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Small grain uptake hampered by seed shortage, attitude


Rebecca Marange (45), a villager in rural Mutema, Chipinge has continuously experienced drought due to the unpredictable rainfall patterns, common these years.

By Thomas  Madhuku

The persistent drought experienced in her area has reduced her to depend on her children working in the capital for food.

She reckons that times have changed as drought and food shortages have become a permanent feature in many households in the area.

Every year, Marange’s maize crops wilt and die at knee height due to prolonged dry spell that has become synonymous with every farming season in natural farming region five.

Being a reputable maize farmer in her area, Marange cannot fathom shifting to small grains which she is not used to growing.

“Maize is our main crop in this whole area,” she said with invigorated energy.

“Crops such as Sorghum, Rapoko and Millet are not very popular in our area and people find it hard to completely shift from maize,” she added.

Marange acknowledges that the government has been encouraging farmers to shift to small grains to avert the effects of drought.

We have heard about that from extension officers but we do not have good sorghum seed varieties save for ‘Mutode’ (red sorghum) commonly used for brewing beer.

She thinks the government is not doing enough to support its campaign as seed shops around do not have sorghum seed worse rapoko and millet.

“Rapoko and millet seed is just not available in shops, so even if we want to take heed, we are constrained by the absence of seeds,” said Marange.

Marange’s story is common among subsistence farmers in not only her area but throughout low rainfall regions.

Communal farmers have to content with facing persistent drought due to changes in climatic conditions in semi-arid regions.

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Zimbabwe is one of the countries most affected by drought and El-Nino currently hitting Southern Africa.

Due to poor planning, the absence of proper agriculture policies in Zimbabwe and negative attitude, most communities in dry areas are faced with a life-threatening drought as their focus is still largely on maize.

This is despite the fact that government has been encouraging farmers to diversify or completely shift to small grains which can cope stressful weather conditions.

Zimbabwe has been rallying subsistence farmers to opt small grains which are resistant to dry weather conditions.

Farmers admit that due to persistent drought, they are left with no option except to heed the call but are being let down by the shortage of small grain seeds in shops around the country.

“In most cases, we have to share recycled seed among ourselves but the problem is that we do not have enough varieties,” said Oyster Mtetwa a farmer in Chisumbanje.

Vengai Matabuka from Rimbi village believes shifting to small grains is not an overnight event as people traditionally prefer maize against any other crop.

“We can, at least try to mix maize and small grains but that is not easy to just change your diet overnight,” said Mathabuka.

Chairperson of Mutema Irrigation scheme, Muboni Mabhoko urged the government to expand irrigation areas as one of the ways of mitigating effects of drought.

“There are other ways of combating drought and issues of small grains cannot be the only proffered solution. The government should explore other avenues,” said Mabhoko.

He added that market for small grains is almost non-existent and farmers have to contend with growing a hard sell crop.

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“Besides the issue of the absence of markets, small grains are vulnerable to destruction by birds before they are harvested,” Mubhoko said.

Writing on his personal blog, Robert Mudzvova, an Agriculture expert said there is no doubt that given hybrid seed, farmers of small grains would see their yields increasing.
“A framework for resuscitating the small grains should address the issue of seed. Seed houses will be encouraged and assisted to prioritize small grain seed in their research, production and ultimately marketing,” said Mudzvova.
He said given that many seed houses are privately owned, the business case of small grains would initially be difficult to sell to shareholders.
“Thus, the government might need to subsidize seed producers until market forces can sustain the seed production on a profitable basis,” he said.
Chipo Zishiri, Small Grains specialist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development said growing small grains is one of the possible potential successful approaches for improving household food security.

“The characteristic of early maturity for small grains fit in the current Zimbabwe climate. Prioritizing small grains in farmers’ cropping program can lead households to be grain secure. In the event that maize has failed, small grains can remain as a stable grain reserve,” said Zishiri.

Basil Nyabadza, chairperson of the Small Grains and Cereal Producers’ Association said the seed bank for small grains is not full adding that the majority of the transnational companies in Zimbabwe do not produce small grains at all.

“It is important for the government to empower local companies to maintain production of small grains especially with climate change becoming reality,” he said.

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