The Sunday News
Nkosilathi Sibanda, Business Correspondent
FARMERS in Insiza District are on the verge of establishing agroecological projects and seed banks that will ensure that communities in the area are food secure and are able to adapt to the vagaries of climate change.
Close to a 100 smallholder farmers, mostly women, from Ward 22 made the bold move to start seed banks, being buoyed by their bumper harvest from the successful Intwasa/Pfumvudza conservation farming.
Intwasa/Pfumvudza is an age-old agricultural practice but farmers countrywide turned to the technique in the last planting season when the Government embarked on an aggressive awareness drive on the advantages of using the method.
Small grains, which have proved to be ideal for semi-arid regions, make up the bulk of the proposed seed bank.
In a visit to the area last week, Sunday News Business established that farmers in Insiza, Matabeleland South had harvested small grains such as finger millet and sorghum that would last for the next two years. These small grain crops are ranked second as staple cereal crops after maize in the country.
Agronomists in the country are on record advising farmers in the greater part of Matabeleland provinces to concentrate on indigenous small grains. In an interview, Ward 22 headman Mr Nkosiyabo Dladla said although some villagers were hesitant to follow advice from agricultural extension officers, a greater number of them managed to reap record tonnes of crop yields. He said the concept of establishing a seed bank was to ensure that they have enugh grain to last the forthcoming years.
“This is an area that generally receives low rainfall. When we realised that we had more than enough harvest, we consulted the Agritex officers on how best we can start a seed bank. Everyone was asked to contribute a portion of seeds from their fields. We collected the indigenous small grains and what is left is to secure them for the coming seasons. We are aware of climate change and not sure if the rains will be plenty again this year. All of us are prepared for any eventualities, even if we get little rains, we are certain we will have food.”
The idea of a small grains seed bank was borne out of a traditional foods fair that was held at Kombo Clinic in the area.
The farmers in Insiza managed to rope in non-governmental organisations such as Zimbabwe Projects Trust (ZimPro) to create synergies in the sharing of ideas on small grains. In line with promoting the cultivation of small grains, ZimPro organised the traditional food fair to showcase the importance of eating traditional foods and also to motivate farmers elsewhere.
The campaign on small grains was meant to boost household food security and encourage communities to eat healthy, according to ZimPro’s monitoring and evaluation officer Ms Sibonile Ndlovu.
“We did a traditional food fair as a way of encouraging people not to concentrate much on maize. We are promoting small grains because they can withstand the harsh weather, in times when there is little rain. We encourage villagers to plant open-pollinated varieties as opposed to hybrids. We realised that at times farmers do not use small grains because they do not have the knowledge, which is why we came on board with other partners such as the Agritex officers so that we share knowledge. The traditional food fair is a platform where farmers share ideas on the different kinds of foods made from small grains,” she said.
An expert in African traditional culture, Mr Pathisa Nyathi lauded the Insiza farmers for their steadfastness in establishing a community seed bank, saying it was high time smallholder farmers took a lead in encouraging families to eat food prepared from such crops.
Ms Siphethokuhle Dube, a leading farmer in the area said they are planning to visit other dry regions in the country to have an understanding on how best to plant small grains.
“With support from partners we would want to visit areas such as Beitbridge, Masvingo and Lupane so that we learn how they use small grains.”
Ms Dube said it was important for farmers in Ward 22 to have faith in the Intwasa/Pfumvudza concept so that at harvest time, more seeds will be stored.