The Sunday Mail
Smallholder innovations have always intrigued me, more so in the wake of changing climatic conditions.
Since time immemorial, smallholders have adapted to the vagaries of climate variability with varying degrees of success.
My quest for understanding smallholder innovations in a changing climatic environment has led me to criss-cross rural Zimbabwe.
An opportunity to study smallholders’ adaptation to climate in Musana came when I visited Bindura market and was bowled over by the resilience of the farmers I saw. I decided to visit them in their ward in the Musana communal lands and what I saw was fascinating, this is what I present in this story.
I boarded a lift in Bindura to Musana. As the vehicle roared off, the aroma of roast meat wafted from behind me. I was not sure who was carrying the roast meat. The mystery was soon solved when a young man shouted, “Pane achada chihuta?”(Is there anyone who wants to buy a roast quail?)
I decided to engage the young man in a conversation about the nutritional benefits of quails.
He waxed lyrical about how a relative of his recovered from a debilitating ailment after eating zvihuta. It was not for me to doubt the authenticity of his story, the best I could do was to nod in agreement. That paid off handsomely as I was offered a bird for free.
I have always considered hygiene a top priority in my life.
The way the zvihuta were packaged cannot be said to have been the best of hygienic practices. But the opportunity for a free chihuta meal got the better of me and the bird was soon history.
The young man’s maize crop was a write-off because of drought, therefore, selling zvihuta was an adaptive strategy to climate. I thanked him and then got off the lift when I arrived at Chikono Village which falls under Chief Musana’s jurisdiction.
I was welcomed by Admire Chakanetsa, my research assistant, who took me to the affable Christopher Mushonga, the secretary of Muunganirwa-Chakona Irrigation Scheme in Ward 14.
Mr Mushonga walked me through the history of the irrigation scheme. The irrigation scheme, which has 64 members, was launched in 2002.
The scheme was partially sponsored by the European Union which contributed 25 percent of the funds. The members weighed in with 75 percent of the funding. They were wary of the perils of over-reliance on donor funding.
Donor aid, like a hammock, lulls able-bodied people into a perennial state of dependency and complacency.
This is a project whose destiny is in the hands of the local people. The project not only addresses the smallholders’ needs but it empowers them as well. The irrigation scheme demonstrates the smallholders’ relentless experimentation, they experiment with various seed varieties and stagger their planting dates.
The villagers have experimented with fish farming and the results have been astounding. Fish farming has improved food security of the smallholder farmers. Most of the fish harvested is shared among the smallholders and at times the fish is sold locally.
The smallholders also engage in market gardening. They sell the vegetables in Bindura and Harare. However, the farmers are facing stiff competition from A1 farmers. The members of the irrigation scheme mostly grow tomatoes and kale. Some of the crops in the garden include sugarcane, maize and sweet potatoes. The smallholders also planted mango, guava and avocado fruit trees.
Mr Moses Muunganirwa (the chairman) and the Mushonga brothers showed me the work they are doing in the garden.
After my tour of the garden, Mr Mushonga suggested that we see their water source, the Nyamapinga stream that flows from Nyandiya Mountain.
I agreed and soon discovered that mountain hiking is not for the faint-hearted. As the path became steeper, I began to stagger like a punch-drunk pugilist.
However, I was determined to get to Nyamapinga stream. After about 30 minutes we got to there. At last I could afford a smile, after all I had made it. The scenery was breathtaking.
Could this be the last Shangri-La? James Hilton would have happily answered the question.
Mr Mushonga narrated how through trial and error he managed to harness the force of gravity to get water to the irrigation scheme and I could not help but admire his determination and creativity.
He bought a 1 500m pipe to carry the water to the garden.
His story demonstrates that experimentation is a pursuit of many dead ends. It took him time to discover the right formulae to harness the water and as the saying goes, discovery is a matter of thirst for adventure. Such thirst for adventure is of critical importance as the human footprint on the environment continues to increase.
Anthropogenic climate change is occurring rapidly with catastrophic effects on human populations especially those who live on the margins of survival.
Relentless experimentation is at the heart of smallholders’ adaptation to climate variability. It is imperative that smallholder innovations co-evolve with the changing climatic environment. During my tour of duty in rural Zimbabwe, I have witnessed smallholders who have conjured ingenious ways of adapting to a changing climatic environment.
Most of the interventions I have seen are premised on water harvesting. However, water harvesting has its own limits — one can only harvest water when it rains. Thus, there are no easy answers and no single solution to complex problems such as climate change.
In as much as water harvesting is not a blockbuster solution to the adverse effects of climate change, Nathanael Johnson says, “It is part of the larger solution. This sort of transformation, writ large, can cushion climate crises”. It is in this background that the water harvesters from Musana give us a sense of hope.
As I was reflecting on my visit on my way back to Bindura, I was disturbed by an un-laid back fellow traveller hurling insults at an elderly woman taking her produce to the Bindura market.
The bone of contention was that the elderly woman’s produce had taken most of the space on the seat they were sharing. Resultantly, the fellow passenger could not carry all his produce to the market.
Smallholders face a suite of challenges that include lack of transport, depressed markets, accessing inputs and climate variability.
In the midst of these many challenges, Professor Mike Hulme says the question we should ask ourselves is: “What can climate change do for us?”