CHEMICALS have been used for many years to enhance agricultural production. The use of such chemicals as DDT has been widespread until the 1970s when biologists understood it was causing significant damage to soils, biodiversity and humans.
Some soils were no longer actively responding to the application of agro-chemicals, biologists said, while instead of improving food production the opposite was now true.
In Zimbabwe, chemicals are extensively used in agriculture, particularly in regions where soils are known to be poor and sandy, and these are also the regions where poor communal farmers are mostly concentrated. Changes in the climate system have also been a cause for serious concern, as local agriculture and food production systems are under stress.
Organic farming brings hope
Now in a country where participation by communal farmers in tobacco farming has increased along with chemical use, the Global Environment Facility, a multilateral institution providing aid and support to developing countries in areas such as climate change, has scored measurable success in limiting the use of chemicals in agriculture. Through its Small Grants Programme (SGP), the GEF funded a project on organic farming for the elimination of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and biodiversity conservation in Manicaland.
The US$50 000 project was implemented in two phases between 2006 and 2011, involving some 500 households in the villages of Chitsva, Cheneka, Tandi and Chirimutsitu in Makoni District. The GEF said the project attempted to eliminate the use of dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane (DDT) in order to rehabilitate the environment and to improve the quality of life of the local communities. It promoted chemically clean food production, minimising inputs of chemical fertilisers, agro chemicals and associated by-products.
The project also promoted alternatives to tobacco farming by encouraging diversified income generation activities, including apiculture, aquaculture as well as organic mushroom production. "The project was successful at demonstrating how communities can develop and benefit from organic agriculture in order to sustainably manage their environment, as well as to generate socio-economic benefits," said the GEF.
"Among the environmental results achieved, several types and quantities of POPs have been eliminated from the community as local farmers have abandoned the use of inorganic fertilisers and have holistically embraced organic farming methods."
Good pickings for farmers, the environment
During the course of the two project phases, 524 farmers were trained in organic farming. The GEF said 450 hectares of land are now under extensive organic farming and more than two thirds of the farmers are ready for organic certification and accreditation. The community constructed 20 liquid manure plants to improve soil fertility management, which are now being used by farmers in Makoni District. Several local farmers have even constructed their own manure plants at household level.
Communities employed Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies such as intercropping and use of natural herbicides and plants for pest control, said GEF. The project also promoted biodiversity conservation, with the creation of a gene bank through the establishment of 10 hectares of farmland for planting open- pollinated varieties of maize seed and wide varieties of legumes.
"The project helped develop the community's capacity to capitalise on their organic agricultural activities. Communities in the project area now engage in diversified agricultural production ranging from organic dryland farming, organic horticulture production, nursery management, mushroom production and beekeeping.
"Farmers grow organic vegetables that include garlic, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and sugar beans for household consumption and for sale. As a result, the food security status of the participating community has significantly improved, while participating local farmers have reported improved and increased yields from their fields," reported the GEF.
On average, participating farmers have been able to generate annual incomes of US$250 to US$300 from the sale of vegetables in local markets, it said.
Organic farmers' association launched
Encouraged by the project, farmers have now established the Makoni Organic Farmers' Association (MOFA) to strengthen their capacities, diversify their products and penetrate wider local and international markets. The MOFA has now been able to secure GEF SGP funds for a follow-up project. Many women are in positions of leadership in the association. Out of over 500 farmers in the association, about 60 percent are women.
The project has now managed to mobilise the local farmers as well as the local government and traditional leadership to draw up by-laws targeting the promotion and implementation of organic agriculture in the community.
As a result, this group was the first in Zimbabwe to receive organic farming certification.
Today these farmers are working with other organisations such as the Zimbabwe Organic Partners and Promoters Association and the Government in a bid to develop a National Policy on Organic Farming.
The GEF unites 182 countries in partnership with international institutions, civil society organisations and the private sector to address global environmental issues while supporting national sustainable development initiatives.
The GEF Small Grants Programme supports activities of non-governmental and community-based organisations in developing countries towards climate change abatement, conservation of biodiversity, protection of international waters, reduction of the impact of persistent organic pollutants and prevention of land degradation while generating sustainable livelihoods.
Since 1991, the GEF has mobilised in excess of US$10 billion in grants to over 168 developing countries.
God is faithful.