While many farmers complain of high input costs and shortages of fertilisers on the market, the case is different for 67-year-old farmer, Mrs Philomina Mavedzenge of Shashe Village in Masvingo.
For her, conservation agriculture also referred to as agro-ecology has provided answers to her problems.
Mrs Mavedzenge has dedicated her life to this practice, that encourages minimal soil disturbance and water use, crop rotations and the avoidance of artificial fertilisers and pesticides.
She has been using agro-ecology techniques for the past 20 years and has no regrets as she now produces sufficient food for herself and earns significant income from her crops.
She also employs people in her community to help on the farm.
All this has helped her to promote food security and contribute towards eradicating poverty and hunger.
Agro-ecology is farming that involves food production using locally available resources in a sustainable way.
Farming thrives when it works with local ecosystems, for example, improving soil and plant quality through available biomass and biodiversity, rather than battling nature with chemical inputs.
Agro-ecological farmers seek to improve food yields for balanced nutrition, strengthen fair markets for their produce, enhance healthy ecosystems, and build on ancestral knowledge and customs.
Having undergone training on agro-ecology from Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre and learning from her late husband who was into agriculture, Mrs Mavedzenge now has vast knowledge about sustainable agriculture.
It has enabled her to grow nutritious crops for her own family and for the local market.
She grows traditional crops to ensure household food, nutrition security and to earn a living.
Mrs Mavedzenge is also into fruit, livestock and crop production.
She also grows different types of herbs.
“I was an urban farmer and in 2000 during the fast-track land reform I came here at Shashi where I learnt a lot from this agro-ecology project,” she said.
“We were taught to produce food using traditional sustainable methods. Through agro-ecology, we are trying to revive indigenous knowledge farming systems that are also environmentally friendly.”
Poor agricultural practices have caused extreme losses of topsoil, the creation of huge dongas and the felling of vast tracts of indigenous forests.
“We are trying to conserve the soil and the whole biodiversity,” Mrs Mavedzenge said.
“We grow traditional varieties of crops. Our maize is open pollinated and we grow crops such as okra, cowpeas, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, cassava and traditional vegetables.
“We also have fruit trees and we do livestock production as well with fish farming, goat production among other poultry activities.”
Mrs Mavedzenge said they produce their own seed by selecting the best from their harvest and preserve it for the next season.
“We use traditional methods of preserving the seed. We have seed banks where we have different varieties of traditional crops which we also exchange among ourselves.
“For fertilisers, we rely on animal manure and crop residues. We also have composts. Agro-ecology does not allow us to throw anything away as it will always be useful. The waste water from the fish ponds is used to irrigate fruit trees and we feed the fish with poultry waste,” she said.
Mrs Mavedzenge uses conservation methods such as tie ridges.
Her farm besides being used for food production has also turned into an educational centre where many people from different parts of the country come to learn more about agro-ecology.
“Many people visit to understand agro-ecology and we have turned our homestead into a learning centre. We have hosted many agriculture experts both local and foreign who come to learn more about our work,” she said.
“Now it is more about agro-tourism than anything else. We have hosted many people from as far as Japan. We have constructed chalets using our traditional designs and many people who come to the farm enjoy their stay here? The farm generates its own revenue through different ways.”
Mrs Mavedzenge sells fruits, vegetables and maize to members of the Shashi community and also supplies some supermarkets with organic food.
“These days people are becoming more health conscious and many now prefer to eat organic and traditional foods. The price of organic food is high and one can earn a living through that enterprise,” she said.
The farmer said agro-ecology has been more rewarding for her.
She has bought cattle, a tractor, drilled a borehole and purchased a peanut butter making machine among other things.
Mavedzenge now has a water reticulated homestead, an envy of many.
“The advantage of our crops is that they do well even under low rainfall conditions. Through growing various crops we are assured of food throughout the year. If one crop fails, the other will perform better,” she said.
“If the crops fail we will turn to livestock.”
Fish farming is an advantage in that we are guaranteed of a source of protein. We also have milk and meat from our livestock.
She said Pfumvudza was not new to her.
“We have always been practising it and we have seen the benefits of this kind of farming practice. We are never used to deep ploughing but we still manage to harvest meaningful yields at the end of the season.
“On a good day I get US$100 a day,” she said.
Mrs Mavedzenge urged other farmers to work hard and use available resources to produce food and earn a living rather than depend on food handouts.
Fambidzanayi Permaculture Centre programmes leader Mr Edwin Mazhawidza said agro-ecology involved natural farming systems tailored to specific conditions.
“We are trying to mimic the natural processes and we have been doing this through farmer field schools. Climate change is now a major concern for agriculture. Through organic farming, farmers can maximize production and profits,” he said.
Masvingo district Agritex officer, Mr Eliphas Mugari said agro-ecology has some advantages over the conventional farming system.
“Farmers do not experience inputs challenges as they use open pollinated varieties. It’s a cycle on the farm. We encourage use of organic fertilisers such as animal manure, kitchen waste which is recycled back to feed animals,” he said.
Soil erosion and the silting of vital water sources have been reduced in the Shashe’s Ward 6 area of the Masvingo Rural District Council as farmers here adopt agro-ecology, rehabilitate dongas and reduce alien invasive plant species.
“Our work is making a valuable contribution to a future that is not only greener, but one where every person’s needs are met in a manner that is both sustainable and protects the natural resources on which we depend on,” said Mrs Mavedzenge.