Zim agric set for $3m boost

HARARE - One thousand Zimbabwean smallholder farmers are set to benefit from a $3 million Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) project meant to improve and sustain households, and national food and nutrition security.

The FAO project being spearheaded by the European Union (EU), the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in conjunction with Soil Fertility Consortium for Southern Africa (SOFECSA), University of Pretoria (South Africa) and Wageningen University (The Netherlands) among other regional institutions, will benefit over 3 000 farmers from the Southern Africa Development Community region.

The food security project, which runs until 2015 will see 1 000 farmers from South Africa, another 1 000 from Zimbabwe benefitting through research and training, while Malawi and Madagascar, which are the other project sites, will each have 500 farmers.

Lewis Hove, FAO regional conservation agriculture coordinator told delegates at the launch that the project would develop and promote innovative techniques for farmers’ and approaches to managing risks to crop production and post-harvest handling.

He said about 30 percent of what farmers produce is wasted through failure to manage pests and diseases as well as poor storage.

The EU provided $2,1 million of the total sponsorship, which will be channelled towards  strengthening the resilience of the farmer, the ecology, soil, seeds and livestock breeds as well as the human knowledge , skills through research and farmer training.

“Working with smallholder agricultural communities in areas of high climatic risk in Madagascar, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the project will assist them in identifying, analysing and documenting climate-risk hazards, vulnerabilities and coping mechanisms,” Hove said.

The United Nations Food Security agency regional representative said the project was focusing more on climatic resilience in smallholder agriculture out of the realisation that rain-fed smallholder agriculture is the backbone of rural household livelihoods and national economies.

Hove said the sector contributed over 90 percent of direct and indirect employment in the region yet crop productivity is on the decline hence the need to plug the holes.

“The high dependence on rainfall by these farmers renders them particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of climatic variability. The management of risks related to climatic variability is thus of paramount importance in creating more resilient cropping systems in the region,” he said.

UZ-based SOFECSA regional coordinator professor Paul Mapfumo said although farmers have through centuries of experience, combined with knowledge from formal research developed strategies to mitigate climatic risks, they have not managed to effectively manage the effects.

“These strategies are not always adequate in the face of such rapid climate change and ariability. Creative learning processes can support farmers to continue developing new and practical scientific strategies for sustainable food security,” Mapfumo said.

Agriculture minister Joseph Made in a speech read on his behalf by permanent secretary, Ringson Chitsiko, pledged government support for the project saying climatic hazards lead to a situation of high vulnerability for millions of small holder farmers.

The project launch was also attended by the EU second secretary for economic cooperation and food security, Paulina Rozycka.

Comments (2)

This is welcome and would appreciate some urgency in the implementation of such a noble intervention.My worry though is the criteria which will be used to distribute the amount in question so that it will reach the intended beneficiaries in this case the rural smallholder farmers a sector which is often marginalised,I worked for an organisation which made strides towards such kind of a comprehensive and certified training in good agricultural practices and modules included conservation agriculture.seed selection and multiplication,land preparation,pre and post harvest techniques,farm mananagement,basic book-keeping and record keeping,marketing and value addition,weather index and more but this knowledge has gone to waste.Over 1000 smallholder farmers mostly women benefited from this programme but when it came to supporting them with inputs it was zero.What I see as the immediate solution is to select the beneficiaries through organisations that have already conducted such trainings.It is just my contribution if found to be worthwhile I can be able to assist in the identification of such people.Thank you.

Morrison Mahachi - 4 November 2013

Research and technology will not work for the smallholder farmers as long as they remain resource poor. The problem with all these approaches is that they work on a deficit model, that is, farmers do not have knowledge to work the land to achieve food self sufficiency. The irony is that the 'technologies' that comprise conservation farming have been part of the so called indigenous technical knowledge for hundreds of years. So what are the rural smallholder farmers learning here? It is all about resources and climate change. Disabuse farmers in drylands of the notion that maize is THE crop. Go back to small, drought tolerant grains/crops, provide resources (a performing economy is also imperative), establish water infrastructure e.g. dams (small or big) and see if farmers need conservation agriculture lessons to achieve food self-sufficiency.

Steven Matema - 5 November 2013

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