From the vantage of a Zimbabwean family farmer

From the vantage of a Zimbabwean family farmer

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On 20 December 2017, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted a resolution which declared the years 2019-2028 to be the Decade of Family Farming. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Decade of Family Farming will aim at focusing systematically on cross cutting and multi-dimensional issues which are of concern to family farmers.

Family farming is generally understood to be a type of farming whereby inherited land is owned and run by a family, especially in the African context. It is however unfortunate that similar to informal trading, the impact and contribution of family farmers to food security has been under-valued in preference of the more commercially viable type of farming. At a time that the UN is focused on the attainment of the targets set out in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is critical that UN Member States implement systems and policies to support family farming and its contribution towards the call to action to end poverty and hunger.

An assessment of the impact of family farming in the rural areas indicates that family farmers have come to be recognized as not only contributing towards food security but also ensuring youth employment creation. In Zimbabwe, one such family farmer who is contributing towards food security and changing lives in his community is James Kurauone Mutasa of Ndorikanda Village in Mutasa District, in the city of Mutare.

At the time that he inherited his farm from his parents and started family farming in 2013, Mutasa’s main objective had been to plough the land so as to provide a nutritious and balanced diet for his family. ”At the time that I started family farming, my priority was to provide a balanced diet for my family. This saw me planting various crops such as green vegetables, beens, green mealies, onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, including beetroot and lettuce which are not traditionally grown in the rural areas as I sought to target teachers in my area” said Mutasa.

Overtime, Mutasa started realizing surplus from the crops that he was producing and in turn started commercializing the family farm. As it stands, 90% of what Mutasa currently produces for commercial purposes is consumed by Ndorikanda Villagers with the remaining 10 % being bought by those wishing to resell namely individuals and big supermarkets such as Spar and Manica Produce both based in Mutare City. The family farm has enabled him to contribute towards youth employment creation, food provision for Ndorikanda villagers and ,at a personal level, his standard of living has improved.

Despite the above positive results that have been achieved through the family farm, there are a number of challenges that Mutasa is encountering. ’In as much as the family farm is operating well there are a number of challenges that I face. For example we have water challenges ,inputs are expensive and there is the absence of loan facilities from banks targeting family farmers and no linkages to export markets’ said Mutasa. He went on to add that “Because the inputs are expensive I end up not purchasing some chemicals needed for weed and pest control. Ultimately, this compromises the quality of the output of my yield”.

According to Mutasa, Ndorikanda Village does not have any commercial farmers hence the burden rests on family farmers to not only feed the community but also sustain it. However, despite all that family farmers do, Mutasa feels that the Government of Zimbabwe has not done much to support and empower family farmers.

“We have managed to link up with Government departments such as Agritex and the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) on issues to do with getting the know-how on environmental protection and sustainable agricultural practices. There is also a long term project that has been instituted by Government to address water challenges, however the manner and pace of implementation is slow’ said Mutasa.

The project referred by Mutasa has seen Government installing 500 000litre water tanks in Ward 11 and 17 of Ndorikanda Village through harnessing water from Pungwe River which supplies water to Mutare.

“Despite the Government water project, in ward 24 where I stay, we currently do not have water tanks because the project is being implemented in phases. I feel a number of interventions need to be effected by Government so as to support and nurture family farmers in addressing the myriad of challenges that they are facing. For example Government should capacitate us with skills needed for water harnessing including installing harvesting weirs and tanks for us to store water for irrigation’ ’ said Mutasa.

Mutasa also called upon the Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises to facilitate creation of export markets for family farmers because they are better paying and an alternative during those times when markets are flooded with produce and producer prices are at their lowest. “At times local markets are flooded and one then has nowhere to sell their produce. During the peak period one can sell a crate of tomatoes for $60 and when the market is flooded you sell the same crate for as low as $ resulting in losses. So if Government links us with export markets we might identify alternative markets for selling our produce” said Mutasa.

Mutasa however expressed appreciation to international organisations such as Plan International who have fenced cooperative gardens, fixed drainage systems and installed weirs in the rivers to assist in water supply. Another organisation which is in the form of a community development donor program, Nhaka African Worldview Trust, installed a poly-pipe water line from Marira River found in Mutasa district to the Nhaka Resource Centre. “The poly pipe which was installed by Nhaka African Worldview Trust has greatly assisted us by enabling us to harness water for use in our family farm” said Mutasa.

As the UN launches the beginning of the Decade of Family Farming, there is need for Member States to reflect and come up with mechanisms and tools for supporting the development of family farming. In seeking to promote the development of family farming, it is also important to utilize communication tools such as community radio and social media in the dissemination of best farming practices and accentuating the voice of the family farmer so that they are able to discuss issues pertaining to their lived experiences.

The UN Decade of Family Farming will be officially launched on Wednesday 29 May 2019 at the FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy.


