FAO Regional Office for Africa

Conservation Agriculture on a roll in Zimbabwe

A new government initiative is aimed at increasing farmers’ resilience

Photo: Foundations for Farming

The Government of Zimbabwe has set a target to train 1.8 million farmers in Conservation Agriculture (CA) by October 2020 in time for the 2020/21 cropping season. One million farmers have already been trained in the country.

To help achieve this ambitious goal, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Foundations for Farming (FfF) have been training government extension staff to implement the Pfumvudza concept – which comprises CA practices – to help bring food self-sufficiency to Zimbabwe.

It is hoped that the project will address the problems of low levels of productivity and production, making the country’s farmers and households more resilient to climate shocks and ultimately ensuring food security in Zimbabwe. The scheme also offers real potential for commercialisation by encouraging smallholder farmers to produce surplus food to earn a regular income.

What is Pfumvudza?

Pfumvudza is a crop production intensification approach under which farmers ensure the efficient use of resources (inputs and labour) on a small area of land in order to optimize its management.

“Pfumvudza means a new season of increased productivity; it is a season of producing more on less land and with less resources; a season of climate proofing our agriculture through … [the] adoption of Conservation Agriculture,” said the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, John Basera.

What makes Pfumvudza unique is the size of the plot used: at just 16m x 39m the plot is small enough to easily prepare, small enough to manage with mulch, small enough to weed, and even small enough to water by hand with harvested rainwater in the event of a mid-season dry spell or drought.

The concept has been successful in helping farmers to produce grains including maize, sorghum and millet, while it also encourages the rotation of legumes such as beans, ground nuts or cowpeas.

According to Matthew Mbanga, CEO of FfF Trust, “The secret to the project’s success has been its scalability. Conservation Agriculture drastically reduces the workload for farmers and limiting the size of plots makes it even more manageable.”

All 1.8 million beneficiaries of the Presidential Inputs Scheme, now called the Climate-proofed Presidential Inputs Scheme, are each expected to establish three Pfumvudza plots over the 2020/21 agricultural season.

Responding to a changing climate

The government’s objective is to climate proof the agricultural production of smallholder farmers (who make up 80% of farmers in Zimbabwe) and ensure food self-sufficiency for the nation.

Gogo Matilda, an elderly widow, is testimony to the impact of Pfumvudza. After receiving training on Pfumvudza from FfF she implemented the practises and managed to harvest enough maize to feed herself and her grandchildren for a whole year. Implementing Pfumvudza transformed Gogo Matilda’s household from one that was vulnerable and food-insecure, to one that is food secure and able to produce its own maize.

By implementing Pfumvudza, farmers like Gogo Matilda save time, land and money as a result of a reduction in inputs and labour. This allows them time to invest in other commercially viable income generating activities and develop new streams of income, which can be used to meet basic needs and purchase a variety of food items to ensure a balanced and nutritious diet.

FAO and Conservation Agriculture

Through the project Strengthening coordination, scaling up and governance of Conservation Agriculture in Southern Africa (SUCASA), FAO is working with partners – including FfF – to increase collaboration in scaling up Conservation Agriculture in the region.

Warming at twice the global rate, Southern Africa is one of the epicentres of global climate change and through the Malabo Declaration, African heads of state declared that 25 million farmers should adopt climate resilient production systems by 2025 to protect their food and nutrition security and livelihoods.

Zimbabwe’s efforts are certainly a step in the right direction, according to Lewis Hove, Head of FAO’s Resilience Hub for Southern Africa, and SUCASA Coordinator: “By working more closely with our partners – that is the private sector, governments and local authorities, resource and development partners, and NGOs – we’ll be in a much better position to help farmers incorporate CA practices into their farming.”

“Ultimately,” he says, “this is only going to help Southern Africa’s farmers become more resilient to climate shocks.”