Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Good rains should help us achieve nutritional security

Good rains should help us achieve nutritional security

2501-1-1-NHANGACharles Dhewa —
While policy makers associate food security with maize, wheat, vegetables and beef, a good rainfall season like the one we are experiencing this year can help communities to secure a much broader nutritional security system. Such nutritional security can be achieved through fully exploiting local biodiversity towards a balanced diet for each local community.

Achieving a balanced nutrition goes beyond harvesting enough maize only. Abundant rainfall gives life to many crops and wild plants that will have lied dormant during dry periods.

It is in the interest of farming communities to broaden their food baskets by producing diverse crops and livestock.

A major temptation for many farmers is to focus on maize and cash crops at the expense of foods that ensure nutrition security. For instance, several indigenous vegetables are considered weeds to be destroyed yet they can be a key part of a community’s nutritional basket.

Every district in Zimbabwe has more plants during summer than in winter. However, due to lack of nutritional knowledge and capacity to preserve food, a few months down the road, most communities will be running out of food they could have easily preserved.

It is also common for farmers who harvest a lot of maize to end up selling it to obtain other foods which they could simply produce in their area if they take a balanced nutrition approach to agriculture.

Deconstructing colonial diets and consumption patterns
The colonial agricultural extension model that we are still holding onto tends to privilege a few crops irrespective of a farming community’s rich biodiversity.

Our extension models continue encouraging farmers to produce a few crops they can manage from a monocultural perspective yet communities could be better off taking advantage of the diversity of crops and livestock prevalent in their area.

By ignoring their biodiversity in preference for a few crops, communities are surrendering a lot of power to the market and other countries which end up shipping food to meet our nutritional gaps.

Each community can use abundant rains to rediscover its local food systems and diets rather than continue with a narrow maize-based diet.

Decolonising our food tastes and diets will go a long way in ensuring local food sovereignty.

There is absolutely no reason why districts like Nkayi, Gokwe, Chipinge and Chimanimani with so much diversity of plants and foods should continue receiving food aid after a good rainfall season. The fact that we do not defend our diets and local food systems makes us vulnerable to relationships of power that are embedded in food aid and food importation.

Taking advantage of this season’s good rainfall patterns, each farming community can create a better food system for itself by quantifying its diverse foods and stimulating local markets before thinking about external markets.

Every community has age-old best practices in producing different kinds of foods. Digital technology can be used to amplify such best practices. Just as it is important to know how much rainfall has reached a particular community, it is critical to know the amount and diversity of food systems available in each community.

Towards a quantified understanding of food systems
In a changing climate, crop and livestock assessments should not just focus on a few agricultural commodities that are relevant at policy level. Every commodity should be accounted for and linked with research institutions to prevent extinction.

By narrowing the range of commodities that are assessed and captured, we are also narrowing our diets and nutritional choices. Many farmers and communities are aware of the negative nutritional, environmental and societal consequences of how we currently produce and conserve food but they do not know what to do about it. There is nothing as painful as knowing that something is wrong but continue doing it because you have no idea how to get out of the system.

Many farmers have long been convinced about the value of their diverse farming systems but do not know how to tear themselves away from corporate agricultural business models that keep them in subsistence agriculture.

Towards decentralised local food systems
Practical ways through which farming communities can move out of nutritional insecurity include creating their own decentralised food systems in line with local geography and social context.

Local institutions such as schools and hospitals should be proud of acquiring food from local farmers first before grabbing anything that comes from outside. That will guarantee a market for local food, thus improving local producers’ economic viability and self-esteem.

When a community’s economic and nutritional security is assured, local people begin to seriously look at community and environmental health as integral parts of their food system. At the moment, it is very difficult for communities to take care of their environment when they have immediate socio-economic challenges to solve.

A holistic approach to a community’s food system will regenerate farming practices that may be on the verge of getting lost due to lack of regeneration.

Building environmental sustainability goes beyond just prohibiting people from cutting down trees and cultivating on wetlands. It should involve many intentional activities and players.

When local schools and other institutions obtain food from outside the community instead of buying from their local community, local farmers who are deprived of a market end up plundering the environment for survival.

That means consumers and the market have a stake in ensuring environmental sustainability. Local institutions that buy from local farmers can make a notable difference in the local food chain and ultimately exert positive influence on the national food system.

The role of local authorities
Rural district councils are well-poised to build strong local food systems because they are closer to farmers and farming communities.

They have a working understanding of the needs of local people and a better sense of how nutrition security interventions can be implemented.

If all community actors are involved in building a local food system, a district can be able to rely on its local entrepreneurial ecosystem before looking for assistance from elsewhere. Currently, due to emphasis on maize, every farmer thinks of producing for the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) yet not every commodity goes to the GMB.

Besides, the GMB cannot accommodate all the maize produced by millions of farmers if they are to fully utilise their capacity. There is certainly room for building all kinds and sizes of food reserves in line with each context.

Local authorities can also identify appropriate incentives for supporting local food systems in ways that ensure food self-sufficiency at local level. Ultimately, districts should be able to exchange food with each other.

Although that is already happening, it has not been carefully mapped to understand, for instance, how much food moves from Gokwe to Chivi district or Mwenezi to Gwanda district. Just as climate change is more noticeable at local levels, food waste can also be easy to account for at local level if the right systems are put in place.

Coordinating and amplifying best practices
There is no doubt that a national food reserve system is important. However, it should be the last resort when communities have exhausted all their options. Many best practices in food exchange between districts are waiting to be studied, coordinated and amplified for the good of national food and nutrition security. Anecdotal evidence is available showing tons of maize that leave Karoi for Masvingo and tons of small grains from Mwenezi to Manicaland.

Such evidence already points to possibilities for empowering local food systems. Farming communities are good at sharing best practices quietly through kinship ties and friendships forged in informal agriculture markets.

If well coordinated, farmers in particular districts like Hurungwe, Hwange, Tsholotsho, Muzarabani and many others can combine their production power to bargain for better prices as and when they need to sell. That will ensure a resilient food system where farmers take local food matters into their own hands.

 Charles Dhewa is a proactive knowledge management specialist and chief executive officer of Knowledge Transfer Africa (Pvt) ( whose flagship eMKambo ( ) has a presence in more than 20 agricultural markets in Zimbabwe. He can be contacted on: [email protected] ; Mobile: +263 774 430 309 / 772 137 717/ 712 737 430.


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