Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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Climate Smart Agric: How Aquaculture is greening a ‘desolate’ countryside

 

The Njovo Community Garden is fed by water from the nearby Njovo Weir

Moses
Ziyambi

With climate change
increasingly becoming mankind’s greatest existential threat, climate smart
agriculture has become a buzzword but effective responses to the crisis remain dispersed
and far between.

In Zimbabwe, as in
every other developing country indeed, sustainable responses to climate change
and the grave threat it poses to livelihoods in general and food security in
particular are even less convincing.

It is in light of this
gap between problems encountered and solutions offered that Aquaculture
Zimbabwe, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) based in Masvingo, is making a
notable difference in the most vulnerable communities through a multi-pronged approach.

Through its Integrated
Agriculture, Aquaculture Production System, the organisation is implementing
diverse projects in three districts namely Bikita, Gutu and Masvingo Rural.

The programme encompasses
assisting communities to set-up combined projects comprising the raising small
livestock, building of gardens and planting of orchards at the same piece of
land.

In Masvingo Rural Ward
18, Aquaculture has assisted the Njovo community to build a dam which supports
over 500 villagers through a scheme called the Food Assistance for Assets
Programme.

With either direct or
indirect support from the World Food Program (WFP), the United States Aid for
International Development (WFP) and other partners, Aquaculture has facilitated
natural resource reclamation and conservation in a manner which supports livelihoods
for the Njovo community under Chief Shumba.

The project begins in
Zezai Village with a water harvesting exercise involving the building of a 186
metre-long trench along the Mashate-Veza-Jerera gravel road.

The trench will harness
water which perennially gushes down the adjacent Mashate Mountain and floods
the road every rainy season thereby eroding all the gravel downstream and
making movement harder for children attending the nearby Njovo Primary School.

By reducing the erosion
of gravel and other top soils from the road, the trench will significantly
contribute to broader efforts to reduce siltation of the nearby small river
thereby protecting a massive weir that has been constructed a short distance
downstream.

When this writer
visited the site, many villagers were busy at work, putting final touches to
the trench which channels the water to a wetland further down the road.

“We will be done with
this section of the project by September. I am glad that we have received so
much buy-in from community members who appreciate the project’s worth,” says
Food Assistance for Assets field officer John Shumba.

At Njovo Primary
School, a few metres away, an even bigger project to harvest run-off water is being
implemented by another contingent of enthusiastic villagers with Aquaculture
technical support.

A massive water tank
with a holding capacity of 8 000 litres is being built at the base of a hillock
which overlooks the school to the north. The tank will receive water channeled
into it by a network of strategically-built stone kerbs that will offload into
a funnel which runs into the tank.

The stored water will
be accessible to the school for gardening and sanitary purposes thus ending
decades of water poverty.

An 8000-litre tank is being built at Njovo Primary School


What is more striking
about all this work is perhaps the fact that much of it is being done using
locally-available resources; both human and materials – stones uprooted from
the hillock and quarry obtained by hand-crushing the same.

The school has all
along operated a garden on the wetland, on which makeshift structures of poles
and wire had served to protect vegetables from roving village livestock every
dry season.

At the edges of the
school beyond the road sits the wetland, itself another flagship section of the
project where some 20 beehives stand secluded in verdant thickets of wild bush
and grass.

The places has since
been neatly-fenced as part of the reclamation process and to ensure that
livestock and humans do not pound its sodden ground with hooves and feet at will,
and neither will they be able to trample on its delicate vegetation again.

The contrast between
the overgrown protected area and its heavily trodden, overgrazed immediate environs
cannot be starker, with the fenced area’s vibrant vegetation providing cover
for delicate soils beneath.

“This dekete (wetland) had traditionally been
considered sacred and the myths associated with it helped keep it a bit safe
for some time. However, as times began to change, people started to have little
regard for it.

“Trees were cut down
randomly, with pollutants from the school and the greater community finding their
way here. It is heartening to know that all that defilement is now being
reversed. We are now conserving this wetland and we are adding value into it
through the bee-keeping project which will soon give us enormous rewards,” said
Modrick Taruvinga, the wetland conservation committee vice chairperson.

Sitting on a 2.5
hectare piece of land, the wetland’s vegetation is thriving once again. School authorities
will no longer run a garden on the wetland as they will soon be doing it right
in their yard using water from the new tank.

The wetland’s new
custodians say it is becoming a budding haven for diverse flora and fauna; such
herbs as moringa/marenge which have medicinal properties, as well as the feared and
almost mystical python which itself is an endangered species.

It is onto this wetland
that runoff water from Mashate Mountain, as channeled by the new trench, will
be seamless released to aid infiltration and help feed into its ecological
balance.

The committee, which hopes
to increase the beehives to 500 in the year 2021, has already prepared an
adjacent piece of land which has been earmarked for a banana and citrus grove.

Members of the
committee say the grove will provide abundant flowers from which the bees will
extract ingredients for their cryptic yet sweet recipes.

More importantly, the
wetland thicket and the envisaged banana-citrus grove are part of the watershed
management upstream, which involves reducing soil erosion which leads to siltation
of the water body.

The wetland is bound by
Masvora River at its southern edge down which Aquaculture has facilitated the
construction of the giant Njovo Weir which has already spurned new agricultural
activities by hundreds of villagers.

This is a place which
clearly captures the Integrated Agriculture, Aquaculture Production System
which combines market gardening, tree planting, poultry farming and fisheries.

The combined projects,
which are dominated by women, have incarnated the kind of hope that all people
need to get by.

Use of waters in the Njovo Weir is regulated by an Asset Regulatory Committee 


Irrigation water is
released from the weir and travels by gradient into an underground storage tank
downstream, from where it is hoisted by a solar-powered submersible pump into
huge overhead tanks (colloquially known as Jojo tanks).