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    Workshops in organic, no-till, permanent bed gardening, mini-farming and
    mini-livestock farming, using bucket drip irrigation, in English & Español

    Organic, No-till Market Gardening/Mini-Farming

    The solution to world hunger is to teach farmers organic, no-till farming and there is unlimited, documented proof it is the best way to farm. “The hungriest people grow food for a living: 70% of the developing world’s extremely poor people are in rural communities and work in agriculture. They barely produce enough food to survive, which is why they’re referred to as subsistence farmers.” The farmer does not buy anything, from anybody, except seed.

    These are ecologically sustainable, environmentally responsible, socially just and economically viable. These practices can feed the world regardless of how high the population goes. UN Report: Small-Scale Organic Farming Only Way to Feed the World. [2014] There are no-till farmers in every country. Bhutan has decreed that it will be the first country in the world with 100% organic agriculture. Sikkim state, India, is totally organic. 90% of the farms in Argentina and 75% of the farms in Brazil are no-till but use heavy users of chemicals.

    Poor, unhealthy soil is the reason for low yields due to chemicals and low organic matter. Stop using chemicals and increase organic matter. Takes 2-3 years for the soil to return to its original health.
    Five Proven Gardening/Mini-Farming principles: maximize organic matter production, keep the soil covered, zero tillage, maintain biological diversity, feed plants through the mulch. [Roland Bunch] Organic, no-till gardening/mini-farming, in permanent beds, with permanent paths, using hand/power tools, doubles or triples yields. Uses: cover crops, bucket drip irrigation, etc. Reduces labor 50% to 75%, reduces inputs-expenses to nearly 0 [seed only], creates healthy soil with high fertility, stops soil erosion, rain water runoff, soil compaction and eliminates most weed, disease, insect problems.
    SRI – system of rice intensification: 50%-100% increased yields, reduction in required seed, 50% savings in water. Adapted for rain-fed rice. in 70+ languages.

    Books: How To Have A Green Thumb Without An Aching Back/ Stout; Micro Eco-Farming/Adams; The One-Straw Revolution/ Fukuoka; Pay Dirt/Rodale; No-Till Farming Systems.

    I visited a farmer using organic, no-till on 10 acres. Used only a machete. He planted maize intercropped with mucuna. Had two crops per year. Harvested the maize and cut down the mucuna which was left on top of the soil. Nothing to do until he planted the next crop. His only help was the family at harvest.

    With no-till, organic matter [green manure/cover crops, weeds, crop residue] generates the following results:
     The mulch gradually rots into the soil providing a constant supply of nutrients while eliminating composting.
     Moisture retention due to the mulch layer means reduced need for watering; saving both resources and labor.
     Mulch prevents weeds from growing, reducing another laborious chore.
     Because of greater nutrients, plants can be positioned twice as densely as normally recommended.
     The combination of denser spacing and healthy soil means a fourfold increase in yield. Josef Graf has promoted organic gardening since 1988. since 1972. Roland Bunch has promoted green manure/cover crops, worldwide, since 1982. [Brazil have over 2 million farmers using zero till and green manure/cover crops on 30 million hectares.]. In Honduras, made farming profitable. Fukaoka Farm, Japan, organic, no-till [rice, small .grains, vegetables] since 1947 [book]. Farmers, Yilou, Burkino Faso, mulching since 1965. At the time of my visits the following were organic, no-till: an Indian farmer [vegetables] for 5 years, a Malawi farmer [vegetables] for 25 years [model farm], Ghana farmer, 3 years [only one farmer knew it out of 385 in the association] and Honduras farmer [vegetables & fruit] on permanent beds on the contour (73° slope] for 8 years. Reduced cost by 30% the first year and tripled profits in five years [Argentina]. I was on a farm [Honduras] where the farmer, alone, farms 4 hectares using only a machete and produces two crops per year. In Uganda, farmers average 73 days weeding but only 5 days when using no-till. USA/PA farmer no-till since 1985 [tractor]. 262,000,000 acres in no-till and 85,000,000 acres organic, worldwide. There are organic, no-till farmers in every country.
    No technique yet devised by man has been anywhere near as effective at halting
    soil erosion and making food production truly sustainable as 0-tillage (Baker)
    1. No tractor, no chemicals, no fertilizers.
    2. Healthy soil produces healthy plants which resists pests & diseases, for high yields.
    3. Healthy soil is made by increasing organic matter using green manure/cover crops [mucuna/velvet beans but many others, legume and non-legume, grasses].
    4. Soil high in organic matter has no rain water runoff.
    5. Soil always covered. Crop, mulch, cover crop.
    6. Orchards, vineyards, etc. cover crops [perennials ?]. Cut and leave on top of soil as mulch.
    7. Stops soil erosion.
    8. Weeds; never let go to seed. Cut and leave as mulch
    9. All insect pests and diseases have natural enemies that will control them. Use neem, nicotine, etc.
    10. Broadcast crops: alternate with seasonal cover crops
    11. Intercropping [crop & legumes] and/or crop rotation
    12. Compost: If other organic matter is available, use as mulch or compost [Old pallets, if free, for bins].
    13. Leave all crop residues on top of the soil for mulch.
    No-till: no plowing, no digging, no cultivating.
    Worms and roots will till. Plowing destroys organic matter. Plowing began in 4 BC.
    14. Permanent beds: used since 2000 BC in Guatemala, Mexico. 1- 2 m. wide; any length. [Side boards not necessary]
    15. Permanent paths between beds. [15-20% of the land is in paths and that saves 15-20% of the labor, seed, time and water, if irrigating. Higher yields.
    16. Hoop houses/ high tunnels to extend season.
    17. Shade cloth to extend season.
    18. Support for climbing plants: cages, trellises
    19. Tools-hand: machete, planting hoe, scythe, yoyo, hula/stirrup hoe, pruners, trimmers, greens harvester.
    20. Seed – Open-pollinated. No hybrids, No GMOs.
    21. Transplants: start seed indoors as needed.
    22. Crops: grains, nuts, vegetables, fibers, fruit, spices, gourds, flowers
    23. New crops: Edamame soybeans [for humans], tomatillos, popping sorghum, sweet sorghum [syrup], spaghetti squash, stevia [sugar/diabetics], maize [sweet, popping, baby], broomcorn, buckwheat, Sea-rice 86, Artemisia annua [malaria].
    24. Use living fences to control livestock.
    25. Irrigation: Use drip or bucket drip. The farmer makes the dripline [US$5]. One, 33m, will irrigate a row of crop using only 40 liters of water every other day. 20L bucket 1m above ground connects to dripline. A line can be moved to irrigate several rows per day. Water: stream, pond, well. When pressure water is available, use a ½” black poly tubing inserting ¼” barbed tees. A drip kit returns US$20 per month to the farmer [FAO study].
    26. Moscovies: Should be on every farm. Eats bad insects, roosts in trees, needs little purchased food. Good eggs and meat.
    27. Imitate nature. Most farmers fight nature.
    Nature always wins.

