Zimbabwe: Climate-friendly seeds help farmers adapt (The Standard/ The Southern Times)

| October 16, 2017

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Drought has become so common in Bulilima, Zimbabwe, that many farmers have stopped growing maize altogether. Bulilima is one of the country’s driest areas, with less than 50 centimetres of rain per year.

Violet Tshuma is a farmer from Maloba, a village in Bulilima district. She says that the heat and lack of rain in recent years resulted in much lower yields of maize, small grains, and pulses. This caused poverty and malnutrition in several villages.

But Ms. Tshuma says a seed research project that started in 2015 is helping some farming families thrive. The project provides small-scale farmers with varieties of small grain crops that withstand drought as well as diseases and pests.

She says, “It is good to be working with researchers and experts and come up with seed varieties that suit our own climate.”

Ms. Tshuma has already seen improvements in some families’ health and nutrition.

She adds, “This is my second year on this project, and all I can say is that the two seed varieties that were bred did so well last season, and I am sure that we are guaranteed a bumper harvest.”

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, funds the project, which continues until November 2018. Participants are from Bulilima, Mangwe, Matobo, and Gwanda districts.

Melody Makumbe is a project manager with Practical Action Southern Africa, the NGO implementing the project. She explains: “We are providing smallholder farmers, especially women-headed households, with improved climate-adapted seed varieties of sorghum, pearl millet, cowpeas, and Bambara nuts.”

Ms. Makumbe adds that there are 10 different varieties of each of the four crops, including some that mature early and give higher yields. She says, “In recent years, the area has been hit by successive droughts, and today we are happy that these farmers were able to pick seed varieties that grow better and faster in this area.”

The cowpea variety they seem to prefer is CBC4, which thrives in the local climate.

According to Ms. Makumbe, farmers who grew the new CBC4 cowpeas and Tsholotsho beard pearl millet on trial plots doubled their yields from one to two tonnes per hectare.
The Tsholotsho beard variety has bristles that prevent birds from eating it.

Some participating farmers have harvested enough to feed their families and sell a surplus.

Avilla Zingoni is an officer with Agritex, Zimbabwe’s agricultural extension agency. She says it’s important that farmers like Ms. Tshuma participate in crop breeding, working directly with researchers.

She adds: “Farmers are participating in research and development of crop varieties that are suitable for their areas, and this is helping a lot in fighting the scourge of climate change and [climate] variability.”

Ms. Makumbe says that 120 extension officers and members of farmers’ groups, as well as 20,000 other farmers in surrounding areas, have so far benefited from having access to improved crop varieties.

This story is adapted from the following articles:
-“Mat South farmers join search for drought-resistant small grains,” originally published in The Standard at the following link: https://www.thestandard.co.zw/2017/09/11/mat-south-farmers-join-search-drought-resistant-small-grains/
-“Climate-friendly agric transforming lives in Bulilima,” originally published in The Southern Times at the following link: https://southernafrican.news/2017/08/14/climate-friendly-agric-transforming-lives-in-bulilima/

Photo: Farmers Simnai and Philip Tshuma check their sorghum crop in Gavu, in Zimbabwe’s drought-stricken Hwange District. Credit: RF/Busani Bafana