There is always something to eat in Esinah Moyo’s one-hectare plot. In between rows of maize are indigenous beans which make a delicious soup. Groundnuts are intercropped with sorghum, and ready to harvest for a meal.
Mrs. Moyo farms in Jambezi, about 300 kilometres north of Bulawayo. She credits much of her success to conservation agriculture techniques. But she also grows traditional crop varieties and sells their seeds to other farmers.
The changing climate means that rainfall is unpredictable in Mrs. Moyo’s area. So she has decided to plant every inch of her small plot with traditional seed varieties. She says the traditional varieties are resilient when conditions are difficult, and give her a variety of food throughout the year.
Yields from shop-bought, hybrid seeds can be significantly higher when conditions are right. But the weather is making seasons more unpredictable. Farmers like Mrs. Moyo are trying to find the right mix of resilience and reliable yield to adjust to the changing climate. And they are starting to believe that traditional seed varieties are part of the answer.
For generations, farmers have saved part of their harvest to plant the following season. Traditional seed has much wider genetic variety, an especially beneficial attribute in bad seasons.
Mrs. Moyo has grown both hybrid and traditional varieties of maize. She says that hybrid seeds can mature early and produce high yields in good years. But, she says, “In a bad season, it is mostly the [traditional varieties] that give me a good yield.”
She plants two crops a year, and produces an average of two tonnes of seed. She sells half of her maize as seed for about $1 US a kilo. At this price, she can earn more than $2,000 US per year. She keeps the rest to feed her family, and to plant next season.
Ivy Nyoni has been growing traditional seeds for five years. She harvests between one and three tonnes of seeds annually. Last season, she made more than $2,000 US by selling the seeds. She says, “The project has enabled me to build my house, pay school fees for my children, and raise chickens and rear goats.”
Moses Siambi is a principal scientist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. He says traditional varieties have low yields, and do not produce enough for farmers to sell their surplus.
He adds: “Farmers should be encouraged to grow hybrids because the productivity of [traditional varieties] is low. [Farmers] will never produce enough to sell and send their children to school.”
But Mrs. Moyo disagrees. She says that selling some of her produce as seed earns enough money for her family. She also believes that traditional varieties have greater resilience, an important advantage in a changing climate.