Holding practice-based training on dead level contour construction: bridging knowledge, positive attitude and practical skills development

Mukute M. & Mukute K.

January 2019

During the look and learn visit in August 2017 the guest 15 organic farmer representatives from eight districts of  Mashonaland East Province saw evidence of the benefits of water harvesting, and were convinced about its potential to help them overcome some of their production challenges. They asked the farmer innovator to come and train them in their respective districts in the following year. Consequently, in August 2018 the T-learning project team checked with the district farmer associations to establish those that were ready to host the training. The idea of preparedness to host was based on an ethical principle of discouraging a dependence syndrome (organic farmer associations expecting things to be done for them even when they could) identified earlier. It was underpinned by an assumption that if the organic farmer associations valued an idea or model solution, they should be willing to make a contribution. In this case, the prepared district associations were to pay for their local travel, and make contributions to their meals during the training.

District organic associations from Wedza, Goromonzi and Seke expressed their readiness and Mr Bouwas Mawara, the farmer innovator conducted a one-day training workshop was conducted in each district in early September 2018.  The training was attended by 112 farmers comprising 40 men (36 %) and 72 women (64 %), and three young researchers. Before the training was conducted, the farmers who hosted the training were advised to identify a site where the deadline contour ridges were to be constructed for learning and practical purposes. They were subsequently advised to assemble (material) tools that would be required for training: axes, shovels, picks, hoes and a tape measure.

The training comprised several sessions in the following sequence: (i) the background, history, evolution and adoption of water harvesting in relation to social justice, droughts, agriculture, fish production and food security, (ii) question and answer session, (iii) A-frame co-construction, (iv) surveying of the cropland on which the dead level contours were to be marked, (v) demonstration of how to use the A-frame to mark contour lines, (vi) marking deadline contours, (vii) digging a small portion of the marked contour ridge for illustrative purposes, and (ix) reflections and insights from the process, and (x) the way forward.

Mr Mawara described the source of his inspiration for co-developing the dead level contour as follows:

Before Zimbabwe gained independence [in 1980] the colonial government experimented with an idea of introducing native councilors in some districts, including mine. The then native chief in my area appointed me to be one of these councillors. As a councillor, I was then seconded to attend a training workshop in Bikita on making contour ridges as promoted by council and government. After the training workshop and in liaison with agricultural extension officers, I ran a workshop in a local community to promote the official contour ridges. All the farmers at the workshop liked the idea and my training except one who challenged me. He said the contours were bad for the environment… He disappointed me and I was angry with him. Over the coming years, I began to notice that the soil erosion, gulley formation, the choking of rivers with silt and the formation of rivers of sand especially on communal land on which the majority of local small scale farmers were resettled …  By contrast, I noted the absence of contours ridges on farms owned by colonial, commercial farmers… I concluded that these ‘drainage contours’, which took away water from the thirsty land, were meant to make us poor so that we could provide cheap labour on commercial farms. This pushed me and a colleague [Zephania Phiri] to look for an alternative contour ridge, one that could store water.

 At the end of each practice-based training workshop, a portion of one dead level contour had been dug and farmers had acquired a hands-on, step-by-step understanding of how to make an A-frame and use it for marking contour lines. The following insights were also shared:

  • Always use a correctly made A-frame when marking lines, so that they mark them correctly and avoid constructing faulty contours.
  • Always design and complete the construction of deadline contours before the start of the rainfall season to prevent the risk of unintended soil erosion on the cropland.
  • To reduce the burden of labour in making contours, use draught power, tractors, work in groups and/or hire local labour.
  • Expand and deepen the contours over the years in order to harvest more water and retain moisture for longer, practice relay cropping in one season, grow water-loving plants such as sugar cane and bananas and keep fish.
  • Raise fish that are locally adapted, grow fast and have a good local market. These can be bought from local fishermen by offering a higher price for live fish that for fish meant for consumption.

The trained farmers indicated that they were now able to construct dead level contours and reap the harvests. Those who had attended the change lab in which the concept was discussed, and/or participated in the look and learn visit in which the value of dead level contours was demonstrated appreciated the manner in which the three processes were interconnected and enabling.

The following photographs illustrate the training process in pictures:

Digging the contour in Wedza

marking contour lines guided by pegs in Wedza

Explaining field layout in Seke

Pegging using the A-frame in Goromonzi

Demonstrating use of an A-frame in Goromonzi

Walking to the site of contour construction in Wedza

Making grooves on poles in Seke

 

2019-06-08T15:21:39+00:00

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