The African Centre for Biodiversity
PO Box 29170, Melville 2109 South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)11 486 1156

The 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 “Zimbabwean smallholder 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 support.

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 seed systems.

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 resilience.

For more information contact:

Stephen Greenberg
African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB)

Elizabeth Mpofu
Zimbabwe smallholder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF)