WHEN the Cyclone Idai tragedy befell Chimanimani, Chipinge, Buhera and Mutare districts in March 2019, subsistence farmer, Ms Queen Majokwiro and her family had already been struggling with the effects of climate change.
Their maize farming venture in Chimanimani had been drastically affected by the erratic rainfall patterns and they could hardly harvest a tonne of maize from their two-hectare piece plot.
In 2019 they failed to harvest anything as their maize crop was destroyed by the cyclone and this left them depending on food hand-outs from development partners.
Their land was reduced to gullies by flooding and landslides and they had to relocate to another part of Chimanimani.
As she started farming in Chanhuwa Village under Chief Muusha, Ms Majokwiro’s prospects of better harvests remained a pipe dream as climate change continued to wreak havoc.
However, a ray of hope is filtering in for her as she has joined hands with other women in the district to start a seed bank for traditional grains that can easily adapt to the harsh climatic changes.
This, according to Ms Majokwiro, will ensure food security for the farmers’ families.
“This seed bank is a reliable place where we can obtain seeds of local crops and varieties. Commercial seed companies and private dealers are only marketing modern varieties and hybrids of a limited number of crops. In most cases, those modern varieties seem to have a hard time adapting with the ever changing climate,” said Ms Majokwiro.
Another farmer, Ms Ruth Chikotosa said: “We use agro-ecology in growing these seeds so that they are not affected by climate change.
“They are very healthy and are not easily affected by the harsh weather patterns and diseases when we plant them.”
The seed bank has seen quality traditional seeds for crops like okra, rapoko, black jack, millet, sorghum, cassava, beans, pumpkins, butternuts, maize and many others being stored in huge quantities.
The seed bank is an informal institution governed and managed locally. Its core function is to preserve seeds for local use.
It seeks to conserve, restore, revitalise, strengthen and improve local seed systems, especially, but not solely, focused on local varieties.
The seed bank also helps in the exchange of traditional seed diversity and is trying to regain farmers’ control over seeds while strengthening cooperation among those involved in the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity, including researchers, extension officers and development workers.
The farmers who run the seed banks handle major, minor, neglected and underutilised varieties of crops, sometimes in small quantities and sometimes hundreds of kilogrammes.
Two local development partners stationed in Chimanimani — Towards Sustainable Use of Resources Organisation (TSURO) Trust and Participatory Organic Research Extension Training (PORET) Trust — have been implementing the traditional seed bank concept across the district.
In an interview with The Manica Post, research technician in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development, Ms Talent Rungwe said climate change is making agriculture in Zimbabwe more challenging.
She said traditional seed banks help with the conservation and promotion of cultural heritage, while helping farmers to curtail the effects of climate change.
“While we are doing this to take climate change head-on, we are also conserving and promoting our heritage because this is the same grain seeds that were used by our fore-fathers long ago.
“They are important because we are adapting to climate change. As a result of climate change, new breeds are struggling to grow. Our traditional seeds are proving to be very adaptive to these changing weather conditions and are resistant to whatever weather conditions they are thrown in,” she said.
Ms Rungwe said due to climate change, subsistence farmers are also hard hit.
“Some aspects of adaptation may be challenging, for example, farmers here in Chimanimani are generally more vulnerable to higher temperatures, fluctuations in rainfall patterns and variable yields.
“While they can adapt to climate change more easily by securing crop insurance and adjust what they plant, irrigate their fields, or apply crop protection chemicals and fertilisers, the traditional seed bank is the ideal tool for them as it requires little or no money, while producing commendable harvests for them,” she said.
Agriculture is critical to the country’s growth and development, especially as the country seeks to achieve Vision 2030 of an upper middle income class economy.
However, climate change could curb economic growth.
Chimanimani District Development Coordinator, Mr Joseph Manyurapasi said the concept is in line with Government’s vision of ensuring food security at household level.
“As Government, we welcome this development. The Pfumvudza/Intwasa concept was introduced to address food insecurities and this initiative is advancing that cause. I am glad that our female farmers are at the forefront of conserving and preserving our culture through farming using this initiative,” he said.
Minister of State for Manicaland Provincial Affairs and Devolution, Honourable Nokuthula Matsikenyere said agriculture is a key driver of the country’s economy.
She said the seed bank is a very critical vehicle for knowledge delivery on climate change.
“The 2021/2022 season started on a low note in terms of rainfall. The season was marred by a long dry spell between February and March and this severely affected crop and livestock production. Those are the effects of climate change.
“However, despite all these challenges, farmers who benefitted from the seed bank managed to come up with good quality crops. This is because of the type of seeds they used,” she said.
Minister Matsikenyere said adoption of conservation agriculture is high in Chimanimani District as a lot of farmers are trying by all means to curtail the effects of climate change.
Ms Bertha Mashiri, the economic strengthening manager of Tsuro Trust, said the seed bank ensures that farmers are seed secured.
“The seed bank makes sure that our farmers are seed secure and that the seeds are readily available for them. Under the Pfumvudza/Intwasa climate proof farming concept, it is encouraged to grow small grains. We have been encouraging farmers to bank such seeds. The seed bank will store all traditional seed varieties which we are strongly recommending our people to grow,” she said.
PORET director, Mr Julius Piti, said the traditional grains seed bank complements Government’s efforts of ensuring food security at household level, while also dealing with the challenges of climate change.
Mr Piti said the initiative also ensures seed and food security at district level.