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Banana farming in Zimbabwe
Banana farming in Zimbabwe has evolved from a subsistence crop to a commercial enterprise, transforming rural communities in the eastern part of the country.

In 2010, USAID funded the Zimbabwe Agricultural Income and Employment Development (Zim-AIED) program that worked with banana farmers in the Honde Valley in eastern Zimbabwe to improve agricultural practices, access to markets and the production of high-quality bananas.

The Food and Agriculture Organization also implemented the Mupangwa irrigation scheme in the Honde Valley to help farmers improve banana cultivation and link them to markets and other farmers in the region.

Prior to USAID intervention, banana farming in Zimbabwe was a low-income enterprise. Farmers earned less than $200 per year due to a lack of formal markets and very low harvest yields. Bananas were only grown on a small scale and sold on the roadside to middlemen that took advantage of these small-scale farmers by paying low prices only to sell them for much higher prices.

Where monthly yields used to be only 30 to 50 kilograms of bananas, individuals are now able to produce over 1,000 kilograms per month. The region has gone from producing 2,000 tons in 2011 to more than 27,000 tons in 2017, contributing more than $7.5 million to the rural economy each year.

Banana farming in Zimbabwe has been wildly successful because the trees are easy to manage. Banana trees require a humid tropical climate, good drainage and fertile soil. The Honde Valley in eastern Zimbabwe ticks all of these boxes and thus is perfect for banana farming.

By 2015, about 600 banana farmers had received technical assistance in agricultural techniques. They were able to transform their farming practices to increase their production and incomes drastically. Those farmers then passed on their knowledge to neighbors and others in their community. Now, the Honde Valley is home to more than 5,000 commercial banana farmers, each earning an average of about $4,200 per acre per year.

Banana farming in Zimbabwe has opened many other doors for rural farmers and their families. Access to credit and bank loans has increased dramatically, school enrollment has increased and local small and medium-sized businesses have sprung up in the region. Young people that had left the country in search of employment have returned to eastern Zimbabwe to take up small-scale banana farming. Half of the African population is under 25 years old, so providing decent employment opportunities is vital for the young labor force.

Commercial banana farming in Zimbabwe has also empowered women. Women constitute approximately 60 percent of banana farmers in the Honde Valley. Many of the newfound banana farmers are widows trying to make ends meet to support their families. Other women help supplement their husbands’ incomes with the profits from banana farming.

Banana farming in Zimbabwe has helped pull rural communities out of poverty, improve nutrition and food security, increase incomes and empower individuals throughout the Honde Valley.

– Sydney Lacey

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in ZimbabweThe landlocked sub-Saharan nation of Zimbabwe once enjoyed a reputation as the “breadbasket of Africa,” but in just over a decade it went from being a major crop exporter to a recipient of international food aid. Under the authoritarian government of Robert Mugabe, smallholder agriculture was neglected by the state, and productivity plummeted. As the country suffered through years of economic crises, sustainable agriculture in Zimbabwe stagnated. Modern Zimbabwe can no longer provide its citizens with food staples, and more than 40 percent of infants suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Agricultural Productivity in Zimbabwe

Low agricultural productivity in Zimbabwe stems from a complex web of interrelated issues. Farming practices like slash and burn agriculture have degraded soils, as has an overdependence on pesticides and other chemicals. The lack of crop variety is problematic; when a family cultivates only one crop, such as corn or millet, they have no recourse when drought decimates the harvest.

Recent rainfall patterns have shifted from their historic schedules, rendering ancient knowledge obsolete. Rains can be overly abundant or followed by long dry periods of intense heat. Farmers lack access to infrastructure, new equipment, credit, markets and irrigation.

The Impact of Climate Change

Climate change is widely recognized as a serious impediment to food security and sustainable agriculture in Zimbabwe. As a result, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. FAO has included in their Zimbabwe projects a strong focus on climate change resilience.

It encourages resilient livestock production through improved feeding strategies, fodder crop production, animal husbandry and breeding practices. F.A.O. promotes climate-smart technology and farming systems such as greater crop diversity, crop rotation, irrigation, storage facilities and improved processing and preservation.

F.A.O. and the World Agroforestry Centre both endorse conservation agriculture, which uses mulch to conserve water, improve soil health and minimize runoff and erosion. It includes practices such as:

  • Agroforestry
  • Zero tillage
  • Alley cropping
  • Integrated pest management
  • Organic farming
  • Contour farming
  • Crop and pasture rotation

Sustainable Agriculture in Zimbabwe Through Modern Cultivation Methods

In tandem with local partner Agricultural Partnership Trust, German aid organization Welthungerhilfe provides education, resources and community organizing to ensure better harvests for food security and surpluses for higher income.

Welthungerhilfe teaches modern cultivation methods using natural fertilizers and ecological plant protection to preserve soil health while improving yields. It instructs farmers on drought-resistant, climate-adapted crops such as peanuts, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. The organization also provides both chickens and training to help smallholders start chicken farms.

With Welthungerhilfe’s help, farmers gain access to grain stores for emergency use and protection against rodents. Welthungerhilfe encourages community, leading nutrition clubs and organizing farmers for marketing, better prices and improved credit access.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, both wildlife conservation and sustainable farming are becoming increasingly prevalent. Sustainable agriculture in Zimbabwe is intertwined with environmental and animal protection.

Farmers can benefit economically from efforts to save endangered species. For instance, the Rhino Conservation Trust uses the “horns and thorns” approach, paying farmers to manage and conserve local wildlife. It has funded sustainable agricultural practices such as protecting wildlife, conserving water, preventing deforestation and sequestering carbon in soil.

The good news is that people, animals and the environment can all benefit from sustainable agriculture in Zimbabwe. In the words of Raol du Toit, director of the Rhino Conservation Trust, the solution is to help farmers practice agriculture “in appropriate areas, using appropriate practices.”

– Anna Parker

Photo: Flickr