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