Zimbabwe is a country blessed with unique soils, rocks, climate, vegetation and biodiversity which gives our agricultural produce a unique, distinctive flavor and quality.
Many agricultural experts across the globe have punted that Zimbabwe has the perfect combination of soil, climate, location, water resources and agricultural genetics to feed the entire world with organic food into perpetuity. Hence powerful nations are fighting to control the land.
So renowned is Zimbabwean food that it was historically traded with the Arabs, Chinese, the British royalty and used to victual Portuguese ships on their way to and from the east.
Growing Food From The Essence Of The Soil
Eating is an intimate and at times spiritual affair in Zimbabwean culture. Which means the cultivation, harvesting and preparation of food is a spiritual undertaking in its own respect, that is dependent on the Gods, soil, water, minerals and caliber of the hands that grow the food to give the perfect harvest.
It is this combination of spirituality, nature, nurture and skill that made our grains, dairy, meats, sugar, fruits, fish, tea, coffee, horticultural produce, cotton, tobacco, timber, and wildlife wholesome.
Even when exotic crops like wheat and South American grains were first brought and cultivated in Zimbabwean soils. They developed a unique and distinct flavor that was distinctly Zimbabwean and people could not get enough of.
The Guinean President, the British Royal family and a number of leading hotels were renowned for their preference for Zimbabwean beef, vegetables and tea.
Our cotton made some of the best fabrics on the continent, while our gold leaf tobacco continues to be treasured by leading cigarette manufacturers for flavoring their top line brands.
Chemical Farming Changed The Game
However, with the advent of commercial farming, the country began to lose its reputation as a producer of a distinct, sought after palette of agricultural produce.
A decline exacerbated by the adoption of industrial, chemical farming practices that rely heavily on the use of hybrid seeds, monoculture [the opposite of intercropping and crop rotation], synthetic fertilisers and pesticides that quickly commodified what used to be a unique brand of produce.
With that our once superior produce that came from rich soils and traditional farming practices, became commodified.
Now our produce is substitutable with nondescript, toxic, low quality, industrially produced agricultural commodities from China, America, South Africa, EU and Brazil.
Zimbabwe has lost its brand status, competitive advantage and monopoly to exclusive markets that bought our organic produce at a premium.
When people say Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of the world. It doesn’t speak to volume because South Africa always produced more, but Zimbabwe was a basket of quality (compared to South Africa’s low quality truck loads) which only a few were privileged enough to afford.
Globalisation Sanctions Nexus
With rising industrial farming, competition fuelled by western subsidies, falling prices and lower returns for small scale farmers. Our maize, cotton, wheat and soybean production suffered as our farmers became uncompetitive and unprofitable in these cash crops alongside leading, low cost, industrial farming nations.
Coupled with land reform, the resultant ZDERA sanctions in 2001 and the accompanying 2003 executive order sanctions that targeted our seed, fertiliser, chemical companies and agri-industry’s financial sector.
Our fertiliser factories and agriculture finance houses were forced to close or import costly inputs that made our produce the most expensive in the region.
Seed companies like Seedco were taken over by subsidiaries of foreign western biotech monopolies like Monsanto. Leading to an insidious campaign through our extension workers, to destroy traditional open variety seeds to substitute them with hybrids aimed at fostering seed dependency for cash crops like cotton, maize, wheat and soybean.
Many Zimbabweans have always assumed that the collapse in agricultural output in the country was solely because of white commercial farmers leaving the land after land reform.
Not realizing that the rising cost of farming due to the decimation of heirloom seeds and the proliferation of high input hybrids that must be purchased every season with fertilisers and pesticides. Diminished our rural & small scale farmers’ capacity to farm without capital, yet these farmers had always been the biggest producers of most of our cash crops without capital and inputs.
Fertiliser, Chemical And Falling Yield Cycle
Over time, our rural & small scale farmers [particularly maize and cotton farmers] who had traditionally grown the bulk of our crops without capital for generations.Were now deceived to invest in buying hybrid seeds, fertilisers and pesticides each season to compete as generic, low cost industrial farmers on the global market.
As a result losing their traditional farming practices and unique organic differentiation, distinction and positioning. And once they lost that status by cooption into this capital and fertilizer intensive chemical farming cycle.
It gave rise to other complications such as weeds, which then required herbicides that destroy soil microbes, fertility, insects and the small creatures that feed on parasites that attack crops in the absence of these microbes that control them.
The result: entry into single entry, no exit perpetual, costly, destructive cycle of chemical farming that destroys soil, environment, yield and ultimately competitiveness alongside industrial farming nations that are not under sanctions.
Death Of Zimbabwean Farming.
18yrs later under sanctions, and global agriculture has changed, as it has become more favourable to nations with scale, capital, chemicals and a knack for shortcuts.
