Timba ugute transforms farming

Sarudzo Mbiti, 67, is a widow who has lived here for 50 years and survived many seasons of hunger - but all that has changed thanks to the introduction of a new farming technique.

Children walk through a maize plantation on their way to school.
Children walk through a maize plantation on their way to school.

The Sustainable Agriculture Trust last year introduced the open hole farming technique that has seen an upturn in yields. Even though she does not have cattle or land, Mbiti is able to produce enough food for her family.

"We are hopeful of a successful season, thanks to the new farming technique of Timba Ugute (Shona for dig and have bumper harvest)," she said.

The method allows farmers to produce an average of two tonnes of maize on a single acre. In the past, the same piece of land would give a family just five bags.

“It’s been two seasons since we started this project. At first people were doubtful about it, but everyone has now been convinced. Hunger is a thing of the past,” said Garikai Chipere from Nyimo.

Crops planted using this method include maize, sorghum, rapoko, groundnuts and pumpkins. "On one acre, 11,000 holes are dug. In each one of them three seeds are planted.

If one of the seeds does not come up, the other two do. Manure from available cow dung and produce from compost makes the land fertile – substituting expensive fertilisers. The method is free, and a recipe for bumper harvests," said Mbiti.

Her neighbour, Tichaona Figo, said people were no longer begging for food. “People here have all built granaries. A walk around will prove to you that there is now a big difference from three years ago,” said Figo.

Teddy Tsikai, a senior officer at the Agricultural Technical Extension Services, said the project was empowering the locals. He said locals had been taught how to nurture seed, which they could then sell to fellow farmers. He added that the project promoted traditional ways of farming that were productive.

Local MP Arnold Sululu commended the project. “The farmers are succeeding on their own, without any help from political parties,” said Sululu.

Another farmer, Tarwei Magwere, 47, a father of eight, noted that despite erratic rainfall last year they managed a good harvest.

“In the past, less rainfall was a cause of disaster, but with the new methods we are sure of good yields,” he said. “We always read in the newspapers that the Agricultural ministry is doing something for the peasant farmers. We have not seen their inputs, neither have we had their equipment.”

Also in Silobela, a similar project has been initiated by Plan International. Local farmers have been taught to nurture open-pollinated seed varieties. The development has created a local market for seed. Farmers no longer travel all the way to bigger cities like Kwekwe and Gweru to buy seed.

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