Nelly Bassily | November 23, 2009
In the Guruve district of northern Zimbabwe, many farmers harvest a maize crop in February. It’s the first harvest of the year, and takes advantage of the short rains. Elizabeth Runema has farmed in Guruve for more than 20 years. But this year was the first time that she harvested an early maize crop.
In the past, Ms. Runema was unable to plant her maize on time. She used to borrow cattle to plough her fields in preparation for planting. Unfortunately, by the time the cattle became available, it was too late to take advantage of the rains. As a result, her crops were always stunted.
Now Ms. Runema has learned to prepare the land without ploughing. She uses a “zero tillage” and prepares the land with her own hands. By practicing zero tillage, she and other women in her community have proven their skill as farmers. Ms. Runema now gets higher yields than she did with ploughing.
Laiza Whande is another woman farmer from Guruve. She explains how she is preparing for the coming rainy season. Ms. Whande dug small holes in her field – more than 11,000 of them. Next, she will place a small amount of chemical fertilizer in each hole. By the time the rains start, she will be ready to plant her maize.
Ms. Whande has used the zero tillage method for a few years. She says her output has increased year after year. For the first time, she has surplus grain to sell.
Farmers in Guruve receive seed and fertilizer through a program of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Judas Phiri works for the Sustainable Agriculture Trust, a local NGO that distributes the inputs.
He says that before zero tillage was introduced, men dominated crop production in Guruve. Men control most of the draught animals. The government provides tractors to assist farmers, but these are rarely available to women.
Mr. Phiri notices that there are now more women farming than men. The input program rewards those who work hard. Only farmers who have prepared planting holes receive seed and fertilizer.