Zim agric set for $3m boost

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HARARE – One thousand Zimbabwean smallholder farmers are set to benefit from a $3 million Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) project meant to improve and sustain households, and national food and nutrition security.

The FAO project being spearheaded by the European Union (EU), the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) in conjunction with Soil Fertility Consortium for Southern Africa (SOFECSA), University of Pretoria (South Africa) and Wageningen University (The Netherlands) among other regional institutions, will benefit over 3 000 farmers from the Southern Africa Development Community region.

The food security project, which runs until 2015 will see 1 000 farmers from South Africa, another 1 000 from Zimbabwe benefitting through research and training, while Malawi and Madagascar, which are the other project sites, will each have 500 farmers.

Lewis Hove, FAO regional conservation agriculture coordinator told delegates at the launch that the project would develop and promote innovative techniques for farmers’ and approaches to managing risks to crop production and post-harvest handling.

He said about 30 percent of what farmers produce is wasted through failure to manage pests and diseases as well as poor storage.

The EU provided $2,1 million of the total sponsorship, which will be channelled towards  strengthening the resilience of the farmer, the ecology, soil, seeds and livestock breeds as well as the human knowledge , skills through research and farmer training.

“Working with smallholder agricultural communities in areas of high climatic risk in Madagascar, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the project will assist them in identifying, analysing and documenting climate-risk hazards, vulnerabilities and coping mechanisms,” Hove said.

The United Nations Food Security agency regional representative said the project was focusing more on climatic resilience in smallholder agriculture out of the realisation that rain-fed smallholder agriculture is the backbone of rural household livelihoods and national economies.

Hove said the sector contributed over 90 percent of direct and indirect employment in the region yet crop productivity is on the decline hence the need to plug the holes.

“The high dependence on rainfall by these farmers renders them particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of climatic variability. The management of risks related to climatic variability is thus of paramount importance in creating more resilient cropping systems in the region,” he said.

UZ-based SOFECSA regional coordinator professor Paul Mapfumo said although farmers have through centuries of experience, combined with knowledge from formal research developed strategies to mitigate climatic risks, they have not managed to effectively manage the effects.

“These strategies are not always adequate in the face of such rapid climate change and ariability. Creative learning processes can support farmers to continue developing new and practical scientific strategies for sustainable food security,” Mapfumo said.

Agriculture minister Joseph Made in a speech read on his behalf by permanent secretary, Ringson Chitsiko, pledged government support for the project saying climatic hazards lead to a situation of high vulnerability for millions of small holder farmers.

The project launch was also attended by the EU second secretary for economic cooperation and food security, Paulina Rozycka.

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