Income security for smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe

Revamping rural livelihoods in the face of climate change 

Key Facts

In Zimbabwe, over 70 percent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods. Climate change is threatening agricultural productivity and exacerbating some of Zimbabwe’s key agricultural challenges: low soil fertility, reliance on rain-fed systems, poorly functioning markets, and farmers’ limited access to credit, knowledge and best practices. To address these challenges, FAO, the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID) and partners are implementing the Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP) with the aim of improving agricultural productivity and creating income security for over 127 000 farmer households in 8 districts in Zimbabwe. To date, the programme has already reached a total of 141 000 food insecure farming households, 14 000 households more than originally planned, in increasing their agricultural productivity and improving their income, food and nutrition security.

Addressing farmers’ challenges
Although smallholder farmers play a critical role in food and nutrition security in Zimbabwe, with their production accounting for the bulk of the country’s food, they themselves often struggle with poverty and food insecurity. In 2012, 76 percent of rural households lived below the poverty line and 32 percent of children under five were stunted as a result of malnutrition.

Smallholders and family farmers are increasingly struggling to make a living from their land and labour because of inadequate access to markets, low soil fertility and reliance on rain-fed systems. In addition, smallholder farmers and workers along the value chain have limited or no access to rural financial services. This constrains their ability to acquire productivity-enhancing inputs such as seeds, fertilizer and labour-saving technologies.

The Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Programme (LFSP) is mobilizing resources to enable smallholder farmers to invest in farm enterprise diversification, productivity-enhancing technologies and non-farm economic activities. The programme is enhancing the capacity of 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.

Gaining better access to markets
Farmers often have difficulty accessing markets because of inadequate infrastructure, low productivity levels, inconsistences in supply and low quality due to poor post-harvest practices. By enhancing extension and advisory services, improving access to financial services and facilitating market linkages, the LFSP is empowering rural people, especially smallholder women farmers, with organizational skills and agricultural knowledge to participate in local and external markets and to enhance their savings. This includes building their capacity to meet the requirements of local and international buyers.

Thanks to the LFSP programme, today more than 71 000 farmers receive extension messages through various technological platforms including mobile phones. These messages provide helpful information on farming techniques and markets.  

By mentoring over 64 smallholder farmer commodity groups and associations, smallholders have also improved their bargaining power, strengthened their linkages with markets and benefitted from economies of scale. Already 92 percent of the farmers helped by the programme to access financial services reported that this was instrumental in increasing farm productivity.

Addressing malnutrition
Micronutrient deficiencies, also called hidden hunger, are a large part of the nutrition problems in Zimbabwe. According to the 2012 National Micronutrient Survey, levels of vitamin and mineral deficiencies are high among children and women of child-bearing age.

The programme succeeded in promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture, focusing on nutrition during the first
1 000 days, the “window of opportunity” for addressing child stunting. To date, 113 600 households now have greater nutrition knowledge to change eating behaviours and address root causes of malnutrition.

The programme has also promoted the production and consumption of bio-fortified crops including pro vitamin ‘A’ maize and iron and zinc sugar bean. As a result, over 28 000 households are producing and consuming bio-fortified maize and sugar bean. LFSP is expanding the bio-fortification programme to additional provinces to reach a larger portion of the population.

Improving resilience to shocks
By promoting climate-smart technologies, the LFSP is also helping to increase the resilience of smallholder farmers to natural disasters and climate change. Rural people in Zimbabwe, as in many parts of the world, often have no other means of recovering from natural disasters that affect their livelihoods than by selling their productive assets, such as their livestock or land. To address this, FAO has trained some 141 000 households (62% female) in climate-smart agricultural practices and technologies, post-harvest management, animal husbandry and marketing. In addition, the programme cushioned the impacts of El Niño by introducing smart subsidies to help farmers adopt improved post-harvest handling and processing technologies.

Stimulated by enhanced access to markets, financial and extension and advisory services, smallholders in Zimbabwe are now able to manage their farms in climate resilient ways and secure their livelihoods in the face of natural disasters.

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