Zimbabwe: Drought-tolerant crops give hope to small-scale farmers

| May 6, 2013

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For many years, maize was Michael Moyo’s main source of food and income. But in recent years, a number of droughts have forced him to reconsider. Now he has started growing more drought-tolerant crops such as sorghum and millet.

Mr. Moyo is a resettled farmer in Zimbabwe’s province of Matabeleland North. Very little rain falls in the province. Recently, there has been even less rain and the farming seasons have become unpredictable. Mr. Moyo is one of the first farmers in the area to make the switch to drought-tolerant crops in order to reduce the impact of climate change.

Mr. Moyo’s maize suffers from insufficient moisture. He explains, “High temperatures are affecting my maize yields [while] at the same time giving weeds and pests room to creep in.” He was forced to invest more heavily in pesticides and weeding, but without rain his yields suffered.

Mr. Moyo approached the Department of Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services. He was advised to grow crops that do well despite low rainfall. He says, “The Department’s officials advised me to take up small grains. There are a few of us who have taken that advice.” Most farmers in the area have been reluctant to grow small grains such as sorghum and millet.

Sithabisiwe Ndlovu is a local farmer. She is adamant that she will not yet follow in Mr. Moyo’s footsteps. She thinks that small grains are too labour-intensive. She explains, “Small grains are difficult to harvest, especially the thrashing or processing stage where I would have to hire people to do it.” Mrs. Ndlovu recognizes that the situation is bad. But for now, she will continue growing maize.

Mrs. Sharlene Mabharani is the Agricultural, Technical and Extension Officer for the local district. She says the only way for small-scale farmers in Matabeleland to adapt to the effects of climate change is to shift to drought-tolerant crops. She continues, “Small grains are suitable for Matabeleland. We strongly encourage farmers to familiarize [themselves] with this kind of farming.”

But there is a downside. Mrs. Mabharani says, “Farmers say that the crops … are at risk of being pecked by birds.” She believes that this problem can be contained. She explains, “If most farmers in one area grow similar crops, the damage will be shared, instead of only one farmer suffering.”

In Matabeleland, farmers traditionally depend on growing maize. But Mr. Moyo believes that, if farmers are to survive, there is an urgent need to look beyond maize. He explains: “I have to send my late brother’s children to school as well as mine. My only source of income is through farming. With maize not working out, I have to look at other avenues.”