The Sunday News
IT is a Wednesday afternoon in Kurura Village 60km from Gokwe Town and Ms Fumisani Sibanda (42) is heading home from her fields where she has been working since morning.
Ms Sibanda lives in Gokwe South, the second largest district in Zimbabwe. The main economic activity in the district is agriculture.
Like many farmers in the district, she depends on natural rainfall to grow her crops.
For years, Ms Sibanda and other women in her community have been growing bambara nuts (nyimo/indlubu) in their small fields, as they know that the crop is highly nutritious and drought resistant.
Like many women in the community, she has been growing this crop as a cultural norm for preparing (inkobe/mutakura) which is a mixture of boiled grains of maize with bambara nuts or groundnuts/cowpeas.
At one point in time, Ms Sibanda had a huge bambara nuts harvest. She tried to sell her excess crop but she got little money from the sales due to unavailability of reliable markets in the area.
She, however, did not lose hope and continued growing the crop. This time she did not intend to sell the crop but for family consumption.
Two years ago, the Agriculture Business Centre (ABC) a sustainable social enterprise that has been created in Gokwe South by a German Non-Governmental Organisation Welthungerhilfe and Empretec Zimbabwe started promoting the development of bambara nuts value chain with the view of commercialising it.
ABC is contracting smallholder farmers especially women to grow bambara nuts in the district and provide a good market for the crop.
During the 2020-21 farming season more than 200 smallholder farmers were contracted to grow indlubu in the district.
Ms Sibanda said the coming in of ABC in the area brought huge relief to the community as many smallholder farmers have been facing market challenges.
“l feel the initiative is a welcome development in our community. For decades we have been growing this crop but we did not have the market for it. ABC is providing a ready market for the crop,” she said.
A combination of factors are to blame for the low production of bambara nuts in the district. They were considered a women’s crop as it has over the years been planted by females for family consumption at household level.
Women farmers therefore continue to play a critical role in agricultural development as they seek to make profit for the sustenance of their families.
Traditionally, patriarchy dictates that land ownership in the rural communities is skewed towards men. This means that the produce from the field belongs to men despite women labouring in the field for many hours.
As a mother of two, Ms Sibanda said: “By default men are the owners of the crops that are produced in those fields.
They also decide how the proceeds are used at home leaving women with no alternative source of income.
“A lot of women in our community are economically dependent on men although they work harder than men both in the fields and at home.”
Harvesting over 1 200kgs in the 2020/21 cropping season, she has managed to buy solar panels for her home and pay fees, two semesters in advance for one of her children at a tertiary institution.
ABC general manager Mr Vernon Mushoriwa said women smallholder farmers in Gokwe South would soon have financial independence and a huge source of income after ABC contracted them to produce bambara nuts. They have provided them with a ready market for the produce.
Another farmer from Charama Cross, Ms Sarah Madhadha narrated how she and other women have been barter-trading their crop with little profit.
She said traders would come to their area and they exchanged the bambara nuts for kitchen utensils, second-hand clothes and at times groceries.
Ms Madhadha said the traders would take the produce to Bulawayo and Harare where bambara nuts fetched higher prices.
She said: “Bambara nuts is the only crop that we can sell freely as women. I feel empowered as l am now able to sell my produce to ABC without any hustle, they have various buying points in our area where we just deliver and we are paid instantly.”
Ms Madhadha said women welcomed the initiative as it was going to bring lasting solutions to the financial problems they have been facing over the years.
She said most smallholder farmers could not afford to transport their crops as the small quantities that these women produced was not worth transporting to bigger markets hence the middlemen would collect from various farmers and transport bigger quantities to bigger markets.
Ms Memory Nyamukumba, a young farmer who is based in Chigadza area, said she managed to buy various kitchen utensils, pay school fees for her children and improve her family life after selling bambara nuts to ABC during the 2019/20 farming season.
ABC agricultural extension officer responsible for the development of the bambara nuts value chain Mr Peter Machinya said: “For many years bambara nuts production has been side-lined for various reasons. Farmers have produced little or insignificant quantities to be marketed, unavailability of certified seeds among other reasons.
“Bambara nuts must be planted early with the first rains, we have been facing challenges with men who want to prioritise other crops such as maize and cotton ahead of bambara nuts when the first rains come.”
He said they were delighted that there had been a shift as men were now appreciating the importance of planting bambara nuts early to have meaningful yields.
Mr Machinya narrated that a lot of men have seen that bambara nuts have the potential of competing with other cash crops if properly managed adding that field selection was another important factor hindering the mass production of bambara nuts.
“Bambara nuts have to be planted on lands which are free from nematodes and witchweed to produce meaningful yields, this can only be achieved if crop rotation is respected,” he said.
Gokwe South District Agronomist, Mrs Nancy Manembveana said women have increased the area where they grow bambara nuts to get extra income to sustain their livelihoods.
“They used to grow it (bambara nuts) on a small piece of land. But now they have increased the areas so that they harvest higher tonnage for selling. Women have been empowered to take farming as a business through bambara nuts cropping,” she said.
Village headman, Mr Joseph Mugavha said the initiative by ABC was of great importance as it was reducing domestic violence in households.