In the Matopo area of Matabeleland South, Zimbabwe, the adoption of conservation agriculture techniques is helping farmers to increase their yields and conserve natural resources. This approach focuses on building farmers’ knowledge and skills, using resources they have available and inputs that can be obtained locally.
Many farmers are single mothers or from families affected by HIV/AIDS with small farms of 0.5 to 1 hectare. They have been trained in conservation agriculture, a system of farming based on principles of minimum soil disturbance; maximum soil cover; mixing and rotating crops; precise planting operations; and efficient use of labour, time, seeds and fertiliser. Farmers use open-pollinated varieties of seeds, with liquid manure, mulch or legumes. By intercropping and rotating maize with drought-resistant indigenous crops, nutrients build up over time. Crop residues are used as mulch to trap moisture in the soil, control weeds, and maintain cooler soil temperatures.
Many farmers lack draught power and so they find this technique less labour intensive than ploughing. Although digging planting holes is hard work when first preparing the land, holes can be dug over several months before the rainy season, and families are often helped by members of the community. Once the holes are dug, they only need to be retouched for the next planting season.
Since adopting this approach, farmers are reporting increases in yields of sorghum, millet and maize, from an average of about 0.5 metric tonnes to between 3 and 4 metric tonnes per hectare. Yield increases have been observed over three years, despite adverse climatic conditions.
Project run by Danbane Trust and Zimbabwe Project Trust. For more information, please contact Christian Aid (www.christianaid.org.uk).