African Centre for Biodiversity
PO Box 29170, Melville 2109 South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)11 486 1156
African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) in conjunction with the Zimbabwe
smallholder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF) have today published
findings of scoping research conducted in Zimbabwe in 2015 entitled
support at the crossroads: Diminishing returns from Green Revolution
seed and fertiliser subsidies and the agro-ecological alternative”.
The research is part of a three year multi-country programme looking
at the impacts of the Green Revolution on small-scale farmers in southern
Africa, with a particular focus on seed and soil fertility.
Green Revolution technologies and interventions have a long history
in Zimbabwe, originally oriented towards supporting productivity amongst
large-scale commercial farmers, but after national liberation programmes
were also implemented to extend these technologies to small-scale
black farmers. The report considers the central role of government
and donor farm input subsidy programmes (FISPs) and seed aid in facilitating
the spread of Green Revolution technologies.
The report raises questions about who really benefits from these programmes,
and identifies a range of domestic and multinational corporate actors
who reap large profits from markets guaranteed by these programmes.
These corporations include Seed Co, Pioneer Hi-Bred/Pannar and Monsanto
in seed; and the big four fertiliser producers, viz. Zimbabwe Phosphate
Industries (Zimphos), Zimbabwe
Fertiliser Company (ZFC), Sable Chemical Industries and Windmill,
which also have cross-holdings.
The report highlights the critical role played by farmers in reproducing
and maintaining diverse crops and varieties. As with the rest of the
continent, most of the seed used by small-scale farming households
in Zimbabwe is produced and reproduced locally, without formal regulation.
Farmer produced and exchanged seed is the oldest and most important
supply of planting materials in Zimbabwe. Apart from maize where commercial
incursion is greatest, over 95% of the seed sowed by farmers in Zimbabwe
comes from the farmer seed system. On-farm and local production of
seed is an integral part of the country’s agro-ecology. Such farmer-managed
seed systems are diverse, localised and non-reducible.
These systems are essential for the maintenance of agricultural biodiversity
and diversity of household nutrition. Yet they receive limited support,
especially compared with the resources flowing to corporations through
the FISPs. The report indicates how the FISPs are politically entrenched.
They are difficult to dislodge even though there are growing questions
about their appropriateness, including from amongst donors and even
from within the government. There is need to gradually move towards
government diversification of its support activities to allow more
than one model an opportunity to test its appropriateness.
In this light agro-ecological practices offer a major opportunity
for diversification of government support. The report shows that small-scale
farmers are engaged in a wide range of agro-ecological practices on
the ground, from seed saving and enhancement to soil fertility improvements
such as use of manure and compost, cover cropping, and ground cover.
In the context of climate change and drought these are essential practices
for retention of moisture in the soil. However, these need dedicated
Agricultural investment is urgently needed, but the question is investment
in what. There is need to look at how much government is spending
through the FISPs and develop information for advocacy to shift some
public spending towards agro-ecology broadly and also towards supporting
and strengthening farmer seed systems.
The report highlights that farmer seed systems remain critical to
food security in the country and will continue to do so. Commercial
seed will not go very far beyond maize and a few other crops, so the
key question is what kind of support is required to strengthen farmer
On soil fertility, much more detailed understanding of local conditions
is required before proposing blanket solutions of synthetic fertiliser
applications. Support for agro-ecological practices can increase farmer
For more information contact:
African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB)
Zimbabwe smallholder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF)