Shashe Community embraces agro-ecology for sustainable agriculture and food systems

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Writes Lloyd Rabaya 
Swish swoosh goes the pens as attendees take notes while Christopher Chinyoka, a young field officer guides them through Elizabeth Mpofu’s field in Shashe, Masvingo more than 40km from the Central Business District (CBD). Under the cloud cover, the birds in the trees welcome the Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF) farmers with their melodic songs as the trees,  like the pens, join in the dance, and the soil earthiness fills the air.
The field is a lush and ecological haven, carrying three fish ponds, fresh vegetables, various air-purifying tree species, a seed storage room, and infiltration pits, and earth dams. On her farm, Mpofu also boasts of various livestock including goats, sheep, pigs, road runner chickens, and cattle which serve various purposes in her agroecology practice.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agroecology is the application of ecological and social concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable agriculture and food systems. It seeks to minimize external inputs and optimize sustainable interactions between plants, animals, humans, and the broader environment.
“We use this liquid manure as a top dressing because it is rich in nitrogen. We made it from 15l of fresh cow dung, 200l water, 250g flour, and a cup of sugar, but because of the cold temperatures, it takes time to ferment for usability,” said Chinyoka as he opened the stenchy 200l drum.
The solution has to be stirred about three times a day for 15 days and will be ready for use in 18 days. As is the purpose of agroecology, Chinyoka explains that the field is a tapestry of a well-organized ecosystem where everything co-exists to produce a healthy diet for the farmer. With her innovativeness, Mpofu installed a light just above the pond to attract insects from the vegetables at night which will then fall into the pond, providing more food for the fish.
Mpofu started staying at this farm in 2000, and ever since she has been using indigenous farming methods. With her farming practices that include intercropping, crop rotation, and livestock production among others, Mpofu is guaranteed food sovereignty.
FAO highlights that agroecology promotes local, stable, and diverse diets with year-round integrated production of healthy and nutritious food since it is anchored in diversified, resilient, and sustainable territorial production systems.
“It is a matter of what type of seed I want to produce because we are fighting for seed and food sovereignty, whereby I am the farmer who is in control of the seeds and decides how and what to grow,” she told this publication.
Due to low rainfall patterns in the region, Mpofu dug infiltration pits that direct the water into earth dams, absorbing the water and reaching the crops through osmosis. With only two boreholes serving 12 homesteads, water harvesting is essential.
Abumeleck Mutsenhure (56), who stays a few kilometres from Mpofu welcomes the farmers with traditional maheu made from Svoboda, a long-lost millet that is being revived, thanks to ZIMSOFF. On his land, Mutsenhure dug contour ridges around his field to make sure every drop was well utilised. Mutsenhure started staying in Shashe in 2008 and implemented sustainable farming which he adopted from his parents growing up in Bikita. Besides its vast health benefits, Mutsenhure also said agroecology is key as they use available resources to get everything.
“We are using what is surrounding us. For manure, I’m just taking leaves from the trees and making compost as well as animal waste. All the crops that are grown using agroecology methods are highly nutritious and they can be used for medicinal purposes,” he said.
Chinyoka explained that the Shashe community has turned away from conventional farming methods as they are harmful to people’s health and the soil. The young farmer also emphasized that agroecology ensures food sovereignty at the same time is a way of living for most people in his community.
“We are safe from diseases because we are eating what we processed. Here in Shashe Mrs Mpofu, Mutsenhure and Mr. Mudzingwa are excelling in agroecology practices that include growing crops, aquaculture which is fish farming, forest management, livestock keeping, and water harvesting,” he said.
The Mudzingwa homestead is a Clover Creek homestead with diversified practices that include aquaculture, forest management, livestock production, various crop production, and water harvesting among others.
Chinyoka explained that COVID-19 did not only have negative effects on people’s livelihoods as all the fish ponds were made during that period. To feed the fish, the Mudzingwas have a vermicompost to breed worms and the compost is also used as a nursery for various crops. On their forest, the family has 28 varieties of trees.
Vermicompost is the byproduct of the decomposition of vegetables or food waste by worms. The process of decomposition is called vermicomposting.
Like Mpofu, they also keep their traditional seed so that it does not go into oblivion.
Twenty-seven-year-old Chiredzi farmer Sarah Kumbuya, who was part of the visiting farmers, acknowledged that the farmer-to-farmer engagements by ZIMSOFF play a huge role in promoting sustainable farming and as is part of agroecology, the passing of the indigenous methods from one generation to the next is key.
“The synthetic seeds that we are using are not good for our health, so we must preserve our traditional farming methods. Even if one falls sick, at the clinic, they are now urging people to eat porridge made from these traditional grains,” she said, with a grin.
ZIMSOFF Programs Officer, Patience Shumba reiterated that since they want to revive the traditional farming methods to advance agricultural sustainability and resilience in the face of climate change, harnessing the wisdom of indigenous knowledge systems and promoting agroecology practices is paramount.
“Integrating the indigenous and local knowledge into the modern agriculture system, we will get a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable food system. The way that the Shashe community is doing, they are setting a standard for those who say agroecology is backward and proving that we can embrace the modern way of doing things, and at the end of the day people will introduce thrashers to thrash their traditional grains for further processing, ” she said.
With bags packed as the visit ended, farmers were full of energy and joy as they were eager to go and implement what they had witnessed. As the world grapples with climate change, agroecology offers a beacon of hope for a more sustainable future.