Celebrating the news of good harvests in Zimbabwe, Malawi

Thursday, July 22, 2021
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“Given the excessive rains during the 2020/2019 season we thought the harvests were going to be bad."

Elizabeth Ngwenya

Join us in sharing in the good news! At many of our project sites in southern Africa, a combination of favourable weather conditions and good farming practices mean many farmers have had a fantastic growing season.

Here is what Velina Siapani of Zingozo village, Zimbabwe, a lead farmer on a project of our member Mennonite Central Committee Canada, implemented locally by partner Kulima Mbobumi Training Centre (KMTC) had to say:

“This was a bountiful season for me as compared to the 2019-2020 agriculture season,” she explains. “I managed to get 47 buckets of millet from the 2kg pearl millet seeds which I received from KMTC. As if this were not enough, I also managed to produce three buckets of groundnuts and eight buckets of cowpeas.”

And what did Velina do with her produce?

“I managed to trade 6 buckets of cowpeas for 12 buckets of millet. I also sold 20 cups of cowpeas at USD $1.00 each,” she says.

For some context, that’s triple what Velina managed to produce last year.

“I used this money to pay for my child’s school fees who is at A ‘Level’,” she says.

And that’s not all.

“I intend to trade my buckets of millet for goats in order to add to my existing herd,” she adds.

cowpea and man

Cowpea production, Binga, Zimbabwe

For Lilian Zheke, a Foodgrains Bank conservation agriculture technical advisor based in southern Africa, strong harvests are welcome and exciting news.

“The outlook in terms of harvest is good for most project sites and indications from partners are that most farmers will have much better yields than the last season,” she says.

In Zimbabwe for example, farmers like Velina are expected to harvest three times more maize, the country’s staple food, than the past year.

Lilian works with the local partners of our members in supporting farmers in southern Africa and designing projects that are as effective as possible.

“A significant number of project participants will have enough cereal to take them throughout the greater part of the year,” she adds.

It’s no small feat considering farm families aren’t just up against weather challenges, but COVID-19 restrictions, rapid inflation, and other barriers.

Over the last few years, the Foodgrains Bank has shared a lot with supporters about how successive years of drought in countries like Malawi and Zimbabwe have resulted in poor harvests. Because many families rely on farming, often on very small plots of land, for a living, even one poor growing season can be devastating.

Elizabeth Ngwenya is also taking part in the same project as Velina, although in a different village.

“Given the excessive rains during the 2020/2019 season we thought the harvests were going to be bad,” she says, noting her family’s relief at being able to produce a strong crop.

“I will not sell my produce, especially the cowpeas, which I have set aside for consumption as a source of protein for my family,” she says.

Lilian is careful to note that not all participants in the projects with which she works have had the same strong results.

“We also have some isolated areas like Balaka, Malawi, which experienced dry spells that affected maize production for about 60 percent of project participants, but despite the dry spells, farmers practicing conservation agriculture did better than farmers who did not practise it at all,” she explains. “In Zimbabwe, there were isolated areas where waterlogging and leaching could reduce potential harvests, especially since fertilizer and inputs were a major challenge for farmers coming out of last year’s dry spell and the economic fallout from the global pandemic.”

Farmers in developing countries don’t have access to the same type of emergency supports that Canadians have. A poor harvest means more than less food on the dinner table. It also means children may not be able to attend school, families don’t have the energy or strength to work at off-farm employment, and emergency medical care might not be possible. Sometimes families might have to sell off an animal like a goat or cow that’s been providing a small but steady income in order to get the cash needed to help them get by. It’s good they have something in case of emergency, but it also means that once the immediate crisis is over, they’re without their secondary source of income.

The good news of strong harvests, and even the news that conservation agriculture is helping to soften the blow of poor weather and other issues, is welcome. A safe and abundant food supply is something we can all be thankful for, in southern Africa, and here in Canada.

– Amanda Thorsteinsson, Senior communications officer

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