By Poterai Makasa Zero Tillage Taking Root In Zimbabwe
With the assistance of Sustainable Agriculture Trust (SAT), many villagers here are happy with the success of the programme, that has seen their families managing to put food on the table.
Zero tillage is a method of ploughing or tilling a field in which the soil is disturbed as little as possible by, essentially, not ploughing the field. It reduces soil erosion, farm labour and increases planting and harvest time lines. It also increases soil organic matter which means better soil structure and more available nutrients for plant growth.
For rural farmers here, they call it ”kurima nechibhakera” or ‘fist farming’ as they use hoes instead of ox or ploughs in preparation of their fields. It is aimed for the poor who cannot afford ploughs or have no oxen.
SAT assisted desperate farmers with farm inputs such as seed maize and fertilizer, enough to plant on a hectare each.
The farmers, most who have poor soils, narrated successful stories.
Regererai Mapa, who has for the past five years relied on food handouts due to erratic rains in the area, situated in Mashonaland west Province, said hard work and determination had paid off.
He now can comfortably feed his family of seven children and 10 great grand children through zero tillage.
About 300 communal farmers have benefitted from the scheme.
”We were working as one family here and assisted each other in digging up holes between August and October before the rains set,” Mapa told Radio VOP.
After preparing the fields, their ‘’cooperation’’ went further and they assisted each other in planting the seed maize.
”We did this for every member within our group and when it was time for fertilizer application, it was done in uniform. The majority of us are expecting between two and three tonnes of maize,’’ boasted Mapa.
An official with Environment Africa, another Non Governmental Organisation that assisted communal farmers in Zvimba with inputs for conservation farming, Munyaradzi Samusodza, said with the current unpredictable rainfall pattern, farmers were urged to take advantage of zero tillage or conservation farming to boost yields.
”There are no high costs of inputs and zero tillage is applicable to all types of soils. Conservation farming is when a farmer uses a hoe for dry planting, combining organic and inorganic fertilizer” he said.
Samusodza added that there was need for proper planning before the onset of rains between July and October.
The late Renson Gasela was also a proponent of zero tillage. A former Grain Marketing Board (GMB) manager and shadow Agriculture Minister in the old Movement for Democratic Change before it split, was once quoted saying: “Zero tillage prevents soil erosion and the use of mulch keeps moisture for a long time. This is positive if we need to boost our yields during the dry season as you are assured better harvest of maize even if there is erratic rain.’’
Gasela was tragically killed in a road accident near Gweru recently and did not live to see the success stories of the farmers.
” We are not going to beg for food this time around,” said Mapa with a broad smile.
Several other Non-Government Organisations are assisting farmers to use conservation farming throughout the country in a bid to boost household food security.
More than two million people were in need of food aid in the country due to failed harvests. The country’s begging bowl to donors had failed to raise the needed funds.
Last December, donors appealed for US$33,2 million but the International Red Cross recently said there was a funding gap of about US$25 million.
The Red Cross Agency said some areas had seen drought while others had been inundated with too much rain, damaging staple crops like maize. Farmers’ organisations forecasted a local maize harvest this year of some 435 000 tonnes against an annual consumption of about 1.6 million tonnes.
Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of Africa but all this turned around after the violent land seizures of 2 000, which saw more than 4 500 white commercial farmers driven off their farms.