It’s a global market in which a small country like Zimbabwe has no capacity to compete on volume against low cost industrial producers like India, Brazil, China and the US. Who have at their disposal numerous [and sometimes unfair] advantages ranging from government subsidies, the sanctions themselves, hybrids, growth hormones, technology and chemicals to grow large volumes, cheaper and faster.
Go Organic Or Die
The question now is how does Zimbabwe reclaim its position as a net exporter of quality agricultural produce in light of this unlevel playing field?
The answer lies in us revolutionizing our agricultural sector to differentiate and reposition Zimbabwe away from being a low cost, industrial chemical producer of quantity. To a premium niche producer of high quality organic produce infused with natural goodness, free of chemicals and endowed with the unique taste of Zimbabwe.
We Can’t Compete With Junk Industry
The reason is simple. As explained above, Zimbabwe will never have the capacity to compete for quantity or price with industrial low cost producers like India, China, US, South Africa and Europe.
However, what these low cost leaders have in efficiency and quantity, they lack in quality, flavor, nutrition, sustainability and wholesomeness.
A niche that Zimbabwe has the capabilities of filling with its brilliant climate, human talent, unique soils and passion to take up the position of being a breadbasket of goodness that can be sold at premium prices to exclusive markets.
Organic Farming Zimbabwe’s Comparative Advantage
The decline in Zimbabwean commercial farming has been a blessing in disguise for Zimbabwe as it has given our land time to recover, restoring the biosphere, cleaning out the chemicals from the soils and allowing the world to miss our food for us to rejuvenate our industry through organic farming.
Sanctions have also made chemical, industrial farming very costly, pushing us to seek new modes of farming that are affordable, cleaner, healthier, more sustainable and profitable.
It’s like we have been forced by circumstances into the organic revolution as Cuba was and that presents a great opportunity in an under serviced market.
Zimbabwean farmers have the recuperated, clean, living, healthy soils, that can qualify for organic certification to grow the once renowned unique Zimbabwean organic produce.
This will not only revive Zimbabwean farming but it will leverage the country out of competing on volume and low prices, which leave very little capital for reinvestment into sustainable farming.
It also alleviates the nation from unsustainable farming practices that degrade and exhaust soils, reducing yields with the inevitable impact on the health of citizens. Causing an escalation of healthcare costs, demand for medicines and environmental damage in this sanction environment thus threatening the long term prospects of the nation.
Yet wholesome food can become the nourishment and medication of our bodies that earns us great returns on the international market while reducing our health bill at home.
How Exactly Does The Nation Go Organic?
The first step in going organic is changing the mentality of our farmers and citizens by reminding them that farmers are curators of life.
Their responsibility is to nurture living soils that support healthy, nutritious crops and livestock in a thriving ecosystem that produces quality food and drink to foster a healthy and prosperous nation.
Farmers need to be reminded that they are the doctors, pharmacy and economic engine of any nation.
Once good farming practices are employed, we have a thriving environment that supports healthy crops, animals and minds that can build prosperous and sustainable economies.
Nature Has All The Solutions We Need
From this follows the elimination of synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, plastics, hybrids and GMOs from the farming cycle. To a reliance on open variety [OPV or heirloom] seeds; healthy living soils; organic manure and a stable ecosystem.
Weeds must be managed by natural methods like mulching with grass or intercropping with ground covering crops like the world renowned threesome of maize, pumpkin and beans.
In some cases we have seen mulching done by plastic, however, I’m doubtful that non-biodegradable plastics made from synthetic petrol chemicals form part of a natural or organic farming cycle.
It’s also important to note that many plants that we consider as weeds today are actually very nutritious traditional spices and herbs which need to be rediscovered and reintroduced into our diet.
This way we can improve our diet and health by cultivating these herbs for consumption and establishing a natural control for them.
Pests and parasites can be managed sustainably by reintroducing natural predators of common or exotic pests. These may come in the form of wasps, ladybirds, mice, mosquitos, rats, snails, millipedes, worms and other such insects.
This is why it’s critical for farmers not to fumigate ponds or fields holding mosquitos, insects and rats that are natural predators to many pests and parasites.
With that it’s important to promote the development of colonies and hives of insects naturally found in the region to develop a natural ecosystem for balance.
Bigger creatures like guinea fowl, pigeons and chickens should be allowed to free range on the property as they eat weeds and make good predators of parasites and insects that normally feed on crops.
It’s important to create natural sources of fertilizer on the farm by building composts upon which organic material and kitchen waste are thrown to decompose over time. Thus developing rich manure for fertilizing smaller gardens.
Animal urines and bird droppings are some of the most effective forms of organic fertilizers and pesticides suited for large scale farming projects.
