Masvingo - Seed security and a brighter future thanks to GRM

Mr. and Mrs. Mukundo in the Gutu district have been farming on their property, which borders on regions 3 and 4, for around fifteen years. Over that period they have observed a marked change in the seasons which is in part attributable to the effects of global climate change. Since around 2008 the rainfall pattern has become increasingly erratic and unpredictable. In the current 2014/2015 season for example, the rains started very late giving rise to fears another season of drought. Once the rains started however, they experienced three weeks in December when it rained incessantly day and night. This followed by another dry spell which stressed their crops and they are hoping for a few more moderate to heavy showers to end off this difficult season.

They have a total of 56 hectares of land of which 0.75 hectares are reserved exclusively for seed maize production. This is their first year to grow seed maize as a way of diversifying from their usual crop production. Diversification is one way to attempt to mitigate the problems inherent in erratic seasons attributable to changing conditions. If one crop fails chances are that another crop might fare better.

They were given 10 kgs of foundation seed through the GRM and SAMP project which is run in partnership with SDC – the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation. The seed is only distributed to experienced and trained farmers and some further training in the field is offered. Foundation seed is not allowed to be sold in Zimbabwe. The chain starts off with breeders who produce foundation seed; this is grown to produce certified seed, which in turn is grown to produce commodities – in this case maize. Many small scale farmers, particularly in more remote or isolated regions, face problems of accessing good quality seed at reasonable prices, leading to ‘seed insecurity’ and inevitably to food insecurity. Often in the past farmers received their seed too late in the season and the seeds were of poor quality or not suited to the region where it was intended to be grown. Small scale farmers tended to be reliant on seed relief programmes or retained some of the seed from their own production, often of inferior quality. Through the SAMP project farmers will now be able to produce their own seed which is better suited to local conditions. Localising seed production means that seed should be available more cheaply as transport and distribution costs as well as logistics are reduced. The project is set to benefit thousands of households in the poorest regions of the country and provide a brighter, more sustainable and more secure future.

Before embarking on the new seed maize project the Mukundos grew beans, groundnuts, sorghum and maize, mostly for their own consumption and if there was any small surplus they sold it locally to neighbours. The crop they are growing for maize seed production is the ZN521 variety. They planted 10 kgs of seed in December 2014 and they are anticipating a yield of around 1.5 tonnes – an excellent return. The harvest does not need to be transported a great distance, just to the local school where arrangements are in place for it to be collected by the seed company, thus helping to further reduce the farmers’ production costs. The harvest will be sold through GRM which ensures that they have a ready market and receive a fair price. The profits from their venture will be used to pay school fees, buy inputs for the next season and for the day to day expenses for essential food items.

So far, in February 2015, the seed was at the so called ‘soft door’ stage and the crop was doing well in a difficult season, considering that it was grown entirely without the benefits of irrigation. The only inputs have been two 50 kg bags of Compound D fertiliser and one and a half bags of top dressing or Ammonium Nitrate.

Mr and Mrs Mukundo work in the fields together with their four children – two boys and two girls – and their two nephews, so there is no need to employ or pay for extra labour. However, if the proceeds from their crop are sufficient, and all indications are positive, they will be able to pay for extra labour next season to help extend their hectarage of seed production. Mr and Mrs Mukundo are very pleased with the ZSS variety they are growing currently as there are few suckers when the plant is growing, it has germinated well and appears to be resistant to the usual stresses associated with poor rainfall seasons, meaning that is it is extremely resilient and drought resistant.

Apart from seed production they also grow commodity crops, including maize of the SEEDCO 518 variety, ZSS cowpeas for their own consumption and as a commercial crop, and sorghum. They’ve found that all the seeds are of high quality and produce good yields even in difficult seasons. They have vowed to definitely grow seed maize again next season and extend the area devoted to this production. With the profits from next season’s crop they aim to buy various agricultural implements like cultivators and ploughs, so their farming productivity will continue to increase by leaps and bounds. Thanks to GRM, SDC and the SAMP project their future indeed looks a lot brighter.