By Hazel Marimbiza

Sihle Moyo turns over a spade full of topsoil on her farm in the Bubi district Matabeleland North region of Zimbabwe.

The soil crumbles easily, revealing a permeable structure and an abundance of organic matter that facilitates root growth. About 10 years ago, the soil on her land was very poor.

Back then, Moyo would plow the fields before each planting, burying the residue from the previous crop and readying the ground for the next one.

“I had been using that farming method in this region for decades,” Moyo says. “But the tillage was taking a toll on the land, and the soil was eroding at an alarming rate.”

Convinced that there had to be a better way to work the land, in 2016, Moyo decided to experiment with no-till farming.

“No-till farming, also known as zero-tillage or Intwasa, is a conservative technique for growing crops without disturbing the soil through tillage," Moyo says. "Instead of plowing and sowing a large area, the method involves planting crops in small holes that trap rainwater. We also lay manure fertilizer in the holes before planting."

Intwasa (meaning "spring") is the Ndebele language name for no-till farming. The technique is also known as pfumvudza in Shona. Ndebele, Shona and English are the three most popular of 16 official languages in Zimbabwe, according to the CIA World Factbook.

“Adapting to this method has benefited me a lot because way back I could not realize any profits from my agricultural produce. Due to high temperatures, my crops would shrivel before bearing anything. Now they can endure for some time, and I am able to sustain my family,” Moyo adds.

With climate change affecting Zimbabwe, the greatest intensity of impacts is experienced in the rural areas where the majority of smallholder farmers are extremely vulnerable to climate hazards as a result of poverty and weak access to services and institutional resources.

In Matabeleland, farmers face an array of shocks and stresses which provide a near constant challenge to successful farming and individual household and community resilience. The district falls in Natural Region V, which is characterized by low and erratic rainfall (about 16-23 inches per year), poor soils and high temperatures.

In order to get more knowledge on the conservation farming method, Moyo has also joined groups of farmers who are trained by the Self Help Development Fund (SHDF) organization, which seeks to perfect villagers’ no-till skills. SHDF communications officer Vongai Matonhodze said farmers are formed into groups of 10 and assisted with training and other essential resources.

“We have been specifically working in Matabeleland from 2018, and we have been training farmers on how to manage their land so that it can produce more. In total, we have trained about 7,500 rural farmers. The farmers grow vegetables, sugar beans, maize and wheat among other crops.

"With this program, our target is to train them on climate adaptation through conservation agriculture. We support them with machines related to the kinds of businesses that they are doing. We also support them with equipment to set up gardens. We put in solar-powered boreholes, irrigation schemes and water tanks, and we expect them to manage themselves and do all year round farming,” Matonhodze says.

Matonhodze says she has seen great improvements in the farmers’ lives as a result of no-till. 

“Before we started the program, their living standards were very low, and they had very little income to take care of their families. I believe the training has increased their household incomes,” Matonhodze adds.

A farmer who has also benefited from SHDF training said practicing no-till has transformed her life.

“Since I have received training on no-till farming, my life has changed," says Nomthandazo Nkomo. "I now harvest a lot, and I can sell my produce. I use the money to pay my children’s school fees. Now and again my children would be chased out of school due to fees arrears but now they can access education. Also I never had a bank card, but now I’m happy to say that I own a bank card so basically I can swipe and buy groceries for my children."

Another farmer, Monalisa Mkhwananzi, said she no-longer depends on her husband for everything she needs.

“No-till farming has empowered me to also provide some household items in the home, and that lessens the burden on my husband since we are living in a harsh economy,” Mkhwananzi says.

Seeing other farmers reaping the rewards of no-till and working together now has other farmers eager to join.

“When we started these zero-tillage projects, other villagers did not understand the project, but after being successful, more community members are joining us,” Nkomo says. 

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Martin Industries 30 years

The No-Till Passport series is brought to you by Martin Industries.

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Since 1991, Martin Industries has designed, manufactured and sold leading agriculture equipment across the U.S. and Canada. Known for Martin-Till planter attachments, the company has expanded to include a five-step planting system, closing wheel systems, twisted drag chains, fertilizer openers and more in their lineup. Their durable and reliable planter attachments are making it possible for more and more farmers to plant into higher levels of residue.