Smallholder farmers uplifting agricultural production

Simon Madhovi from Ward 28 in Murehwa now stands tall among others as a real farmer with a capacity to feed his family and send his children to school.

“In the past I had challenges in raising school fees and food for myself and let alone constructing a proper homestead. Thanks to the Zimbabwe Integrating crop and livestock production for improved food security and livelihoods (ZimCLIFS) project, these challenges have now become a thing of the past,” Madhovi said.

The man said the project helped farmers with inputs like maize, herbicides and fertilisers. These inputs were targeted at farmers involved in the experimentation activities. Among the farming implements were the rippers and direct seeders. The farmers were also given free training on animal production technologies, crop production and marketing techniques.

Madhovi is now considered as a champion farmer in Murehwa district.

“While I used to be a subsistence farmer who only produced food for my own consumption, I have grown to consider farming as a business. I was recruited by Nature Cattle Sales and also trained as a veterinarian. I now treat villagers’ livestock and monthly I can earn more than $50 as additional income. Due to the gained knowledge on animal and crop production, I was elevated to become the Treasurer of the Murehwa Agricultural Show Society,” Madhovi said.

The farmers are also intercropping maize and the velvet bean (mucuna) for improving soil fertility and to generate more biomas for livestock feed. This also results in increased maize yields in the long run.

In his remarks at the official opening of the close-out workshop on enhancing the productivity of integrated crop-livestock systems in smallholder farming sectors held in Harare on Monday 18 September 2017, Ringson Chitsiko, the Permanent Secretary in the Minisrty of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development said Zimbabwe’s socio-economic transformation was premised on the performance of the agricultural sector.

“Droughts have increased food insecurity dramatically since 2000 with a reprieve in the 2016/17 growing season wherein the country saw a bumper harvest in all major food crops.Zimbabwe national research agencies (particularly the Department of Research and Specialist Services) identified promising innovations to improve crop and livestock productivity in diversified crop-livestock systems.

“Integration of multiple cereal-legume crops and livestock technologies with markets have brought synergies and rewards. The Zimbabwe Crop and Livestock Production for Improved Food Security project has shown that there is an opportunity for increased adoption to increase production and to obtain income from the sale of surplus produce,” Chitsiko said.

Suzanne McCourt, the Ambassador of Australia to Zimbabwe said such partnerships were important in improving agricultural production and in fostering food nutrition and security. The Australian Government is committed to partnerships that support African countries’ aspirations for peace and prosperity. On the other hand, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) aims to reduce food insecurity, improve livelihoods and care for the natural resource base for agriculture. It harnesses Australian and international research expertise, together with the private sector and civil society, in partnerships across many Eastern and Southern African countries.

“Agriculture is at the centre of life and economies in Africa, including Zimbabwe. As the climate becomes increasingly variable, new climate –smart agricultural methods and crops need to be adopted. Africa is likely to be the continent most vulnerable to climate change, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Australia contributes significantly to the agricultural centres in the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system and has been the fourth-largest donor to the World Bank’s Global Agriculture Food Security Program. Australia is also an active partner in AgResults, a multilateral initiative that incentivises and rewards high-impact agricultural innovations,” McCourt said.

Siboniso Moyo, the ILRI Director General’s Representative in Ethiopia said the implementation of ZimCLIFS would have remained in the minds and paper were it not for the willingness and active participation of farmers and organisations that supported them.

“It was the enthusiasm and willingness to learn and share experiences by farmers that made ZimCLIFS such a great project. Farmers took technologies, experimented with them, sacrificed more land to maximise on benefits; they taught our scientists what integration is in practice on the farms and across the value chain,” Moyo said.

Small-scale mixed crop-and-livestock farmers from Goromonzi, Murewa, Gwanda and Nkayi, from 2012 to 2017 engaged in a project to improve their food and nutritional security and their livelihoods. There were two spillover districts namely Mutoko and Uzumba who joined from 2015 to 2017.

