Africa Talk

Zimbabwe smallholder farmers getting it right

Moyo ‘s team introduced a two easy-to use devices to help farmers irrigate without interruption…

Contrary to adverse media reports demonising Zimbabwean agriculture, smallholder farmers in that country are showing sublime resilience.

As far back as 2012, Zimbabwe has been engulfed by a severe drought adding pressure to ailing economy. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 76% of Zimbabwe’s rural households lived below the poverty line and 32% of children under five were stunted as a result of malnutrition during that period.

Martin Moyo a Zimbabwean scientist from the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) said Zimbabwe was showing signs of recovery due to the introduction of agricultural innovative platforms in rural communities.

“These are informal institutions that bring together farmers, government officials, traders, researchers and others. Different types of people have the opportunity to share knowledge, new ideas about how to use tools and improve the system as a whole” he said.

There was a prominence to the call that sub-Saharan governments should do more to introduce small-scale irrigation systems for farmers. It is believed that such method will help farmers confront and build resilience against climate change, boost food security and eradicate poverty.

Moyo ‘s team introduced a two easy-to use devices to help farmers irrigate without interruption. This intervention was sparked by the persistent limited rainfall causing low crop yields thus decimating food production in all 8 districts of Zimbabwe.

The first device was a wetting front which gave a good sense of whether more irrigation was needed. The second device called the Chameleon, complemented the wetting front detector which consisted of three or four sensors permanently installed at different depths in the soil.

“The two devices made it much easier for farmers to know whether their crops needed more water or whether the right amount was applied to the crops. To date, yields have increased by 25 percent or more for households, 80% and 70% for households in Mkoba and Silalatshani, respectively. This means that water productivity has increased—farmers grow a lot more crops with a lot less water.” said Moyo.

FAO was also involved in these agricultural innovative platforms. It introduced the Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP) in order for farmers to “gain access to rural finance and markets and address malnutrition through the adoption of nutrition-sensitive agricultural practices and improve their resilience to a changing climate.”

To date, the programme has already reached a total of 141 000 food insecure farming households with over 71 000 farmers receiving extension messages through various technological platforms including mobile phones. “These messages provide helpful information on farming techniques and markets” it said.

It is expected that in future, Zimbabwe farmers will surpass South African emerging farmers and will produce more than enough. South African farmers on the other hand were still lagging far behind in embracing agricultural innovation.

Martin Moyo Small Scale Irrigation Device

Wetting front detector: a small device buried in the soil with an indicator above the surface that shows how deep into the soil water has infiltrated. Farmers can also extract water samples from the device and use those to measure the soil’s nitrate and salinity status, helping to reveal if over-watering is leaching out nutrients.

Chameleon detector: four sensors permanently installed at different depths in the soil A hand-held reader shows blue light for wet soil, green light for moist soil or red light for dry soil. In combination, the two tools make it much easier for farmers to know whether their crops need more water.

Zimbabwe smallholder farmers getting it right
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