A labyrinth of piping  delivers the water to the length and breadth
of the garden which boasts a variety of vegetables including beans, sweet
potatoes, king onions and covo. The vegetable beds are interspersed with fruit
trees which get watered the very moment that the vegetables are watered.

A borehole was also
drilled to supply potable water to the poultry project which raises the Sasso
chicken breed.

“Sasso chickens are a
duo-purpose breed which can be used for both eggs and meat. It grows faster
than the traditional chicken breed and is less expensive to feed than the broiler.
The manure generated here is used on the vegetable beds,” said project
secretary Angeline Kamheni.

A fisheries
industry is also taking off after Aquaculture invested 30 000 fingerlings into
the dam, with the Zimababwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority (Zimparks)
adding a further 15 000.

For US$1, one
earns some four hours of fishing rights on condition that only two fishing rods
are used at a time. Profits realised are kept by the Asset Regulatory Committee
for use in maintenance and sustainability work around the dam.

The weir, which has a
capacity of 40m3 at a full supply level of 1.5m
,
has a masonry spillway wall bound by earthen embankments on each side, all
built by villagers who receive food incentives in return for their labour.

On the
embankments, vetiver and sisal grass nurseries are being prepared as part of
measures to forestall erosion and siltation. These measures are complemented by
an over 1.5km fencing around the dam which provides an orderly restriction of
access to the dam by livestock.

The barbed wire
fencing has already helped to spare some healthy undergrowth from the pounding
hooves of livestock thereby complementing efforts to preserve the pristine
state of the water body.

More interesting
is that the set up at Njovo has its lookalike a few kilometres away in the
Tadzembwa community of Ward 17 where the Chebvute Weir, Community Garden and
Fish Ponds project – which now sustains over 500 households – has also taken
shape.

The Chebvute
Weir, which appears to be a replica of the Njovo Weir, was built along Nyamangure
River which flows south-westwards through several villages.

From its depths
flows the precious liquid running through a piping system which branches onto
the 3.5 hectare plot which in turn hosts a vegetable garden, a fowl run and a
goat pen housing 24 goats.

People from such
villages as Sumbayaonda, Maregere, Murambwi and Tadzembwa have found succor in
this project which has given rise to hope that it is possible to mitigate the
worst of climate change.

“I feel we have
survived a desperate situation as a community, thanks to the intervention by
Aquaculture. This is not a haphazard project as it took a lot of planning and
consultations to implement.

“We realised
that the rains we received per year were no longer enough to support our
agricultural potential and sustain our livelihoods so we proposed this kind of
a project. The support from Aquaculture has been overwhelming and I am glad
that barely three years after construction work began, we have realised a
profit from this work,” said project chairperson Julius Swadi.

Aquaculture’s
support for the project begun with the provision of funding and technical
support for the construction of the dam, laying down the piping network,
installing the solar-powered system, building the infield canals, setting-up
the water tanks and supporting the project’s production systems.

A solar-powered
borehole also provides potable water for dozens of households that had hitherto
relied on unprotected water wells dotted along the river bank.

The goats, which
were bought using profits realised from the other projects being undertaken on
the piece of land, produce manure which helps to fertilize the vegetables
growing on this otherwise barren piece of land.

Project members
are also indulging thoughts of a lucerne grass nursery which would not only
help reduce soil erosion and siltation of Nyamangure River, but will provide
nutritious feed for their goats as well.

In between the
Chebvute and Njovo projects exists many households that are making use of new
climate-change mitigation agricultural knowledge acquired from Aquaculture’s
training programme which began a few years ago.

One beneficiary
of this knowledge is Elimon Mawire who is practicing a dry-planting method
known locally as pfumvudza. The
practice involves making composite heaps from which manure is obtained to fill
small, dry holes prepared in the fields.

At the onset of
the rains, maize seeds are planted in those holes and covered with a mixture of
top soil and the manure.

Mawire says this
method helps to conserve both manure and whatever little moisture that the soil
could retain with every rain drop.

“By filling manure
directly into the hole, little of that manure is wasted and this also helps to
improve moisture retention when rainfall is erratic. This is a more
conservatory method of farming than the traditional practice of spreading
manure all over the place,” said Mawire.

He said he would
also be eager to participate in Aquaculture’s envisaged plans to promote the
farming of small grains which are more drought-tolerant.

“People are not
very much receptive to small grains owing to the labour-intensive nature of the
processing which is required. But with the new technology that is coming, I
would very much be willing to invest my energies more on millet and sorghum
because unlike in the past, we no longer have reliable rainfall,” said Mawire
whose homestead which stands a few metres from the Mashate-Renco Mine road.

The Pfumvudza dry-planting method is now being practiced by hundreds of households under Masvingo Rural District Council


Several other
villagers in both wards 17 and 18 have embraced another relatively novel
initiative known as the key-hole garden which is a brilliant method of growing
vegetables right on the homestead using little water.

Keyhole gardens provide
for water recycling since even waste water that is normally thrown away in a
rural household can be ‘dumped’ onto them, with remarkable blossoming effect on
the plants.

On average, a
keyhole garden can last up to four years without having to re-dig it, and their
plants last longer with little water than plants in a more conventional garden
set-up.

Getting an
opportunity to see these initiatives give one an opportunity to appreciate how
ordinary people, with capacitation from capable partners, are working to make
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Number 1 ‘Ending Poverty’ and Number 2
‘Climate Action’ a reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TellZim News is the leading news organization in the Southern region. It provides candid, balanced and timely news from the communities. Keeping it real. Committed to tell Zimbabwe.

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