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Agroecology: The smart way of combating climate change

Agroecology: The smart way of combating climate change

Cyclone Idai struck Zimbabwe in March 2019, affecting 270,000 people with Chipinge and Chimanimani districts being the hardest hit according to a humanitarian website, reliefweb.

It was tragic, with the loss of lives (human and livestock), vast estates and homesteads, schools, infrastructure, etc. Nothing was spared; it was catastrophic. A climatic disaster of that magnitude had never been felt in the country. The disaster preparedness was found wanting. It was a learning curve, and sad as it was, climate change became a reality.

Climate change is a major challenge in Zimbabwe and the world at large. The negative effects, mainly in agricultural production, have a ripple effect on all the economic facets. Temperature and water availability are key factors in determining crop growth and productivity. Negative changes in these factors lead to reduced crop yields.

Zimbabwe’s five main agro-ecological zones have shifted because of changes in climate, resulting in more arid environments for agricultural production. Rainfall patterns and crop production progressively deteriorate from Region I to V. Climate and weather-induced instability affect levels of and access to the food supply, altering social and economic stability.

Faced with these challenges, peasant women and smallholder farmers have embraced agroecological practices as a way of combating climate change and maintaining healthy food systems. Hence, the storytelling project of the African Women’s Collaborative for Healthy Food Systems seeks to raise awareness of the contribution and achievements of African peasant and pastoralist women in maintaining local, agroecological, and equitable food systems.

A Smallholder Farmers Organization, SFO Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust (CELUCT) in Chimanimani is adapting to climate change through land conservation, making use of agroecology and sustainable agriculture.

Situated in Chief Chikukwa village in Chimanimani, CELUCT was hard hit by the 2019 cyclone that claimed 17 hectares of wetland in their village, destroying unique crops and seeds, mainly bananas.

Agroecology farming has long been associated with conserving the land and environment. It strengthens the resilience of farmers and rural communities through diversification of agroecosystems; agroforestry systems and crop-livestock mixed systems accompanied by organic soil management, water conservation and harvesting, and general enhancement of agrobiodiversity. Traditional farming systems are repositories of a wealth of principles and measures that can help modern agricultural systems become more resilient to climatic extremes.

The National Coordinator of Zimbabwe Smallholders Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF), Nelson Mudzingwa explained this concept and how it leads to adaptation of the environment to climate change on a special visit by the writers to Mudzingwa’s household.

Read also: World Bank approves $700m for climate resilience project in Nigeria

The household had an array of impressive sustainable projects, from fish ponds, fruit trees, and indigenous trees, to cattle, goats, chickens, and crop fields. This is one of the centres of excellence that ZIMSOFF has in several households in Shashe and Mashava, Masvingo Province.

Mudzingwa stated he practices agroecology that conserves the land and the environment.

“We use traditional farming systems passed from many generations that are rich in ways and measures that can strengthen agricultural systems to become more resilient to climate extremes. We urge our members to practice agroecology that reduces vulnerabilities to climate change,” said Mudzingwa.

Over the years, peasant women in rural Zimbabwe have practised agroecological farming strategies that are passed from one generation to another. These agroecology methods that mitigate climate change include crop diversification, maintaining local genetic diversity, soil organic management, water conservation and harvesting.

The peasant women plant seeds that include small grains such as rapoko, finger millet, groundnuts and round nuts, and other seed varieties that are not hybrids. These plants are more adaptable to the environment, making it in high temperatures that are more common in the current climate change environment.

Explaining the linkages between the land, water and seed, Mudzingwa outlined the need for the conservation of the three through proper farming methods, stating agroecology as the best farming method that can lead to adaptation to climate change.

Visits to Gutu, Mutoko, Shashe, Chiredzi and Bubi showed how peasant women are combating climate change through their knowledge of agroecology.

Barbra Risinahama (40), married with one child aged 22, said agroecology has taught her a revolutionary form of farming. “I was born and raised in Zvimba before I came here to get married. My grandmother taught me how to farm what is known as women’s seeds. She taught me that I do not have to struggle with buying farming implements, but I have to use things that were available in my environment. This would result in good yields and can also deter climate change.”

Elizabeth Simbanegavi (65) of Ward 22, who became an elected councillor in 2013, had a story to inspire farmers. “The country is faced with a challenge of climate change that needs to be addressed. However, women in my area are empowered. They produce enough food for themselves with a surplus to sell. They use women’s seeds such as small grain foods that do not need pest control. We share and exchange our seeds. A community using healthy seeds is a great community. Cross-pollination of weak seeds reduces yields. We avoid that by sharing good seeds; seeds that are resistant to early decay, seeds that are drought resistant. Our area receives less rainfall, so we adapt our seeds to suit our rainfall patterns. Agroecology helps in the adaptation to climate change,” said Simbanegavi, an expert in her own right.

Gogo Mumvuri (65) from Shashe, Mashava in Masvingo Province practices diversified farming and organic methods of pest and disease control to lessen environmental impact. She acknowledges that the use of harmful chemicals for pest control could further damage their lands.

“When we plant different crops on the same piece of land at the same time, it reduces pests. There are also indigenous trees like mutsviri and mutovhoti whose barks we burn and sprinkle the ashes on our crops,” she said.

Nyengeterai Munyani, a vibrant farmer in her 70s from Zvishavane, also shared similar beliefs. She has 7 hectares of land dominated by small grain crops; millets, Macia, rapoko, sorghum and peas.

“I use leaves from the pawpaw trees, which I then crush while they are fresh and mix with water. I spray my crops with this solution and that deals with the pests and diseases,” she said.

It is a matter of time before more farmers learn to adapt and enjoy better yields from agroecology. With the current global challenge of food insecurity, agroecology is crucial to strengthening food systems while managing climate change. Hence, the African Women’s Collaborative for Healthy Food Systems affirms that the political and economic empowerment of African peasant and pastoralist women is vital to ensuring sustainable food systems.