In this, Zimbabwe’s beautiful but unforgiving environment, there are stories of change and hope.
Smallholder Beauty Katsenga struggled to feed her elderly mother and four grandchildren
Despite hand digging deep wells for irrigation, and the daily fight against poor soil fertility, pests and diseases, there was often little to cook.
We first met Beauty two years ago when she was selected, with 40 others, to attend GardenAfrica’s organic production & market training with local partners Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre and ZOPPA. At that time all the farmers were producing at below the level they needed to feed their families all year round.
But there was an important condition for them joining the course – that they each form groups of fellow smallholder to pass these skills on, and develop and certify as organic associations. The average group is 20 – but Beauty’s now has 35 members.
GardenAfrica worked with local partners to develop Zimbabwe’s organic standards, so that these vulnerable farmers could capitalise on growing domestic demand for organic produce – demand which was being supplied by imports from South Africa, when Zimbabwe’s smallholders remained net recipients of food aid. This didn’t make sense to us at GardenAfrica.
So we set to work on a 15 week production and market training programme which began with building natural live fencing to protect crops & improve pollination, digging deep fertility trenches filled with compost, and mulching to protect the soil against the harsh elements.
They all pitched in to dig and reinforce protected wells, and adapted old equipment to get the show on the road
Training included making the most of the resources all around them – like nutrients from termite mounds, and fertilisers made from manure and comfrey, pest traps made from recycled waste, and creating habitats for pest predators to live at a safe distance.
… like this hungry little chap. By inviting biodiversity back, a balance between human needs, wildlife and pests was being restored.
But pests can be tricky blighters, and finding organic-compliant pesticides was critical. So Kew worked with us indentify and collect 16 mostly indigenous species known to be effective against the host of different pests, and tested them for the key active compounds in their labs. With these lab results, we were able to identify the most effective samples, which were then propagated for distribution to all the farmers for them to grown on and use.
One of these was a small fast-growing tree called Tephrosia vogelii. Here it is growing at Beauty’s association, planted around these peas. Its roots are fixing nitrogen in the soil, its nitrogen-rich leaves will be used as a mulch, and added to the compost. Furthermore, its poisonous pods, soaked in water, make a solution that can be sprayed on crops to prevent aphids and red spider mite. But that’s not all...
… it can also be used as a dip for animals to prevent ticks, meaning that they stay healthier to provide eggs and other produce. Furthermore, 1/3 of all Africa’s food is thought to be lost during storage – but Tephrosia pods, when ground in to a powder, can also be stored with grain to ward off weevils and grain borers for secure storage throughout the ‘hunger season’. And its voluminous flowers attract pollinators to increase yields.
We’re also sharing this and other information with 20 agricultural extension workers, each of whom are tasked with supporting over 900 other farmers in their area. This information is now directly available to 18,991 smallscale grower and farmers across 8 districts in Mashonaland East – and demonstrations available to a further 200 extension workers (reaching 180,000 more farmers).
So now 82% of this new crop of Zimbabwe’s first organic farmers are women, and their crops for home consumption look like this. This year Zimbabwe’s average maize yield was 0.85 tons per hectare (the US average is 10 tons). But these organic farmers are reaching up to 8 tons per hectare using wholly organic techniques.
… And they’re not just producing maize anymore! Through coordinated crop rotation managed plot-by-plot, district-by-district there’s a diversity for home and sale – such as these broccoli, kale, lettuce and sugar snaps for local markets, schools and hospitals so that they benefit the most vulnerable in each community.
This healthy baby courgette crop is bound for a very lucrative market …
… harvested and packed for distribution to wholesalers and Harare supermarkets.
As the appetite and interest in organic grows, these carrots are making their way directly from farmers to supermarkets – cutting out the middle man, and providing fair prices for resource-poor consumers and the farmers themselves.
With help to improve their consistency, quality and packing ….
…. these sugar snaps were exported to the UK, Holland and South Africa (what a turnaround!) – and with this courgette crop already on its way, there’s ongoing income and food security.
Beauty’s association, Evergoing, has got its organic certification too, and is earning one of the highest incomes of all the 40 associations. They now proudly call themselves market gardeners.
Alwaystrialling new things and looking for new opportunities, and because her soil’s not ideal for potatoes, Beauty's trying out potatoes in bags.
After recent training, Beauty and others learned how to add value to their produce – drying herbs and veg, and making jams. So when Beauty travelled to Harare in the scorching heat with over-ripe tomatoes, she was royally insulted by the price they offered (2 crates for $10) which didn’t even cover her bus fare.
In true style, and with her renewed confidence, Beauty refused the $10 and returned with the two crates to make 40 jars of tomato jam which sold for $2 each. They’ve now developed their own label and are selling to local markets and shops.
With a more diverse range of produce, and the skills to adapt, all 991 farmers under this organic project are doing incredible things. In only 18 months they had already increased their diversity by up to 122%, their yields by 90%, and their income by 78% - growing a more secure future.
And at the centre of it all (and this photo) Beauty is the shining light. We hoped you’ve enjoyed meeting Beauty and the other farmers as much as we at GardenAfrica have enjoyed working with them. But let this not be the end of their story …. With your help, GardenAfrica can continue to innovate with new and exciting ways of helping farmers out of those ruts and into a diverse, healthy and profitable future. Thank you.
growing a sustainable future for Africa
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