Traditional seeds under threat

Rural communities are fast losing local knowledge about traditional food crops and agricultural practices, a trend which is threatening the existence of indigenous seeds.

Chipangura Chirara, the national biodiversity coordinator at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management, said maintaining, cultivating and processing traditional food crops provided communities with secure food supplies in a changing environment.

In an exclusive interview with The Zimbabwean soon after visiting Manicaland on a national biodiversity media tour organised by the Environmental Management Authority in partnership with the UNDP Biodiversity Office, Chirara said traditional food crops were a source of community livelihoods and they were an important component of the country’s biodiversity.

“Traditional grain seeds and food crops are now under threat because communities are now focusing on producing cash crops,” said Chirara.

“There is need for the country to strategise and ensure that we promote within communities the preservation of traditional seeds because, as a country, we are likely to run out of them.”

Chirara said traditional crops were fundamental sources of food and nutrition for communities since time immemorial. It was important for communities to realise that they were a source of food security for local people in areas such as the region five’s agro-ecological zones.

“Traditional crops do well even under dry and harsh climatic conditions. If seeds for such crops run out, the communities whose livelihoods are dependent on them will suffer,” said Chirara.

He lamented the introduction of modern cash crops and said this was why communities now preferred cultivating crops such as tobacco.

“Traditional crops are important and they have been superseded by commercialised hybrid food crop varieties,” said Chirara, adding that newly introduced commercial food crops were not adapted to local conditions and required high inputs of fertilisers, mechanisation and water supplies.

Commercial Farmers’ Union president Charles Taffs confirmed that the cultivation of traditional crops was slowly fading into oblivion and he attributed this to failure by financial institutions to offer farmers funding.

“There are a lot of challenges regarding access to funding for farmers to cultivate traditional crops on a commercial basis,” said Taffs.

“For commercial farmers in Zimbabwe, there could be one or two that are still farming traditional crops such as sorghum, maybe for companies like Delta beverages. The majority of the farmers are concentrating on farming cash crops such as tobacco, cotton and maize because of their income.”

Communities in Chakohwa and Nyanyadzi in Manicaland said it was difficult to save seeds from their previous farming seasons because of the low crop yield.

Sandra Tumbwido said: “We hardly get enough to feed our families because the region is dry. It becomes very difficult for us to save the seeds while we are watching our families go hungry. We end up consuming the seed, which is very difficult to get in other regions because maize is the most common crop cultivated by most small-scale farmers.”

Affected by climate change, most farmers in Zimbabwe have been battling with frequent and severe droughts.

A recent document on Drought Management Strategy by the Southern African Development Community acknowledged that meaningful contingency planning for drought was unfamiliar to most farmers in the region, “resulting in droughts being treated as emergencies rather than developmental challenges”.

Post published in: Agriculture

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