The Livelihood work is based on the understanding that farmers across the country face many inter-related constraints such as overdependence on rain fed crops like maize, declining crop yields and soil fertility, limited credit and capital, acute shortages of energy and water, poor knowledge and skills, inadequate support services and weak market linkages. Implemention is mainly in the northern part of Zimbabwe in partnership with Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union and the Department of AGRITEX in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Mechanisation Development. The aim is to increase communities’ resilience to shocks such as drought and to secure older men and women’s livelihoods through supporting income generating activities such as horticulture gardens and small livestock farming and facilitating market linkages.
The semi arid region were the intervention is implemented is in ecological region four (IV) and five (V). Region four receives fairly low total rainfall (450-650mm) and experiences periodic seasonal droughts and severe dry spells during the rainy season. The farming system is mainly based on livestock production and growing of drought tolerant fodder crops. Region V has too low and erratic total rainfall such that even drought resistant grain crops struggle. The survival of crops and livestock is mainly based on irrigation as the rainfall patterns in these regions are unreliable.
After analysis of the context within which the organisation operates, communities are capacitated to make sound business and financial decisions, and receive training to improve their agricultural productivity. Production, knowledge, finance and infrastructure are conceived holistically as mutually supporting, and structures and processes are addressed to ensure equitable access to water resources and markets and promote the capabilities of individuals.
The key areas of learning and innovation under the project
- Identifying, testing and implementing age-friendly farming technologies
In recent years government and NGO interventions have focused on technologies for drought resilience in the context of agricultural recovery for poor rural households. The main driving framework for these technologies has been conservation agriculture. While these technologies have created subsistence benefits for labour endowed households, they have fallen short in meeting the needs of older farmers given their declining labour capacities. As such the intervention sought to identify technologies and means of making farming age friendly. Based on the context analysis the following were identified and are being applied
- Use of water pumps
Carrying water buckets from the source for watering community gardens is strenuous for older persons. Water pumps are provided to enable easier access to water for garden members. The water is pumped from the source and brought into the garden resulting in reduction of distance travelled to collect water.
- Use of improved hybrid seed varieties
Traditional seed varieties have been producing diminishing yields. The organisation working with the Department of AGRITEX and the Zimbabwe Farmers Union has been keeping farmers abreast with improved seed varieties, engaging local seed producers to obtain high yielding varieties conducive for the dry arid areas where programmes are implemented. This has resulted in improved yields and quality of produce that is readily acceptable on the market.
- Livelihood diversification
Relying on one source of livelihood has always been a cause of increased vulnerability. The livelihood intervention promotes livelihood diversity. In a diversified household, if one productive activity does not provide enough, or fails completely, there are other sources of livelihood that the household can fall back on. The intervention then combined community gardens with small livestock intervention. The combination not only provide two sources of income but the interventions are complimentary., farmers managed to use the goat dung as manure for growing vegetables and also vegetable stumps and pruned leaves as goat feed.
- Promoting resilient livestock breeds
Local livestock breeds were noted to have low reproduction levels, with some goats failing to reproduce yearly. Better breeds of goats were obtained from the lowveld that bear at least 2 kids a year and thrive in the dry area. The breed resulted in increased livestock over a shock period of time and also increased chances of survival in the drought prone area.
- Linking older farmers to commercial markets for their products and building their capacity and that of their unions to protect their rights to pro-poor trade practices.
- Linking with major retailers
Farmers have been affected by lack of markets or unreliable market. The intervention facilitates linking farmers with existing markets that include major retail shops such as OK Zimbabwe in their areas in order to have market throughout the year. The garden members have been linked with local restaurants and fresh produce shops.
- Training in marketing
Experts in marketing from the Zimbabwe Farmers Union and Department of AGRITEX provide marketing skills training for garden members and commodity associations. The purpose of the commodity associations is to bring farmers together for strengthening their bargaining voice in the market.
- Harnessing the indigenous/traditional knowledge of older farmers and formalising it into agricultural extension services and risk mitigation in the face of frequent droughts dogging the region.
The existing community gardens have thrived on the knowledge of older farmers who have help in promoting organic farming, saving water and limiting use of artificial products for pest and disease control. Garden members and Extension workers work closely together to share ideas on how best to produce products of high quality.