Zimbabwe’s Mutasa district in the country’s eastern Manicaland province is characterized by undulating hills with steep slopes that taper into the plains of the famous Honde valley. The district is home to over 17,000 inhabitants who rely on semi-commercial agriculture for a livelihood derived from raising cattle, goats and chicken. A lot of the land in the lower valley areas is used to grow coffee, tea and banana plantations.
However, most of the steeper slopes of the district face the challenge of remaining unproductive because of the intensity of labour required to convert the land to productive use. It is not uncommon to observe that the steep hillsides overgrown with shrub and bushes despite the excellent climate to grow almost any crop.
Almost everything is possible with farming
In order to counter the environmental and economic impacts incurred by farmers because of the difficult and steep terrain, the LFSP’s INSPIRE project is implementing site-specific adaptation measures to help farmers derive a livelihood from their land. These measures are being applied with the goal of increasing the resilience of agricultural systems.
In the district’s Ward 6, INSPIRE’s consortium partner Practical Action is working with a number of farmer groups on various development project. One such group is the 13 member Kuwimbika group adapt to farming on their steep eight hectare plot. Practical Action introduced a few members of the group to steep slope agriculture farming practices. The farmers were able to observe first-hand the diverse range of farming practices and decide what they wanted for their own piece of land.
Encouraged by what they saw, the Kuwimbika group decided that they would do all it takes to harness the full potential of their 8 hectare farm, with its slopes of between 15 to 20 degrees. They embarked on a diverse array of adaptive agriculture ventures, including fish pond construction on hill tops. Additionally, with guidance from Practical Action to the group was able to effectively harness nature’s abundance of spring water for their contoured farming strips of bean gardens. The bean gardens are bordered by multipurpose banana plantations that act as wind breakers, control soil erosion and provide banana’s for consumption and sale.
Over one year, the Kuwimbika group has set up two fish ponds stocked with 1000 tilapia fingerlings, a one acre eucalyptus woodlot, a half hectare of beans, a half hectare of mango fruit trees, one hectare of banana plants, several poultry projects of indigenous and exotic chicken, plus rabbit and goat husbandry.
The group is a demonstration site for Ward 6, and it has begun selling its produce to help finance other projects’ ambitions. Their sights are now firmly set on bee-keeping and they have recently made eight topbar hives, after having been reassured of a market by Bees Well, a private sector honey processor who have signed contracts with many honey producing groups in support of providing a market for the value chain nationwide.
The future is bright and set for the Kuwimbika group thanks to help from the UK supported LFSP INSPIRE project. In the longer term, the LFSP INSPIRE’s adaptive agriculture interventions on steep terrain should serve to improve the region’s productive capacity, promote diverse livelihood options, increase market opportunities for farmers.