Note that animal manure can only be organic when the animals are not inoculated, given steroids and only when fed organic feed.
Inherent in bird droppings are greater benefits than synthetic fertilizers which are infamous for killing insects and soil microbes, burning root systems, leaching nutrients, deconstructing soil structure, weakening the immunity of crops and making them susceptible to disease.
It’s a plant super food consisting of bird dung, broken eggs and urine that’s rich in the major NKP: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium elements which are found in synthetic fertilizers.
These major elements aid in stem, flower, root, fruit and yield development and are accompanied by the trace elements calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper and manganese. Which aid in the absorption and processing of the major elements to make plants strong and immune to parasites.
In it are also microbes that feed on parasites, pests and bad bacteria in the soil. They also diet on the bird droppings, digesting it and releasing their own excretion which provides the mineral salts required by plants. In the process increasing soil life, improving structure, water retention and fertility.
Bird Manure Not Toxic
Unlike synthetic fertilizers, bird droppings are not toxic and do not burn plants like the petrol chemicals found in synthetic fertilizers that are associated with ever increasing health issues in humans and animals.
Even when too much droppings are applied on crops. The manure is degraded slowly by microbes that ingest them and excrete mineral salts in quantities that can be absorbed by the plant.
This makes bird droppings a slow release nutrition mechanism that benefits the crop with just enough minerals without overdosing the plant.
As a result the natural benefits of organic fertilizer produces healthy, wholesome crops, and when coupled with organic open variety seeds it can produce food with nutritious and medicinal benefits for both animals and humans.
It is this combinationRutendo Matinyarare
of spirituality, nature,
nurture and skill that
made our grains, dairy,
meats, sugar, fruits, fish,
tea, coffee, horticultural
produce, cotton, tobacco,
timber, and wildlife
From a cost perspective. A farmer needs anything from 6-12 bags of top and basal fertilizer to cultivate a hectare of maize at a cost of anything between US$270-$790/hectare. This is before we add the cost of hybrid seeds that have to be bought every season.
The result is a non-organic, substitutable harvest that will fetch low market prices, influenced by the volume of product available from the local and foreign markets.
Whereas with bird droppings, one only needs 50-150kg/hectare, which works out to about $20-$60/hectare. This produces an organic crop that will collect twice or three times the price of a generic product.
Not to mention that if it’s an heirloom you don’t have to buy it once you have inherited seeds from neighbors or your family because the seeds can be replanted.
A study in the Academia Journal in 2017 showed that using 20kgs of bird manure on a hectare of wheat.
Improved the yield by 6% in the first year and up to 50% in comparison with synthetic fertilizers in periods over 5yrs as the land where synthetic fertilizers were used became less fertile overtime while that were organic bird manure was used improved overtime.
More importantly, using this organic fertilizer on a field without any other chemicals for three years can clean up a field and qualify it for organic certification.
Opening the door for preferential export licenses of organic produce to other African countries, Asia, Japan, Singapore and Europe where high prices of up to four times the prices paid for generic produce are attainable.
Additionally, as bird manure is used in conjunction with other sustainable farming techniques like crop rotation. It improves soil quality, water retention, water quality, increasing plant immunity, living micro-organisms in the soil, fertility, insect populations and yield.
In turn reducing the cost of growing crops and increasing returns in the long run.
Organic farming is Zimbabwe’s niche to leapfrog it back into making farming profitable and sustainable for wheat, maize, horticulture, cotton, meat and cash-crop products.
It is also a very smart means of busting sanctions, which have mainly targeted Zimbabwe’s fertilizer and chemical industries, rendering Zimbabwean farmers uncompetitive because of high input costs.
With a hectare of maize costing anything from $370-$1200 to produce today. It has become unattractive for most Zimbabwean farmers to produce maize and cotton as they can’t compete against industrial farming nations.
However, organic farming aided by organic fertilizers will be a game changer for local farmers. Holding the propensity to position Zimbabwe as a leader in producing quality organic animal feed, meat, dairy, horticulture, aquaculture and cash-crop products at a competitive cost.
We can also become leaders in downline industries like organic fertilizer production, pest and herbicide control, while we turn our weeds and herbs into power foods and medicines.
Let’s start on the journey of this organic farming revolution now as nations like Zambia and Malawi are all working on strategies to position themselves in this niche.
If anyone is interested in this organic revolution and wants to start using organic manure, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: At Msingi Afrika Magazine, we see it as a mandate to connect Afrikans to Afrikans with the intention of creating a chain of change makers for the liberation of Afrika. Any connections made, become and remain purely the responsibility of the interacting parties.
We trust that these will all be handled with mutual respect, brotherhood, honor and kindess. All the values that Afrikans ought to espouse.
We recently interviewed Rutendo on Msingi Afrika TV. Watch the full length interview here: