Good rains spur hopes for Maramba-Pfungwe small grain producers
By Freedom Mupanedemo
HARARE – For 44-year-old Zvisinei Chabuka of Maramba-Pfungwe in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland East province, every cropping season brought with it its headaches and sad memories of the previous year’s fruitless efforts on his seemingly barren fields.
Little rainfall followed by a prolonged dry spell usually sums up any villager’s description of the climatic conditions of this area, which lies in Zimbabwe’s natural region four.
Almost every farming season, villagers toil in their fields for nothing. But driven by the urge to survive, every rainy season Chabuka and his family despairingly join fellow villagers in planting only to helplessly watch his crop, especially maize, bake under the unforgiving sun that follows.
And for years the drought-stricken Maramba-Pfungwe villagers would rely on government relief and aid from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
But not this year, thanks to a local NGO, Community Technology Development Trust (CTDT) that has partnered with villagers to grow small grains as well as promote the production of small grain seeds.
This year, Chabuka is not only expecting a bumper harvest in small gains but will smile all the way to the bank after he also put two hectares each under groundnuts, millet and sorghum all for the production of seed.
Together with 49 other villagers, Chabuka entered into a pioneer project with CTDT where upon realising that the district was facing recurrent droughts, the NGO recruited a group of villagers to work with in the production of small grain seeds.
With the help of CTDT and thanks to good rainfalls this year, the usually arid and patched Maramba-Pfungwe is today the lung of thriving small grain crops such as sorghum, millet, rapoko (finger millet) and groundnuts.
Most of these crops are meant for the production of small grain seed and are being monitored by CTDT officials with the help of officials from Arex and Zimbabwe Crop Breeding Institute.
Speaking during a field day at Chabuka’s homestead (one of the contract farmers with the best thriving small grain crop for seed) recently, CTDT director, Andrew Mwashita, said the project was a first of its kind the NGO was pioneering in drought-prone districts.
“We are giving birth to a small grain seed organization, which we have given the name Champion Seeds. Its thrust is to promote the production of small grain seed in Zimbabwe.
What we have realised, as an organisation, is that in order to ensure food security in the country we need first to address the issue of seed security,” he said.
Mwashita said the country was experiencing a shortage of small grain seed, with villagers relying on grains from their granaries as seeds every planting season.
He said Champion Seeds would be boosting the production of small grains seed in the country while incorporating villagers as the company’s shareholders.
“These villagers we have entered into contract with in this project will eventually buy shares in the company. At the moment, we are sponsoring and monitoring everything so that we can come up with the best seed.
But in future we would like to make these villagers shareholders of the company,” he said.
CTDT agriculture biodiversity programmes manager, Patrick Kasasa, said they were operating in five districts across the country.
He said in each district, CTDT was working with at least 50 villagers in the production of small grain seed.
“We are in Tsholotsho, Chiredzi, Umguza and Chipinge, and most of these districts are in regions 4 and 5. Our main thrust is to promote the production of small grains so as to improve food security in Zimbabwe,” he said.
Kasasa said the project was being funded by Oxfam Novib and providing the villagers with all the inputs and necessary expertise.
“Every farming season villagers would visit retail shops to buy seeds but small grains seed has been in short supply with the only available being the maize seed.
But some of these dry areas need small grains so what we are doing is to empower villagers so that they know that they can produce their own seed,” he said.
Kasasa said those who entered into small grain seed production with Champion Seeds would be paid 70 percent of the total cost of their seed at harvest.
“Thanks to good rains this year, this pioneer project is promising to be a success and farmers whom we entered into contract farming with will get a windfall soon even before we process the seed for sale in shops,” he said.
Chabuka said for the first time after many years of drought in Maramba-Pfungwe, he expected to reap the rewards of farming.
“I am so lucky to be one of the beneficiaries under Champion Seeds farming project. For the first time in many years, I am realising that there is value in farming thanks to CTDT and the good rains.
“What makes this year unique is that we did not plant for subsistence purposes only but we are also into commercial farming as well,” he said.
The area’s Member of Parliament, Simbaneuta Mudarikwa, said Government was prepared to work with NGOs like CTDT that were helping the country achieve its goals as enshrined in the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (Zim-Asset).
“As you are aware, under Zim-Asset, agriculture is one of the major pillars that is receiving a lot of funding as the country seeks to retain its bread-basket status. CTDT is, therefore, working in line with what is expected of [NGOs] by the government.
“Maramba-Pfungwe is a known drought-prone area and the production of small grain seed will obviously see many famers reverting to small grain farming,” he said. -Zimpapers Syndication