For quite a long time, John Chatodzera (60) from Ziruvi Village in Bikita District of Zimbabwe has believed that repeatedly growing maize is the panacea to ending the perennial poverty that has become part of his life.
Chatodzera is one of many subsistence rural-based farmers in the country who constitute more than 70% of the country’s population– the majority of whom depend on rainfed agriculture for survival.
However, for him the last two decades have been viciously unfair for farmers because yields have been gradually decreasing due to a combination of factors, including droughts and flooding.
“First it was the 1992 drought in which our maize wilted before tasseling, which heralded the beginning of tough times ahead. In 2000, Cyclone Eline caused severe flooding that destroyed our crops and livestock, as well as infrastructure like roads, bridges, schools and clinics,” Chatodzera said, wiping sweat on his forehead.
Zimbabwe – a country once famed as Southern Africa’s breadbasket, has suddenly been reduced to a basket case, with a greater percentage of its population struggling to produce enough food and facing starvation in subsequent seasons.
Critics blame President Mugabe and the ruling party ZANU (PF) for having run down the economy due to a “chaotic” land reform program that led to the appropriation of productive, commercial, and white-owned farms that began in the year 2000.
In the midst of all this, Chatodzera understands the “politics of the stomach” from a different perspective altogether.
“The problems we are facing have nothing to do with whether or not Mugabe took farms from the whites. To me it makes no difference because I have never left the piece of land that my forefathers and generations that followed owned,” he said.
An expert in agricultural economics and land issues, Professor Mandivamba Rukuni, who is also a senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, said lack of knowledge and poor farming practices resulted in most smallholder farmers failing to produce good yields.
“The soils on which most smallholder farmers practice agriculture are, in many cases, depleted of nutrients because they usually don’t use crop rotations and soil conservation techniques, such as applying appropriate manure and fertilizers,” Rukuni said.
One of the major contributing factors to declining food production is climate change, which has caught most smallholder farmers off-guard.
Agriculture is the backbone of many African economies. In this regard the continent’s agricultural leaders, drawn from civil society, governments and private businesses, met in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, September 2nd, to build a new consensus for transforming and increasing food production.
Some of these strategies are contained in the 2014 African Agriculture Status Report prepared by the Alliance for a Green Revolution Africa (AGRA) and launched on Tuesday at the ongoing African Green Revolution Forum. It notes that smallholder farmers across Africa are struggling to adapt to rapidly rising temperatures and more erratic rains.
Jane Karuku, AGRA’sPresident, called on farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to come up with additional practical strategies to adapt to climate change effects in order for them to boost food production.
Growing of drought-resistant seed varieties, insuring livestock, adopting soil management techniques for water retention, and conservation agriculture are some of the recommendations the report gives to smallholder farmers.