The Sunday Mail
Theseus Shambare in CHIMANIMANI
“If we let climate change win, it is as good as letting hunger win.”
These thought-provoking words are always on the lips of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Permanent Secretary Dr John Basera, as he emphasises the need for farmers to take a pro-active approach in the face of the imminent El-Niño phenomenon, which is expected to affect the Sadc region.
The Meteorological Services Department (MSD) recently announced that Zimbabwe will receive below normal to normal rainfall, associated with extreme conditions, such as heat waves and dry spells.
“Adaptation, Mitigation, Action (A.M.A) is our hunger armour against the effects of climate fluctuations,” said Dr Basera, while urging farmers to preserve and plant drought resistant crops going into the 2023-2024 summer cropping season.
Promotion of the use of indigenous small grains has been topical due to their superiority in withstanding any form of drought.
However, the seeds were threatened with extinction by the dominance of hybrid maize, both in the fields and on dinner tables.
This dominance has left indigenous small seeds such as millet, cowpeas and sorghum playing small roles in the country’s agricultural sector, despite their greater resilience to weather shocks.
Such seeds also tend to require fewer-to-none of the expensive production inputs required by hybrid maize, for example.
Meanwhile, to preserve and propagate the much-needed grains, Chimanimani small-holder farmers have since established Community-based Seed Banks (CSBs), assisted by the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in partnership with Government.
The project is being funded by the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and implemented by Towards Sustainable Use of Resources Organisation (TSURO).
Farmers use modest buildings in Chanhuwa and Mandidzidze villages to store seeds of a variety of crops, including okra, millet, cassava, sorghum, groundnuts and maize.
Mhakwe District Community Seed bank has also been established to act as back-up for the smaller seed banks.
VSO project manager Mr Simba Guzha said within the CSB, farmers can store seeds, but also exchange them amongst themselves.
“This bartering feature helps to clarify which strains farmers find most useful, for example by offering drought resistance.
“Mainly, though, the seed bank is a hedge against climate risk,” said Mr Guzha.
In case of another natural disaster, Mr Guzha said, farmers will just go to the seed bank and get seeds to sow in their fields.
Mrs Queen Majokwiro, a local farmer in Chanhuwa village, Ward 17, said traditional seed preservation has been fruitful to her household food security and transformed her life.
“The seed bank offers a kind of insurance in case of a crop-destroying natural disaster. Farmers can plant stored seeds to revive their farms.
“Since 2021, my life has been transformed by the use of traditional seeds that do not require synthetic fertilisers,” said Mrs Queen Majokwiro.
Mr Bineloge Nhembo, another farmer in Mandidzidze village said having small grain seed banks closer helps in cutting costs of food production for smallholder farmers.
“Having the seed bank nearby saves the cost of travelling to Mutare, 150 kilometres away, to buy seeds.
“Life has been made easier for us, we thank Government for bringing us such development partners,” said Mr Nhembo.
As an adjunct to running the seed bank, VSO volunteers train farmers in methods to improve yields and reduce risks.
Farmers learn about bokashi fermentation, a process of converting food waste and other organic matter into fertiliser.
“Unlike traditional composting, which involves waiting for organic matter to decompose, bokashi relies on specialist bacteria to speed the conversion of waste into fertiliser.
“Moreover, the bokashi technique allows farmers to put fermented waste matter directly into the soil without waiting for a maturation process,” said Augustine Nzirayegaza, a learning coordinator at TSURO.
He said bokashi fertiliser is weed- and pathogen-free because of the high heat generated within the compost.
“This approach can be up-scaled and implemented in any part of the country and can improve the yield of large tracts of land,” Mr Nzirayegaza said.
In March 2019, a disaster struck the community when Tropical Cyclone Idai swept through the region.
The cyclone affected over 270 000 people, claiming hundreds of human and animal lives.
It left behind a trail of destruction, including vast tracts of unusable land and ruined stores of harvested grains.
“Seed security is food security” has become a common mantra.
The adage is gradually being put into action by promoting the use of indigenous small grains.