Zimbabwe: Farmers preserve local seeds but buy improved maize (by Zenzele Ndebele, for Farm Radio Weekly in Zimbabwe)

| March 14, 2011

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Like many farmers in Matabeleland South, Ernest Ndlovu often buys maize seeds. But he selects and preserves seeds from crops such as beans, sunflower and millet to plant in the next season. He explains, “In terms of maize, we buy a variety of seeds from the shops and we usually target the early maturity varieties. But for the best results, we use the traditional seeds.”

Mr. Ndlovu is a small-scale farmer in the Insiza area of the province of Matabeleland South, in southwestern Zimbabwe. He explains that in his area it is common practice for farmers to select the best crops and save them for next season’s seed.

Farmers in this area value the knowledge passed down to them on seed selection. They use this knowledge regularly. Farmer Robert Tshuma grows the beans his ancestors grew. He says that for crops other than maize, they use only seeds saved from the previous crop. He adds, “We usually plant traditional beans that have been planted in this area for decades now, dating back to the days of our ancestors..”

Mr. Tshuma also plants sugar beans and sunflowers on his small farm in the Matobo area. He says, “I have never come across any [commercial] seed variety of beans in this part of the country. Maybe it is because people always preserve seeds from the previous season.”

Although Matabeleland is largely a livestock raising area, farmers need to plant some crops. They share seeds and grow a number of varieties. Mr. Ndlovu explains, “We are an animal husbandry area, but we cannot afford not to plant crops. Agricultural extension workers advise us to focus on crops like millet, which we are not keen on planting because of birds that eat them when they ripen.”

Mr. Ndlovu says he tried millet for two seasons. He managed a good harvest the first season, but not the second. He says, “I used the seeds that I have received from another farmer. He had used them from a previous harvest. It’s a variety that is common here. I understand there is a variety that is not so [attractive to] birds. I will try it next time.”

Farmers often say they prefer traditional varieties because they are tasty. Mr. Ronny Sibanda is a farmer based in Filabusi, also in Matabeleland South. He usually buys maize seeds, but selects and preserves seeds such as beans, sunflower and millet: “I select seeds and preserve them in traditional ways like drying them and sprinkling them with ashes, as this keeps away pests. We preserve seeds, especially of those crops that are so tasty and so good.”

Other farmers prefer traditional varieties because they are always available. Mrs. Ntombi Sibanda is a farmer in the Gwanda area. A number of farmers in her community select and preserve seeds. She explains, “That is where we buy our seeds. They have their own methods of selecting and preserving seeds. We have accepted that this is the best way because it means that we don’t have to wait for seeds from shops, which are sometimes delayed coming into the market.”

While many farmers buy seeds of hybrid maize, it is clear that farmers in this region of Zimbabwe still value their own seeds and traditional methods of selection and preservation.