I had a fantastic day with farmers at Jambezi village in the Hwange district of Western Zimbabwe today.
Climate change is very real in Zimbabwe as the premature stoppage of rains, followed by very late rains, has wreaked havoc with the maize harvest. The country is expected to have a short fall of one million tonnes of maize, and the drought is being compared to that experienced in 1992.
We engaged with two lead farmers:
We first met with Mr and Mrs Sibanda who were experimenting with conservation agriculture with pearl millet, sorghum, groundnut and cowpea. He is a very charismatic man who works with his wife to farm around two hectares.
The second farmer, Mrs Kesi Nkosi, was an older lady who was producing sorghum seed for the first time. We will be buying the seed from of her to start bulking seed of an old ICRISAT variety called Macia. She was very proud of her farm and her use of weather forecasts to better manage her operations and inputs.
Those farmers who have switched to growing traditional small grains (sorghum and pearl millet) are not as badly hit as those growing maize, showing they are a good solution to diversifying for food security in drought, along with conservation agriculture.
I was extremely impressed with how sophisticated farmers are in Zimbabwe. They are provided seasonal forecasts via cell phones to assist them in the important decision of planting time. They record all farm operations and inputs to help them make better business decisions in the future – including the use of rain gages to track climate change over time on their own farms.
I have always been struck by the resilience of farmers in Zimbabwe against all the adversity of climate change, poor markets and a faltering economy. There remains hope and aspirations for their children to have a better life. Part of that is through electrification via solar panels. Many of the homes we saw today had a solar panel leaning towards the sun to transform abundant sunlight into energy for charging cell phones or lights to read by at night so children can study.
Our last stop was to JASPRO, a sorghum and millet milling plant that was initiated in 2009. Mr Dalarex Ncube introduced us to the facilities and the process of milling and bagging. The milling plant is an important reason why farmers are increasing their area sown to millets. However, the mill is still struggling to generate sufficient volume – but there remains hope more farmers will be moving to millets after yet another drought year.
One of the people who really stuck out in my mind was Chief Shana who was calling on his village to move to growing small grains, manage water resources, practice conservation agriculture and create opportunities for markets. He is a wise elder and committed to improving the lives of his people. I was struck by the books on his desk that included a Bible and The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good – William Easterly. He is passionate about the success of his people and asked ICRISAT and AGRITEX, the national extension service – to help them learn and access new practices to ensure food security and prosperity.
I travelled with Mr. D. Nyoni who heads extension for the province. While he is physically handicapped with a weak leg, he is very passionate about agriculture and enjoys his work in engaging with farmers. On our four hour journey back by road to Bulawayo he spoke about agriculture in Zimbabwe, farmers and how ICRISAT could assist them to strengthen their new generation of extension officers.