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Health & Nutrition

ZET Blog: Farming Practice Crisis

My people perish for lack of knowledge!

An ever-widening knowledge gap in the unsustainable farming practices of most Zimbabwean farmers, who are mainly small-scale, has not only left the stewards of the land bound in shackles of poverty, but also in its wake ugly wounds which resonate deep into Mother Nature’s core. As a consequence of oblivion, emphasis has been placed on crop performance with a disregard to the holistic farming principles which fairly encompass the entire agro-ecosystem. The substandard yields over the past years have been exacerbated by significant postharvest losses and chemical giants whose hands only extend beyond the counter, leaving the illiterate farmer to fend for themselves with a cocktail of poisons and a shrunken wallet. This only highlights the redundancy of an approach to a livelihood of nearly three quarters of the populace.

Tradition and culture have been a major driving force of the farming practices implemented. Growing up with ties to a rural farming background, it was and regrettably still is common doctrine that, “the deeper the plough the more bounteous the harvest”, or “the burning of savannah and crop residues are the best form of land preparation. It was only through the lens of education that I saw the deleterious effects of ploughing, overgrazing and deforestation, the agents of erosion, as they peeled the land bare layer by layer, while the erratic rains swept away the remnants of soil structure and integrity, leaving more rocks to harvest than food. Through the same lens I saw that in the heat of a losing battle with pests, weeds and diseases, the unmindful mass destruction of the defenceless soil biota through both the judicious and negligent toxic chemical applications which accumulate, not only left some the field’s barren but also incapacitated to sustain life. They don’t know any better, but what are those of us who have been enlightened doing about it?

According to statistics, 68% of the Zimbabwean population live in rural areas, while 70% of the rural population is reliant on agriculture for food and income. More than a third of the national population is undernourished! Let’s momentarily forget the potential profitability of farming as a business and look at these producers who can’t feed themselves and their families, how then can we expect them to feed a growing nation? When traced back to the root of the problem, it all leads to knowledge deficiency. If the critical questions of: what to grow, when to grow it, how to profitably grow it, have been asked then they have evidently gone unanswered. Whose responsibility is it to answer these questions? What is your trade dear sir/madam? What part are you playing in society, and are you giving back or you are just taking?

It comes as no surprise that 72% of the nation is subject to a life under the dark cloud of the poverty datum line. A widespread pandemic of the crippling dependency syndrome has swept through the country and corrupted the mind-sets of many. The longer people spend on their knees with palms open for donations, the more intimately they will know poverty as a loyal companion. When aid becomes a lifeline, its demerits are apparent when it arrives untimely or if at all. I am an advocate of charitable work, but only in the right context. Is it out of love or convenience when you give away those faded second hand clothes? Does anyone think about the vendor trying to make an honest living when containers of free food are donated to a village?

When I close my eyes I picture poverty as a mountainous mound of interlocked padlocks. One man cannot untangle it. Each lock represents the individual member of the community. I strongly believe the way to tackle poverty is by equipping the people down to community level with the right key. Ultimately it is up to the discretion of the individual to free themselves or to remain shackled, but no one can do it for them. Donations kill desire. Teach a man a skill instead, something he can bequeath to his children. That is charity in action, it is sustainable, it requires effort and interaction, and it shows love!

Climate-conscious agriculture is that key and it has never been more relevant for an agrarian people living in times of threatening climate shifts. To lead the poor out of poverty, it is necessary to meet them where they are. Imagine an all-inclusive, low-input, harmonious and forgiving farming system that not only heals the land with every season, but produces healthy, chemical-free and nutrient dense food in abundance, creates sustainable employment, self-worth and purpose. That almost takes us back to the Garden of Eden where there was oneness between man and all creation, and it was good! We ought to discard our habits for a moment and learn something from this model of farming void of any disc harrows or boom sprayers. Conservation agriculture and organic farming are systems that come close to that picture. They can be tailor-made to synergise the successful indigenous practices with the latest scientific advances to create specific systems that optimally leverage the available resources in almost any environment. I believe more of our efforts and resources should be in support of entities that teach this way of farming and more research should be done to improve on what we already know. That sounds like a legacy worthy to be passed on to the future generation.

While the United Nations are encouraging the development of small-scale organic farm, a mere 56% of the total arable land in Zimbabwe is in use, predominantly under conventional farming. The silver lining is that nearly half of the land in the country has had a chance to heal and restore. As an optimist I see this as a unique opportunity for us to rebrand and elevate ourselves as an organic nation, where farming is a noble profession and farmers not only grow enough for themselves, but have enough left over to sell and make a living. This is very possible, but it requires enlightenment and a willingness to change among the Zimbabwean community and the policy makers.

Written by Moses Mhindurwa, Foundations for Farming Volunteers
Edited by Hannah O’Riordan, ZET Operations Manager


ZET Blog: Government Action on the Environment

The government of Zimbabwe has recently been very aware of the need to protect the environment and minimise the severity of the carbon footprint indented by the country’s populous, and has taken various steps to enshrine environmental protections in law. Environmental reform is essential, not just in supporting national and international sustainable development plans, but also in leading to a wave of socioeconomic reforms which create an opportunity to considerably reduce poverty.

Zimbabwe underwent a constitutional reform process which allowed environmental issues to be included into the country’s supreme law. Before this reform, the constitution lacked any clear articulation on how the country was to conserve, use and share the benefits of natural resources. Now, the National Environmental Policy and Environmental Management Act have been introduced to facilitate the sustainable management of natural resources at both local and national levels.

The Environmental Management Act aims to: facilitate sustainable management of natural resources, protect the environment from pollution or degradation, and initiate future plans for the management and protection of the environment. These objectives align with the constitution, creating an environment in which future generations can enjoy their right to a clean, healthy, safe environment. This policy also creates a platform for sustainable national development, whilst reducing climate change.

The mainstreaming of biodiversity into regional, national and international development frameworks has proved complex, as it involves finding strategies to maximise the benefits of biodiversity and minimise its loss through all productive sectors – including agriculture, fisheries, forestry, tourism and mining.

The Wildlife Act is one of many legislations which have lobbied for and made moves towards outlawing the consumptive use of wildlife in Zimbabwe, and protecting biodiversity. There have been efforts to protect endangered elephants and rhinos for decades, indicating the massive divide in perceptions between the government and the people when it comes to the value of natural resources and wildlife in local communities. Governments need to support rural people to connect with natural resources in their area, and foster a sense of stewardship for these resources on the basis of genuine local ownership. In time, this stewardship must translate into institution-building, for a more comprehensive protection and management structure of the environment, wildlife and natural resources.

The need for a global water management review has gathered momentum since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Water sector reforms in Zimbabwean law have been initiated to respond to the increasingly complex and unsustainable current water management structure. As global momentum on this issue increases, sub-Saharan Africa has placed much emphasis on reform to watershed management, and Zimbabwe is no exception. The government have now classified the environment as a legitimate ‘user’ of water supplies in Zimbabwe. This has led to protections on the environment’s water supply – tackling pollution and providing populations with clean and safe water, which has clear and immediate benefits for population health and also benefits agricultural activities.

It seems the government is beginning to take clear and tangible steps towards sustainable development, environmental protection and natural resource management – with immediate and long-term benefits to citizens and to the environment. Of course, more work is needed both from this government and from international actors.

Written by Kudakwashe Kutesera (Foundations for Farming)
Edited by Hannah O’Riordan (Operations Manager – Zimbabwe Educational Trust)

If you would like to write for ZET Blog, please contact Hannah O’Riordan at contact@zimbabweeducationaltrust.org.uk

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