Mbire Festival Highlights Crucial Role of Traditional Seeds & Food

TRADITIONAL seed varieties continue to receive due credit for the important role they play in sustainable farming practices with Mbire district recently holding the first-ever traditional seed and food festival to underscore the need for communities to embrace them.

Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre (FPC) of Harare organised the event with support from the Lush and Lush Spring Prize. It provided a knowledge exchange and learning platform on the value of utilising local seed varieties, bringing together farmers, agriculture experts and ordinary members of the community.

FPC communications officer, Mr Justice Ncube said they decided to conduct the event in Mbire for the first time to appreciate cultural heritage as well as reward communities for cultivating and consuming local seeds and foods for generations.

“Local seed varieties and traditional knowledge are under threat from various factors such as climate change, land degradation, urbanisation, industrialisation, market forces and loss of cultural identity,” he said.

Local seed varieties and traditional knowledge represent the adaptation and resilience of local farmers to the changing environmental and socio-economic conditions.

“One way to preserve and promote seed varieties is to celebrate, document and integrate them into research, education and training for posterity. This would help to raise awareness and appreciation of their value among different stakeholders such as researchers, extension workers, policymakers, educators and consumers,” he said.

Seed varieties that were exhibited include ground nuts, bambara nuts, cowpeas, pearl millet, finger millet, open-pollinated maize varieties, sweet reeds and many more.

“Through seed, food displays and exhibitions, young smallholder farmers had an opportunity to exchange recipes as well as the knowledge around production and market linkages. They also got a chance to interact and create networks with buyers, consumers, and other stakeholders.

“We want to continue scaling up the event within and beyond our borders. Seeing all communities in Zimbabwe joining this bandwagon of local seed and food custodianship is one of our long-term plans and we have plans of joining hands with more partners and stakeholders,” said Mr Ncube.

FPC has always maintained that farmers’ poor yields were a result of climate change, infertile soils, pests and disease, which are now things of the past thanks to the adoption of permaculture.

Permaculture is a holistic approach to land management that aims to create productive and resilient ecosystems that meet human needs while enhancing biodiversity and environmental health.

Mr Ncube cited the success story of the Evergreen Organic Horticulture Association (EOHA) of Nyanga which has since found refuge in permaculture to escape the problem of climate change, poor soils and lack of sustainable gardening knowledge.

“The association is one of the many success stories of smallholder farmer groups that have benefited from permaculture techniques. Their one-year-old garden has allowed group members to produce vegetables for their families and sell the surplus on the local market.

“Soon, the group plans to diversify its garden activities by including aquaculture, agro-forestry and apiculture,” he said.

The association’s chairperson Ms Julia Mukwaire said they faced challenges in feeding their families as production was affected by a lack of sustainable gardening knowledge, funds to purchase inputs and poor soils.

“With permaculture, we do not lose much money through procurement of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides since we use natural resources and solutions within our vicinity to regenerate the soil and eradicate pest and disease problems.

“Organic foods are also very healthy and beneficial to our well-being,” she said.

Under permaculture, farmers are taught to design and implement sustainable farming systems that work with nature. They are trained on the use of mulch, compost, cover crops, intercropping, crop rotation, fertility trench beds, rainwater harvesting and natural pest control methods.

Ms Mukwaire said current training was expanded to cover small livestock, beekeeping, mushroom cultivation, aquaculture, and product value addition.

She urged the other smallholder farmers to learn and adopt permaculture in their local food systems as it was cheap, healthy, profitable and sustainable.

Adapted from The Herald Zimbabwe article written by Monalisa Chikwengo on July 8 2023

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