After years of public agriculture funding being largely directed to commercial farmers, the Zimbabwean government has made a significant break from the past.
They have incorporated communal farmers in the national grain strategy, this time giving them a prominent role.
Through a concept called Pfumvudza, anchored on zero tillage, Zimbabwe is banking on communal farmers in rural areas to sustain the national grain reserve.
Over the past few weeks, Pfumvudza has been a buzzword in Zimbabwe, with authorities saying this technique of “farming God’s way” is the solution to food insecurity.
Pfumvudza promotes climate proofing agriculture by adopting conservation farming, which involves intense high return utilisation of small pieces of land.
Secretary for Agriculture Dr John Bhasera explained the idea and its operationalisation to The Southern Times.
“The programme is meant to support over 1,6 million vulnerable households for maize with a standardised input package of 5kg seed, 12kg lime, 50kg basal and 50kg top dressing fertilisers. This package is enough to cover two 0.06ha plots,” Dr Bhasera said.
He said one plot is enough to feed a family of five for a year, with any extra being sold to the state’s Grain Marketing Board.
“Pfumvudza has three key basic principles: use of minimum or zero tillage, maintenance of organic mulch cover on the soil surface, and use of crop rotations and interactions that include legume crops,” Dr Bhasera exlained.
In simple terms, this means farmers no longer need to invest in tillage as they plant in small holes that are known as plant basins.
“There should be inter-row spacing of 75 cm and in-row spacing of 60cm. Each row should have 28 holes meant to accommodate two maize plants. This means that 1,456 planting holes will yield a total of 29,12 plants,” said Dr Bhasera.
Each plot of land is expected to have 52 rows, and each row can produce a bucket of maize. Assuming a family a bucket of maize a week, they will have enough for a year.
Plants are directly watered in their basins, meaning less water is used to produce a crop.
The idea has its roots in private sector initiatives that the government found attractive and adopted.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said, “We have set out result-oriented interventions for implementation by farmers. These include the rebranded Climate Proofed Presidential Input Support Programe which has seen the introduction of the Pfumvudza-Conservation Agriculture Programme, leveraging on our heritage-based knowledge systems and practices.
Experts are optimistic the approach may answer Zimbabwe`s food security headache.
Food and Agriculture Organisation deputy regional representative for Africa Ms Jocelyn Brown Hall has said,
“Since early 2000s when FAO country office championed conservation agriculture in Zimbabwe, it was our belief that it is the panacea to national and household food security, especially among smallholder farmers.
“FAO Zimbabwe fully supports your initiative of using Conservation Agriculture (Pfumvudza) to climate-proof the negative weather conditions brought by drought.
“As FAO, we are ready to share our experiences as well as provide technical support whenever you need it. FAO has a wealth of experience of conservation agriculture, having collaborated with various institutions, among them Foundations for Farming in promoting conservation agriculture in Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabwe is not reinventing the wheel or indeed coming up with anything new here.
In Brazil, conservation agriculture is a central part of agronomic practice.
It is also part of Africa’s farming heritage. Long before before mechanisation, conservation agriculture was a key technique across the continent.
There is a West African philosophical concept which references the Sankofa, a mythical bird which can be traced to the Akan people of Ghana. It encourages reverting to old methods when all else seems to fail.
In the wake of climate change, Zimbabwe has decided to revert to these age-old approaches of “farming God’s way”.