By Mukute, M. Mudokwani, K. Mukute, K., & Kudakwashe, J.

August 2018

Fifteen organic farmer representatives from eight districts of wetter Mashonaland East visited and learnt from seasoned farmers in drier Shashe in Masvingo and Mazvihwa in Midlands Provinces of Zimbabwe. Three young researchers working on horticulture, environmental education and community psychology and the Zimbabwe case study lead researcher accompanied the farmers on the three-day learning visit in August 2017. The host communities have a long history of water harvesting for agricultural development and production of ecological services, working in groups and producing most of their seed and of being food and nutrition secure.

The learning trip was inspired by the knowledge that the host farmers had practice-based knowledge and tools to address some of the difficult challenges being faced by the Mashonaland East organic farmers. It was ultimately triggered by the organic farmers’ inability to implement the model solutions on water harvesting, seed security and leadership development co-produced during their October 2016 change laboratory.

During the reflection meeting that was held at the end of the look and learn visit, the guest organic farmers indicated that they had generated the following insights:

  1. On agriculture and water harvesting: (i) Small grains such as finger millet, sorghum, groundnuts and cowpeas are not only well-adapted to semi-arid conditions but are also highly nutritious and increasingly suitable for Mashonaland East, which is becoming drier and warmer, (ii) small grain seed is easy to conserve, improve, multiply, keep and share at farm level and increases farmer control over the seed and food value chains; and therefore contributes to farmer seed and food sovereignty, (iii) water harvesting using dead level contours not only increasing the amount of water available for agricultural production in the dry season and during mid-season dry spells but also recharges the water table and neighbouring streams for wider community use thus contributing to common good, (iv) to develop, refine and share the dead level contours, the farmer innovator had to go against conventional wisdom and government policy then, often facing the risk of being arrested. This suggested the potential value of transgressive learning, and (v) the dead level contours can be constructed at low cost, using local resources. They are worth to implement, but only after obtaining the necessary training.
  2. On leadership and governance: (i) A leader should neither go too far ahead of his group nor lag too far behind them, meaning that good leaders stay connected to and address the needs and aspirations of their group members as part and parcel of the group, and (ii) leaders should have necessary knowledge, experience, the right motivation and the emotional and social competences to guide the group towards the right direction.
  3. On livelihoods improvement: (i) Self-organisation and embarking on diversified and mutually supportive local enterprises such as organised crop production and marketing, value-addition and hiring out quality and well-furnished rural home facilities to local and international visitors who enables income generation across seasons. The latter requires hospitality abilities ranging from food preparation and serving to quality water and sanitation provision services.
  4. On learning: (i) Local, indigenous and traditional agricultural knowledge, which is also encapsulated in traditional seed growing and livestock breeding, is an important resource for helping farming communities to transition to sustainability, and (ii) it can be passed on through practice-based inter-generational learning – especially within families and also between them and between and among farming communities.

The look and learn visit suggested that this learning strategy can embrace transgressive transformative and transdisciplinary learning and help learners to acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes, which enable transformations to sustainability.