South African Rural Women’s Assembly members Reinette Heunis, Moipone Jwayi and and Pumla Mgidini travelled with representatives from the Trust for Community Outreach and Education’s (TCOE) Food Sovereignty Stream, for a farmer’s exchange visit to Zimbabwe. Farmer Exchange visits, enables producers to share information, skills, practices, challenges and possible solutions to challenges and is an important practise for those farmers practising agroecology.

The exchange visit took place from 25 April to 2 May 2023 and included travel to three provinces in Zimbabwe namely Matabeleland South, Midlands and Masvingo visiting sites such as the Buhlebuzile Irrigation Scheme, Gambiza Ward 10 Value Addition Centre in Chiwundura (Gweru), Shurugwi Ward 9 Irrigation Scheme, Shashe Agroecology School. This farmer exchange focused on agro-processing and value addition (including marketing), seed recovery, sharing and banking (including postharvest storage); diversified production including bee keeping, fish farming, small and large stock husbandry, agroforestry, rainwater harvesting and conservation, grey water usage as well as sharing knowledge about minimum tillage such as conservation agriculture.

One of the highlights when visiting the Buhlebuzile Irrigation Scheme in Bubi District, a very arid part of Zimbabwe, was being welcomed by members of Women on Land in Zimbabwe (WLZ) and a member of Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA). The chairperson of the group, Fikelephi Phuzani, explained that project started in 2008 with the assistance of WLZ. Before then, women just used to work as individuals doing such things as weaving and other craft work. Production of crops such as vegetables was never on their agenda as the area is very arid and receiving less than 1000mm per annum. Study circles facilitated by WLZ empowered the women with advocacy skills which saw them approaching the traditional leadership for access to the land they are working on. Now 78 women work together on 30 Ha of land. The crops are irrigated through two solar powered boreholes and drip irrigation. The crops grown under irrigation include different vegetables such as kale, cabbages, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, beans, potatoes and beetroot. On the dryland section, crops such as sunflower, sweet reeds, sorghum, maize, melons and pumpkins are produced.

Moipone Jwayi, who is one of the leaders of an Agroecology Hub in the Free State province explains, “one of the recommendations following the exchange visit is to explore the idea of piloting fish farming projects at our Agroecology Hubs. We should also organise more farmer-to-farmer exchanges at a provincial level in South Africa and emphasise the importance of study circles to promote a culture of reading and empowerment.” Reinette Heunis who is a farmer at the Suurbrak Agroecology hub in the Western Cape says the exchange visit was very rewarding. “We were inspired to see the diversity of enterprises and how farmers are shifting from fossil fuels to clean energy such as solar. Another idea gained from this exchange is to consider running trials on small grains, especially in arid regions like Limpopo, Northern Cape, Free State and some parts of Eastern Cape and Western Cape.”

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