    Ken Hargesheimer, [email protected]

    Agriculture corporations, farm stores and garden centers promote the use of chemicals, inorganic fertilizers and GMOs for profit; not because it is best for your garden/farm. No one profits promoting organic, no-till: nothing to sell.
    “Plowing the land damages the soil almost as much as chemical weed killers do. It kills nitrogen-fixing bacteria.” Onmivore’s Dilemma “No one has ever advanced a scientific reason for plowing. It can be said with truth that the use of the plow has actually destroyed the productiveness of our soils.” Edward Faulkner, Plowman’s Folly [1943]. Plow to kill the weeds; that brings to the surface more seeds to sprout; more weeds to plow up.

    Thank you for the info. I am applying it in my own vegetable patch. It is working. Got about 10 pounds of potatoes per square yard. This off previously dead low, carbon soil. Your advise is so simple. People do not believe me when I tell them. I am so excited about growing things now. This coming from a commercial plum farmer. Jeremy Karsen, South Africa

    We have already started several gardens in Jinkfuin community and the people working on them have benefitted from the DVDS we received from Ken. We watched the DVDs and got so many lessons and women and men already running gardens, good ones! Lia, Kimilili

    I confirm Ken’s advice. I’ve been using mulch and no-till since the late sixties. It works. It really works. I now manage a 5,000 ft² community garden in its fifth season. It started on hard clay with turf grass using cardboard and mulch. Leaves are added to the beds every fall and it has never been tilled. It’s a beautiful, fruitful garden. I have friends who have sand and advised them to do the same. They’ve been very successful as well. It will work anywhere. Judith Hainaut

    Uganda: We have been working on improving farming techniques for almost a year. The farmers are planting small plots that only feed their family. There is no other choice but to try new techniques to improve the output of their plot. Ken suggested the “no till” farming techniques as well as the “drip system”. Both have proven effective at increasing production by at least 5 fold. The time is now for Kyomya to become a model agricultural village. []

    Ken has instructed us by introducing cover crops to improve the organic nature of the soil. This involves less work than the previous method and has resulted in double the yield from crops where this method has been implemented.’ Busukuma,

    We are growing plants using the technology you shared with us – Truly, it works: yields are high. We have grown lemon grass using your techniques. Other crops watermelons, peppers, cucumber, etc are doing fantastic. Following the evidence, a number of people want to have the technology. [2016] Joel, [email protected]

    ¡¡You take care of the soil; the soil takes care of the crops; the crops take care of you!!

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