Conservation farming delivers new hope

“I lost my husband in 2007, but I don’t complain because conservation agriculture is doing the work my husband would have done,” says Ethel Gware, from Riverside, Odzi area, in Mutare West constituency.

Ethel Gware - I don’t want to stop practising conservation agriculture because I’m getting lots of benefits.
Ethel Gware – I don’t want to stop practising conservation agriculture because I’m getting lots of benefits.

Gware, 47, a small-scale maize and mixed-crop farmer, kept on farming with help from her family after she was widowed. At the invitation of agricultural extension officers from the Zimbabwe Farm Care Trust she began practising conservation agriculture in 2010.

She is among the scores of families that are managing to cushion themselves against the vagaries of climate challenge and deteriorating soil fertility by using such methods. “I’d been hearing about conservation agriculture from the radio and people from ZFCT, so I was very interested in trying it. They asked me to host a demo, and I said ‘yes’ and started applying the practices,” she said.

“This is my fourth year. Some other farmers in the community visit me for advice. Some come to field days to see what I’m doing. Some just pass by and observe,” adds Gware.

Obert Mufandaedza of ZFCT explained that conservation agriculture practices include eliminating traditional ridge-and-furrow tillage systems, keeping crop residues on the soil, and rotating or intercropping maize with other crops.

“In addition to labour and cost savings, the improved soil structure resists erosion and increases water infiltration and retention. This is a huge benefit when drought threatens,” Mufandaedza explained.

“It appeared strange and somehow unjust to my neighbours when I stopped hoe ploughing and began to leave residues and stems from previous crops on my fields. Others speculated that I was degrading the soil. Some people thought I was mad, but I said ‘No, I’m not mad, I know what I’m doing,’” she said with a chuckle.

Gware noted that local farmers who were using the same method suffered less from last season’s erratic rains. She has sown cow-peas as inter-crops in one of her maize fields.

“I eat the pods. The leaves will boost soil fertility. The plants are quite small as I had not been able to sow the cowpea at the same time as the maize. It is a best practice so they grow up together,” she said.

She paid tribute to the support and training she received from extension workers and said it was crucial as farmers learnt new ways of doing things. “I now know how to apply conservation agriculture practices most effectively. I was trained to collect rainfall data. When I see it reaches above 30 millimeters, I sow,” said Gware. “When I have problems, I just go to my extension officer and ask for help. I am also happy that as we women, especially the widowed ones, have started to practice conservation agriculture,” she added. Gware said conservation agriculture was a blessing that had helped her pay for school fees and homestead improvements. “I cannot stop practising conservation agriculture, because I’m getting lots of benefits. I have enough time to grow other crops. I’m very happy because I’ve built another house with the proceeds. I don’t even complain about being a widow, otherwise, I wouldn’t have sent my children to school. Married women come to me and ask for food. I’m a happy woman,” Gware said.

The European Union through the Food and Agricultural Organisation has provided more than nine million euro this year to support conservation agriculture activities across the country aimed at empowering smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods.

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