Sifelani Tsiko in Matobo
When Mr Judas Ncube (62) of Gwangwazile Village in Ward 15 of Matobo rural district was retrenched 27 years ago from a company in Bulawayo, all he thought of was his next move.
At that time, all the work years were a waste as he had nothing to show for it.
He could neither afford to look after his family nor show anything of value he had accumulated in the years that he had worked.
Retrenchment, for a while, brought crushing rejection and humiliation.
Instead of retaliating with anger and drowning his sorrows in beer and drugs, Mr Ncube reacted differently.
“I plucked some courage to trek back to my village here in Gwangwazile where I decided to join my wife to do farming full time,” said Mr Ncube.
“I worked in Bulawayo for 27 years and I got nothing of value from it. I could neither feed my family nor send my children to school. It was hard for me. The pain was just too much until I decided to join my wife and do farming.”
Mr Ncube turned to conservation farming for survival since he had no oxen for draught power nor seed.
He felt strongly that farming was the only way to improve his life.
“I am a farmer who was born out of retrenchment, but I am now making a living out of it,” he said. “Today, I am a lot happier now than I was before. I am a successful Gatshopo farmer or what you in Harare call Pfumvudza. I can now feed my family well. I have 60 cattle and I now have dignity and confidence all because of farming.”
Mr Ncube and his wife Thokozile (57) have been practicing Gatshopo (pfumvudza or conservation agriculture) for nearly a decade now.
They have perfected the art of conservation agriculture after receiving support and extensive training from Practical Action and Fambidzanayi Permaculture Centre, which was working with farmers in Matobo and Gwanda districts to increase the uptake of conservation agriculture, a system that increases yields while protecting fields from erosion, improving soil quality and mitigating the effects of drought.
Through a nearly US$1,3 million project funded by the Isle of Man Government, the two organisations have initiated a programme of training and demonstrations to win over farmers.
“I have perfected my skills in Pfumvudza or conservation agriculture methods through training I got from Fambidzanayi Permaculture Centre, Practical Action and our local agricultural extension officer,” said Mrs Ncube.
“You don’t need expensive fertilisers and other inputs. Conservation agriculture is handy and helps us to use local resources to boost our yields at low cost. We also have been taught water harvesting methods to improve water moisture for our fields.”
Last season, when the country experienced the worst drought in nearly four decades, Mr Ncube and his wife managed to get four bags of millet, three bags of sunflower, three bags of cowpeas and two bags of groundnuts.
“We are now food secure and self-sufficient,” said Mrs Ncube. “Yes, Gatshopo is hard labour, but if you work hard you can get better yields and overcome hunger.
“In a good year, we can get three to four tonnes of maize. Here in Matobo its very dry and water is scarce. To get such yields, it’s such a huge blessing to us.”
With earnings from crop sales, the couple has managed to buy cattle as a store of value. They have built their herd from nothing to a herd of 60.
With crop and livestock sales, the couple has also managed to send one of their sons, Methuli, to study animal science at Midlands State University and another, Mcebisi, to boarding school at Nyathi High School.
Said Practical Action communications specialist Innocent Katsande: “Given this harsh environment which is dry and arid, rainfall low and erratic at best, coupled with the raging Covid–19 pandemic, the need to build farmers’ resilience is now more urgent than ever before.
“They find themselves not only facing climate change, but they are facing slow onset and rapid onset disasters on multiple fronts.
“Our work on the ground is now focused on training agro-ecology, encouraging farmers to take up Pfumvudza so as to ensure that farmers resilience is built and sustained.”
Mr Ncube has useful advice on the Pfumvudza programme which is now being up scaled by the Government.
“Farmers’ training is critical for Pfumvudza to be successful,” he said. “There is also need to use local indigenous varieties which can cope with the harsh climate here.
“Some hybrid varieties don’t do well here and farmers need to use Shirikure indigenous millet varieties or Ligutsha maize variety to get better yields. These do well here, because we have bird problems and we don’t get much rains.”
Mr Ncube further believes that agriculture can lift many people out of poverty.
“It is sad that unemployment has taken a heavy toll on young people,” he said. “Jobs are scarce now and even in South Africa and Botswana, it’s no longer easy for our children to get jobs.
“Some youths are turning to crime and drug abuse. But money is there in the soil. In Shona, they say ‘mari iri muvhu,’ and our children and parents should take up agriculture seriously.
“Agriculture can lift more people out of poverty than we can think of. I am a living testimony of what farming, when taken seriously and with adequate training and support, can do to one’s life.
“It can lift us out of poverty. With Pfumvudza our future is not bleak, its bright.”
Government this farming season gave small-scale farmers across all eight rural provinces a target of 1,8 million tonnes of cereals and 360 000 tonnes of oil seeds under Pfumvudza, the climate-proofed upgrade of the Presidential Inputs Programme.
The development is expected to give a vast swathe of households not just food security, but also income from surpluses and cash crops to boost national standards of living.
Under Pfumvudza, each of the rural provinces has to average 225 000 tonnes of cereals and 45 000 tonnes of oil seed at one tonne of grain and 200kg of oil seed from the average small-scale farming household.
This will not only produce almost 90 percent of the annual national food requirements, and ensure that once the A1 and A2 farmers, who fall under Command Agriculture if they need Government guaranteed bank finance, have built on that very broad base pushing Zimbabwe into surpluses, but also ensure industry has required raw materials and larger markets.