The Sunday Mail
Recently, Mrs Wendy Madzura assumed a top post as Seed Co Zimbabwe Division head of agronomy. The position sees her impart technical information to farmers to enable them attain good yields in the wake of threats brought by climate change such as inadequate or excessive rains. Our Gender and Community Editor Fatima Bulla spoke to Mrs Madzura on her latest appointment and related issues. Read on.
Question: Congratulations on assuming such an influential position at Seed Co, can you outline your major duties?
Answer: The major duties are in the field where I must be three quarters, if not most of my time. The farmers and crops are my responsibility. I provide information to the farmers every time, be it issues of chemical use or technical expertise.
Q: Agronomy is traditionally a male- dominated field; how did you venture into this profession?
A: My journey started when I studied Agronomy at Midlands State University. I have always liked biology as a subject, that is, the biology of plants or agricultural issues. Also, as a result of career guidance, I realised that I had a potential to excel in agronomy because there are few women in that field. It was a matter of breaking the boundaries. Agronomy is a predominantly male field because of the nature of the job. There is too much physical field work which is time-consuming. Half the time, I get home after 6pm and have to balance with family needs.
Q: How did you then make it on the job market?
A: I did my work-related learning or attachment at Tobacco Research Board, where I mostly specialised in tobacco for one and a half years. That is where I learnt a lot about tobacco production and how to make presentations to farmers on various issues concerning the crop. I should say it was at TRB where I was well groomed. Just before graduating at MSU, I applied for a graduate trainee job that had been advertised at Zimbabwe Fertiliser Company (ZFC) and was successful in 2011. I worked at ZFC as a graduate trainee for two years. Upon completion I was appointed head office agronomist.
Q: What were your duties there?
A: I was more into the agro-chemical side. Farmers would inquire on chemical-related problems and that is where we came in. Some needed advice. It was more like a clinic or consultancy room. In December 2017 I joined Seed Co as the Eastern Cluster commercial agronomist covering Mashonaland East, Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and Masvingo provinces. This time I was full-time in the field. farmers and crops became my everyday life.
Q: With the time you are spending in the field, you have a direct experience with the effects of climate change on farming activities, are the farmers aware of the changing weather trends as a result of this phenomenon?
A: Climate change, to most farmers, was initially a myth because they had not come face to face with its effects. But now it is a reality. The seasons have shifted; there are false starts to the various seasons; sometimes there is premature termination of the season and mid-season droughts are now prolonged. The farmers now know that there is need to adopt other farming techniques, otherwise they will be found wanting. Interestingly, they have quickly shown their willingness to adapt to the weather changes.
Q: What practices are they adopting to manoeuvre through this climate catastrophe?
A: Some with capacity are installing irrigation facilities, but that comes at a cost. Some are starting to appreciate the importance of diversifying by growing different crops. Traditionally, we had crops like small grains, which were grown in marginalised areas or in Ecological Region Four and Five because of the low rainfall. But now, low rainfall patterns are being experienced even in areas of previous high rainfall and we have farmers there taking up small grains.
The farmers are also adopting some climate smart farming practices like conservation agriculture, zero tillage or minimum tillage. This helps in harvesting water. Water harvesting is important now that we don’t know how much water we will be receiving. As such, the little water that the farmers are getting should be harvested for future use.
Q: At Seed Co, how are you directly dealing with these issues affecting farmers?
A: We believe building relationships is good for both the farmer and our organisation. This is because the farmer learns the modern genetics and new innovations that we are introducing and we try to increase productivity on their enterprises.
We really want to alleviate hunger and contribute to the increase in production, yield levels and sustainable agriculture. We also promote climate smart seed varieties that we have and are resistant in drought conditions. There is no seed which is said not to yield completely. We try at all costs to have varieties that are resistant for the longest possible time provided they are well handled at critical stages. We are also breeding varieties that are short and mid-term seasoned that, in the event that our season is short, we still have something to produce. We are driven to ensure that food security in that aspect is ensured.
We also take on board successful farmers in various areas and capacitate them to teach fellow farmers on how to increase production levels. We believe that if we grow from grassroots levels we can increase national output. For instance, current average maize yields are about 900kg per hectare and if we teach our farmers to grow the right varieties, maize harvest can reach 15 tonnes per hectare.
We want farmers to maximise yields through adoption of good agronomic practices which entail fertiliser use, efficiency, weed control, pest identification and their control.
They must understand principles of production which include seed population levels, planting dates and yield levels. Further, we are doing thought-leadership programmes generating a lot of literature that we circulate over different platforms. Then there are demonstration plots, where farmers are given inputs and technical assistance so that their fields are used to show the various capabilities.
Q: The issue of food security is currently a priority of the Government owing to various challenges, be they adverse weather patterns or lack of foreign currency to import food supplies. You are basically involved in an area to do with improving food security, how do you feel about this?
A: It weighs a lot on the shoulders. It is such a huge responsibility and you find that whatever you do, as an agronomist, you need to be precise. If you give the wrong information, a farmer might lose his or her crop. So it is a challenge to know that you make decisions that have a direct bearing to the nation’s food security.
Q: You earlier mentioned that half the time you get home after 6pm having had a tiresome day in the field, how do you manage to dedicate time to your family?
A: I have two children aged six and three years. So, it is not easy being a woman who works in a male-dominated field, which needs one to apply more effort to show they can match their counterparts. Sometimes when I get home, I might be saddled with preparing a presentation, responses to farmers’ issues on a social media platform or prepare responses to farmers’ inquiries. This must be done within the same time I must be preparing food for the family. So it is not easy, but with dedication and commitment, I always see myself sailing through the tide.
Q: Finally, what is your encouragement for women intending to take the agronomy profession?
A: For women, agronomy is a field that has a lot of room to excel. Women have always been the pillar in farming, in our traditional societies, and I think they can make it as agronomists.