Dryland crop technology to rescue drought-hit crop-livestock farmers in Zimbabwe

Climate change-induced droughts in Zimbabwe over the last two decades has hit resource-poor farmers the most. Many watched their valuable livestock die during the dry season due to fodder shortages and their inability to buy expensive commercial feed. The impact of drought on livelihoods is undeniable, but the problem was exacerbated by massive knowledge gaps. A ‘needs assessment’ project survey found that 90% of farmers had no knowledge on fodder production and preservation technologies and there was an urgent need to build capacity to prevent the crisis from deepening.

To understand the scale of these challenges, the Zimbabwe Agriculture Knowledge and Innovation Services (ZAKIS) surveyed four project target districts, namely Matobo, Insiza, Mhondoro-Ngezi and Chegutu.

The study showed that farmers had little knowledge on fodder flow or pasture management. Legume and cereal crop residues were going to waste, there was no established concrete plan to produce fodder crops and farmers could not afford to buy fodder from agro-dealers. The project therefore identified fodder production on-farm as the only sustainable solution as it relies on use of locally available resources.

Addressing the massive knowledge gaps was identified as an entry point and trainings were rolled out in the target districts by ICRISAT in partnership with the Department of Research and Specialist Services (DRSS). Technologies like fodder production and preservation can make a huge difference in boosting communities’ climate resilience and improving degraded rangelands. Feed supplementation using home-grown feed will help farmers to reap multiple benefits from having a healthy herd, improved soil fertility, improved incomes and improved livelihoods.

**Growing fodder crops: **At the start of the 2020-21 cropping season, ICRISAT introduced three fodder legumes – velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens), hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus) and sun hemp (Crotalaria juncea) and two grass crops – bana grass (Pennisetum Purpureum) and forage sorghum) as fodder crops. Close to 100 farmers were selected to host fodder demonstration plots in 12 wards in Insiza and Matobo districts. The plots are serving as fodder seed multiplication hubs and field schools for fodder production and preservation. The selected fodder crops are drought tolerant and the legumes are a rich livestock protein source while the grasses provide the much needed energy. In addition, the fodder legumes help in improving soil fertility.

Fodder preservation: To augment the learning at the demonstration plots and give extension staff both a theoretical and practical grounding in fodder preservation, two Trainer of Trainers (ToT) workshops were organized and rolled out. The objective was to build capacity of participants through hands-on training on fodder preservation particularly hay and silage making to provide feed to livestock all year round. Preserved feed is vital for livestock classes like steers which provide draft services during land preparation and as such these animals need to be in good shape at the onset of the agriculture season. Cows and goats in late pregnancy during the dry season will also benefit from the preserved feed.

In total, two workshops reached 50 (18 females, 32 males) ward-based AGRITEX extension staff and Department of Veterinary staff officers. The first workshop held on 29 March targeted Matobo and Insiza districts and the second workshop held on 12 April targeted Mhondoro-Ngezi and Chegutu districts. The trained staff will carry out cascading trainings to farmers in their wards. To date, the cascading trainings have reached over 200 farmers in ten wards in the four districts.

Contributing authors from ICRISAT:

Dr Martin Moyo, Country Representative – Zimbabwe,
Mr Farai Dube, Research Associate and
Ms Angeline Mujeyi, Research and Evaluation Associate.

Read more about ICRISAT’s work in Zimbabwe on EXPLOREit