By Kennedy Nyavaya
In over three decades he has been a small-scale commercial farmer, Samusoni Masiwa has managed to build a modest homestead and raise his growing family comfortably from the enterprise.
Apart from trading farm produce, the 54-year old, who takes pride in attaining decent Ordinary level results back in 1987, has not known any other job or means of subsistence. His livelihood almost completely depends on agriculture.
“I have managed to build a home and acquire all I have right now through farming. I have never been formally employed or used my academic qualifications to get a job,” says Masiwa.
His story probably mirrors that of many other middle-aged men and women in the remote farmlands of Gandiwa village, located in Gokwe South, where many households depend on agri-business for life sustenance.
However, reality has been shifting over the years and adding to the devastating effects of a rapidly changing climate is the emergency of the Covid-19 pandemic that has wreaked havoc countrywide since early last year.
“When Covid-19 came, it blocked a lot of our income streams,” Masiwa said.
“My wife used to complement what we got from our field harvest (of maize and cotton) by selling fruits in our yard but over the last year some of it got rotten when we were restricted to our homes because of lockdown, there was no market.”
Further worsening the situation was a drought from the previous farming seasons, which meant that while they had to throw away excess fruits, they still did not have enough food or finances to cater for other needs in their lives.
Apart from farming inputs, Masiwa says, modern farming “needs sufficient planning time and knowledge” if one is to convincingly benefit from their own sweat.
Sticking to old ways of doing things and refusal to adapt is risky business but there has been gaps in terms of teaching as well as acceptance of sustainable ways of farming.
This is a gap that the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society (ZRCS), with funding from the Japanese government, has been trying to fill through a project themed Building resilient communities under Covid-19 through food security, improved water provision and community-based health care support in Zimbabwe.
The project covers several components including, drilling of boreholes, training and awareness about Covid-19, as well as training on climate-smart agriculture and inputs provision among others.
“The major purpose of the project is enhancing community capacity to reduce the spread and mitigate effects of Covid-19 through improving access to basic health care and strengthening food security and water provision for the most vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe,” said ZRCS secretary-general Elias Hwenga.
“The selected interventions will seek to address food insecurity needs by drilling and solarization of boreholes, establishment of nutrition gardens, and establishment of income generating groups, training and agricultural input support and distribution of farming inputs. ”
Hwenga added that the year-long initiative started in March and is set to benefit 4000 under-privileged households.
“This project aims to support preparedness and response to Covid-19 induced emergencies in Gokwe North and South in the Midlands province, over 12 months. The target group for the interventions are the most vulnerable and food insecure community members,” he said.
For Magaisa village headman Emmanuel Magaisa, the knowledge and resources received so far through his wife, who is one of the Red Cross volunteers, has been a game changer for him and the community.
“I have seen that it helped the community because we had people that were struggling in terms of farming because of lack in knowledge and resources,” he said adding:
“Now even those that were not farming have taken interest in it and can now harvest, which curbs hunger and prevalence of theft.”
Last year,government introduced Pfumvudza/Intwasa, a farming 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 optimise its management.
However, the uptake had been low owing to skepticism and lack of information about how it works.
“I started pfumvudza this year and it is something that I had not done before because I did not understand it,” explained Masiwa.
Masiwa was a firm believer that a real farmer “cannot work while my herd of cattle is resting”but the climate smart concept has helped him rethink his traditional way of doing things.
“The teachings from Red Cross have been helpful in informing us about things like not disturbing our soils by tilling them too much, this year I am expecting three tonnes of maize from a space I used to get less than a tonne from,” he said.
“Even my herd of 16 cattle will rest, fatten and fetch more value on the market.”