The government recently introduced a new farming concept called “Pfumvudza” to maximise productivity per unit area, even during drought periods.
The concept, if properly rolled out, can ensure household and national food and nutritional security.
It involves the utilisation of small pieces of land and applying the correct agronomic practices for higher returns.
The approach can be used in marginal areas and still give high yields allowing smallholder farmers to achieve household food security, while large-scale farmers can produce for the strategic grain reserve.
The concept of “pfumvudza” is crop production intensification approach that allows farmers to concentrate resources (inputs and labour) on a small land unit to facilitate optimum management resulting in increased productivity.
The programme is meant to support over 1.6 million vulnerable households for maize with a standardised input package of 5kg seed, 12kg lime, 50kg basal and 50kg top dressing fertilizers. This package is enough to cover two 0.06ha plots and beneficiaries are expected to fully and religiously adopt Conservation Agriculture Principles as a way to climate proof the programme.
One plot is enough to feed an average family of five people for a year, while the other plot will produce surplus for sale.
This programme, however, requires a robust and a well-capacitated extension provision system for technical backstopping, tracking and monitoring. Each extension worker will be required to establish as least a one demonstration plot and given targets to train, track and monitor the adoption of conservation agriculture by 350 households.
For optimum benefits, planting on the food security plot should be done timely and this requires adequate preparatory activities that include, digging of planting basins before the start of the season and timely acquisition of inputs. The early land preparation (off-season) allows the farmer to plant their crop with the first effective rains. To allow for supplementary watering or irrigation, the food security plots should, where possible, be placed near water sources. It is encouraged that farmers prepare two plots, one for cereals (maize or small grains) and one for legumes thus providing a protein source to complement the cereal.
It has three key basic principles:
Use of minimum or zero tillage
Maintenance of organic mulch cover on the soil surface and
Use of crop rotations and interactions that include legume crops.
The concept is a sustainable way of crop production intensification, whereby farmers concentrate resources on a smaller piece of land thus reducing labour demand and resulting in higher productivity from lower investment, hence higher profit margins.
Placing three seeds in each planting hole, and later thinning to two, ensures the planting station has the required average of two plants per planting hole, ensuring an optimum plant population.
The small land size ensures that the farmer is able to provide supplementary irrigation (water by hand) where water is available during dry spells, thus enhancing the resilience of the production system.
Precision is extremely important when marking the planting station as this will ensure that planting is done at the same spot every year, allowing the plants to benefit from residual fertility.
Demonstration plot specifications
The demonstration plot size should be 16m x 39m (624 square metres).
Inter-row spacing of 75cm
In-row spacing of 60cm
Row length of 16m
Hence digging 28 holes per row, with two maize plants per each planting hole, making a total of 56 plants per row
Therefore 1456 planting holes with a total of 2 912 plants
A total of 52 rows, with each row producing a 20-litre tin of maize grain (one 20-litre per week for 52 weeks equals to 1 year), with the assumption that each plant produces at least one cob (15 t/ha)
The Concept of Conservation Agriculture
First Principle: Reducing tillage operations has an impact of reducing moisture loss from inner soil layers (which are not exposed through tillage) and improves the soil structure in the long term, resulting in improved water infiltration
Second Principle: The presence of leaves and grass (mulch) minimises impact of intense rainfall on the soil thereby reducing water run-off and soil erosion, as well as reducing evaporation from the upper soil layers.
All this has a net effect of increasing water infiltration.
The mulch also minimises compaction by intense rainfall, reduces temperature fluctuations at the soil surface and also smothers weeds.
Third principle: Inclusion of legume-based rotations helps to improve soil fertility, reduces pest infestations and minimises total crop loss during severe weather occurrences.
Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister, Perrance Shiri recently commented that the concept was being introduced against a background of continued decline in maize, wheat and soya bean output, which is a threat to national food security.
The “Pfumvudza” concept is coming at a time when most countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa region and beyond, Zimbabwe included, are reeling from the adverse effects of climate change that have caused output in the agriculture sector to decline.