Seed Security = Food Security

by Rima Alcadi
Picture by Shepherd Tozvireva / Oxfam Novib
In Zimbabwe, the IFAD-funded Oxfam Novib programme called “Scaling Up Peoples' Biodiversity Management for Food Security” is working in the low rainfall and poverty stricken districts of Tsholotsho, Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe (UMP), Goromonzi and Chiredzi. The programme is reaching 5,800 households, of which 60% are women. The farmers surveyed in Zimbabwe are mainly subsistence farmers who grow primarily maize (on holdings of 0.4 to 0.8 hectares), with an additional smaller area of land (below 0.4 ha), for other crops such as sorghum, pearl millet, groundnuts, cowpeas, soybeans and Bambara groundnuts.

In all these districts, farmers report that unpredictable dry spells are more common than before, have become longer and more severe. Farmers in Zimbabwe also experienced persistent droughts, which they had never experienced before, especially in Chiredzi and Tsholotsho districts. They also noted a marked increase in the number of pests and diseases. Farmers indicated that they are concerned about changes in both the amount and the distribution of rainfall. With regard to rainfall distribution, farmers reported that rains are starting later and ending before, with intermittent dry spells in between. Temperatures are also changing. Farmers perceive these developments as a strong indication of climate change. With the rudimentary tools available to them, farmers have been recording rainfall, temperature, wind and sun – sometimes even mapping these with activities performed. Farmers recognise that they require support to adapt to these changes.

As a result of these changes in climate, maize yields are diminishing, so farmers are keen to increase crop diversity on-farm and supplement maize with traditional crops, that are more drought tolerant and have shorter growing seasons. Indeed, smallholder farmers have demonstrated strong interest in the advanced lines of sorghum and pearl millets which were introduced by the programme. For example, farmers in Goromonzi plant maize, ground nut, and beans. The rainfall amount and distribution is poor, and is affecting their harvest. They noted that 10 to 15 years ago, there was more rainfall and longer growing seasons. In terms of rainfall distribution, plants germinate and then wilt as a result of dry spells, so farmers need to plant again.

This is why farmers like Ms Nyarai Nekate are ensuring greater crop diversity to enhance their resilience to climate change: she is planting seven corn varieties, seven bean varieties, seven Bambara groundnut varieties, nine cowpea varieties, and eight groundnut varieties. In terms of her preferred traits, she indicates she prefers short season varieties to long season varieties in order to manage exposure to risks and adapt to climate change. She takes care in managing her seed security as well as her food security, so she doesn't run out and doesn't need to buy seeds. It is like an insurance scheme not only with regard to food, but also with regard to seed – in case farmers cannot access seeds for the hybrid maize varieties, then they have pearl millet or other traditional varieties to plant.

So seed security is in fact a precursor to food security, and maintaining crop diversity on farm is a way to enhance both seed and food security.