2020-21 summer cropping season.
The government is targeting to produce 3.6 million tons of the staple maize in the 2020/21 agricultural season, double the country’s annual grain requirement of 1.8 million tons for both human and livestock consumption.
For Bvuma and other villagers who have joined Pfumvudza, their fervent prayer is for the rains to come early this year.
“We are only now praying for the rains to come early because if they do we are going to yield plenty. I am positive next year there will be many more people seeking to join the program,” said Bvuma.