Zimbabwe: Traditional seeds beat hunger in drought-prone areas (IPS)

| December 14, 2015

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Photo credit: Locadia Mavhudzi

Photo credit: Locadia Mavhudzi

Bertha Chibhememe smiles as she shows off her traditional seed varieties at a seed fair. The 45-year-old farms in the Sangwe communal area of Chiredzi, in southeastern Zimbabwe. Mrs. Chibhememe says the variety of maize she uses is called nzara yapera, or “hunger is gone,” and that it’s thriving in the changing climate.

She says the variety is traditionally grown by the Shangani people of Matabeleland. It protects the widow and her family of eight school-going children from starvation in a region where it can be difficult to survive without food aid or other donations.

Many farmers have switched from traditional seeds to modern hybrid varieties, but Mrs. Chibhememe says nzara yapera does better in dry conditions.

Mrs. Chibhememe’s choice has inspired community members to adapt to shifting weather patterns as the climate warms. Farmers are using traditional seed fairs and workshops as a forum to share best farming practices.

A recent study by Care International-Zimbabwe found that female farmers were more receptive to these ideas than males. But women couldn’t act on the ideas because the culture of male dominance means that women don’t decide what crops to grow and when.

Women’s lack of influence often derails efforts to encourage farmers to adopt techniques or crop varieties which are more suitable to a changing climate. But things are slowly changing—the Zimbabwean government has started to issue land rights to women farmers.

Zimbabwe is already feeling the effects of climate change, notably with more variable rainfall and extreme weather. Barnabas Mawire is country director for the NGO, Environment Africa, and describes the situation as worrisome.

Mr. Mawire says: “These conditions, combined with warming trends, are expected to render land increasingly marginal for agriculture, which poses a major threat to the economy and the livelihoods of the people.”

Farmers make up 62 per cent of Zimbabwe’s population. The country depends heavily on rain-fed agriculture and climate-sensitive resources. But yields from rain-fed farming in Africa as a whole could be cut in half by 2020, according to a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Semi-arid and arid areas are likely to be most affected. There is a serious risk of widespread malnutrition and hunger.

Farmers like Mrs. Chibhememe offer some hope that climate change can be countered. She says: “We receive low rainfall and frequent flash floods and extreme temperatures. This traditional short-season maize variety, together with other traditional small grains like sorghum, millet, and [finger millet], [is] best in this area. [These cereals] secure our future food and nutrition for our families.”

To read the full article on which this story is based, Traditional Seeds Keep Hunger Away in Drought-Prone Zimbabwe, go to: http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/traditional-seeds-keep-hunger-away-in-drought-prone-zimbabwe/