COMMUNITIES in the arid Insiza District in Matabeleland South province are promoting indigenous small grains and livestock which are threatened with extinction.
The dominance of commercially and scientifically produced seed maize in Zimbabwe has left indigenous small seeds and indigenous livestock with very little significance, despite their greater resilience to weather shocks such as drought, which are occurring with increasing frequency and severity in the country because of the effects of climate change.
Communities in Insiza have fully realised the importance of the dwindling traditional seed varieties and livestock and with the support of the Zimbabwe Project Trust (ZIMPRO) in partnership with Irish Aid and Trocra, the communities have started the promotion of organically produced crops using traditional methods and promotion of crop diversity.
The programme, which is being implemented in four wards in the district, has culminated in locals recently hosting the inaugural seed and animal fairs.
During the fairs, farmers showcased in their respective wards different indigenous small seeds and animals such as cowpeas, sorghum, millet, rabbits, chickens and goats.
ZIMPRO Monitoring and Evaluation Consultant, Mr Lizwe Sibanda, said the main objective of the Insiza programme is to encourage farmers to utilise and access their natural resources to their benefit.
“With specific reference to the seed and livestock fairs, we’re trying as much as possible to encourage farmers to diversify crops. When we’re talking of diversity of crops, we’re saying farmers shouldn’t concentrate on traditional crops such as maize alone, but they should also grow other crops such as groundnuts, cereals like rapoko and sorghum,” said Mr Sibanda.
He said most indigenous seeds showcased at the fairs were harvested by the farmers from the previous agricultural season.
“What is of particular interest and significance is that the farmers are now able to produce their own seed without much costs involved. Of late, farmers have been complaining about the high cost of commercial seed in shops. We encourage farmers to keep the seed for the next agriculture season,” said the monitoring and evaluation expert.
Mr Sibanda said a lot of farmers in the area have been motivated and encouraged to grow traditional seeds.
“Over the years, most farmers here have been relying on the government seed input scheme because they couldn’t afford the exorbitant seed prices in shops. By introducing this programme, we’re actually encouraging farmers to practice seed multiplication in order for them to be self- sufficient and independent,” he said.
ZIMPRO also offers training to the farmers on how to preserve the seeds using traditional ways. The organisation also trains the farmers on how to effectively market their products.
“We encourage the farmers to work in groups. When the farmers are in groups, it’s very easy to train them. We train them on various issues such as marketing, seed preservation, constitution writing as well as on how to run their organisation efficiently,” added Mr Sibanda.
Mr Delma Ndlovu, the director of the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF), said his organisation had partnered with ZIMPRO in the promotion of seed security in rural areas.
“ZIMSOFF is supporting the government’s land reform programme by promoting organic as well African ways of producing food. The name of our organisation resonates well with the government’s land reform programme. Currently, ZIMSOFF is looking at ways through which the government can come up with policies and laws which can support and give farmers the right to plant and re-use their old seed as was previously done,” said Mr Ndlovu.
He said although no one in Zimbabwe has been criminalised for growing indigenous seed, there is a general perception that indigenous seed is inferior and produces sub-standard food.
“Although indigenous seed is despised by many farmers, our observations point to the fact that whenever people use their own seed and use their own kind of food, it gives them the power over food and the control of knowing that they have adequate food throughout the year. This is basically why we started this programme of collecting and identifying those lost species,” said Mr Ndlovu.
ZIMSOFF, which was formed following the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002, also runs similar projects in Bubi District in Matabeleland North province. The organisation also encourages and promotes better organisation, the adoption of sustainable technologies, promotes transformation to add value to the products, the exchange of seeds and the conversion to organic farming.
The ZIMSOFF director said in some instances, the programme is facing stiff resistance from the youths.
“We’re battling to introduce this programme. The youths are refusing to embrace it because they regard traditional food as inferior. The youths should fully participate in this programme because they represent our future,” he said.
Mr Ndlovu bemoaned what he described as lack of respect for the agriculture sector in the country.
“The agriculture sector employs a lot of people in this country but despite providing jobs to a lot of people the sector has been demonised. This kind of demonisation has made the youths hate agriculture. In other countries, the farming profession is highly respected,” he said.
Mr Ndlovu also urged farmers to grow small grains.
One of the farmers trained by ZIMPRO, Ms Soneni Sibanda praised the organisation for promoting indigenous seeds and animals in the area.
“I now know the nutritional and monetary value of growing traditional seeds well as rearing local animals, courtesy of ZIMPRO trainings. This year, I’m planning to increase my hectarage for both small and indigenous seeds because ZIMPRO has shown me that there’s a huge market out there for natural organic produce,” said Ms Sibanda.
According to recent field research conducted by Oxfam in Zimbabwe, “access to the right seeds at the right time, and for the right price is critical to being able to produce enough food to eat in the face of growing climate disruption.