“Most rural people in Zimbabwe depend on crop-livestock farming. They grow maize, other cereals and legumes and raise goats and beef or dairy cattle. When the project started, in 2012, food deficits were commonplace and opportunities for generating incomes were limited in rural areas,” said Sikhalazo Dube, the project’s coordinator, who also serves as the Southern Africa regional representative for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). “Better integration of crop and livestock production and improved market functioning has led to increased agricultural production, which in turn has improved food security, increased incomes, and enhanced the resilience of communities most vulnerable to food insecurity in rural Zimbabwe,” he added. Through the project, assisted by the Australian Aid Programme through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), farmers have diversified their sources of incomes, through the forage value chain and increased incomes through sales of quality crop and livestock products.

An estimated 170,000 farmers benefitted from the ZimCLIFS project. Livestock feed production for subsistence and commercial production improved through increased use of forage legumes (lablab/mucuna) and higher quality residues (e.g. groundnut stover, fertilised maize). In pen-feeding demonstrations, the net-profit for beef production increased by 7–10% when farmers used mucuna-based supplements. This generated bigger incomes from livestock sales. In Nkayi, for example, farmers reported prices per steer sold up to USD800–1000 from about USD400. Prices per goat rose from USD20 to USD50–70 for breeding animals. Further benefits reported were from higher milk yields and fewer livestock deaths, including fewer animals lost to predators, due to home-based feeding systems.

Participating farmers who employed conservation agriculture methods and practiced rotations of cereals and legumes reported that they improved their household food security. Across all the years of this project, these farmers’ crop fields yielded higher gross margins than conventional plots, where the crops were not rotated. Planting a maize crop after a (nitrogen-fixing) legume crop in the second season produced the highest gross margins, averaging more than USD600, compared to planting a second maize crop after the first. The farmers further benefitted from the bigger incomes they got from selling their excess harvest. The overall benefits generated in these systems came particularly from the practice of feeding livestock home formulated rations and expanding legumes in cereal-based systems.

In addition, project staff ran training programs to help the farmers increase their bargaining skills, which led to increased incomes from crop and livestock sales. Project-supported multi-stakeholder platforms increased understanding among relevant actors of the quality needed by buyers, of market prices and of the timing of markets as well as improved productivity achieved with support from agricultural extension personnel. Project staff also helped establish market links with private companies (e.g. seed, abattoirs, processing, fertiliser, and machinery). Finally, the participating farmers were able to organise themselves in groups so that they could buy their inputs cheaper in bulk or sell their livestock as a group for greater profit.

ZimCLIFS sparked the formation of productive partnerships among private and public institutions, which united to support farmers in the project areas, and stakeholder platforms, which facilitated regular dialogues, knowledge sharing and capacity building. The increased incomes and enhanced farm household food security observed in the past few years are major results of many concerted collaborations between farmers; CGIAR centres including ILRI, CIMMYT and ICRISAT; development agencies such as the Community Technology Development Organisation and the Cluster Agriculture Development Services, Help Germany, Catholic Relief Services-Zimbabwe, and SNV); agricultural extension services (AGRITEX); the Department of Livestock Production and Development (DLPD); Matopos Research Station; and the Rural District Councils.

These ZimCLIFS partnerships addressed site-specific challenges and took advantage of opportunities in the project’s targeted value chains—maize-legume, dairy-beef-goat, maize-sorghum-legume and goat systems—in both high and low rainfall areas. Several cereal, legume crop and livestock technologies were smartly integrated, yielding synergistic benefits. The ZimCLIFS project has demonstrated the many opportunities that exist for crop-livestock farmers to increase their production and incomes from sales of surplus produce. Households can then use their increased cash to purchase grain in times of need.

The scaling out work should continue in the participating districts and beyond, and the links established with other countries in the Southern African Development Community, such as Malawi, Mozambique and Swaziland, should continue. In some districts, ZimCLIFS activities have already been mainstreamed into crosscutting government schemes such as Zimbabwe’s Command Agriculture scheme, loan schemes, safety nets, and nutrition programs.

The Integrating Crops and Livestock for Improved Food Security and Livelihoods in Rural Zimbabwe (ZimCLIFS) is a project working to strengthen synergies in crop-livestock farming systems in four districts in Zimbabwe. The project is funded by the Australian Aid Programme through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). It is implemented by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) (lead agency) in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT); the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT); Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Ecosystem Sciences; the University of Queensland; two Zimbabwean non-governmental organisations, the Community Technology Development Organisation (CTDO) and the Cluster Agricultural Development Services (CADS); and several departments within the Zimbabwe Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development.