Zimbabwe: Bringing Bikita’s seed diversity to Harare’s Good Food Festival

Accompanied by our partners EarthLore, small-scale farmers in Bikita, Zimbabwe, are reviving their seed diversity and traditional technology. They are building their food sovereignty and resilience to the drought-and-flood cycles intensified by climate change.

Gaia’s Sara Davies shares reflections from the latest Good Food Festival in Harare, Zimbabwe, where EarthLore brought farmers from Bikita together to swap seeds, share knowledge and share their stories of revival with farmers from across the nation.


 

Farmers attend the dialogue day at Harare’s Good Food Festival. Photo: Sara Davies

This September, fourteen farmers from Bikita, Zimbabwe, took part in the Good Food Festival, a 3-day celebration of organic and traditional food and seed in the capital, Harare.

The farmers, all women, were accompanied by The Gaia Foundation’s partner, EarthLore, which has been working alongside them to revive ‘lost’ varieties of indigenous seeds that are diverse, nutritious and resilient to climate extremes.

Bikita’s farmers attended the full gamut of festival events. On the first day, they joined Farmer Dialogues to share their experiences. On the second, a National Seed Fair to swap and share their seeds. And finally, an open market on the Festival’s third day, where they could sell their produce to the city public directly.

“This is something very special for the farmers. Farmers are seeing other displays similar to theirs, and see that these seeds are valued as we value them. It is very encouraging”, says Method Gundidza, Programme Manager at EarthLore, who accompanied the farmers on their trip to Harare.

 

‘Lost’ seeds revived and shared

Just some of the huge diversity of seeds displayed, shared and swapped at the Festival. Photo: Sara Davies

One farmer, Mrs Jange, was able to sell a bucket of svoboda, a setaria grass variety that has been recently revived in Bikita, for US$30. She was surprised and overjoyed that she could get such a price for 20kg for a seed that, until recent revival efforts, had fallen out of favour in Bikita.

“As a seed in Bikita, this is regarded as something without value,” says Method. “Selling it for this price gives the farmers a sense of the value of what they are doing on the ground. They can see what their work feeds into, the value of what they produce. They can really see how this can be part of a much bigger picture.”

Another farmer from Mamutse, Mrs Mugano, brought Tsenza seed to the festival. Tsenza was identified at the beginning of the seed and knowledge revival work in Bikita, in 2015, as one of the lost seeds. The festival provided a wonderful opportunity for her to bring it back to the wider community once more. Mrs Mugano plans to multiply and share with the rest of the community in the future.

 

Building back diversity

Farmers share information about their seeds at EarthLore’s stand. Photo: Sara Davies

As well as bringing their own revived seeds to market. Bikita’s farmers were able to access new varieties and diversity for their own fields. Mrs Mufunda, from the same Mamutse community bought seed of the white groundnut. She had gotten the same seed at last year’s festival but unfortunately lost her supply due to drought. She welcomed this chance to restock the seed.

Mrs Gaiko of Chiroorwe got seed of the Mhunga inobaya, the hairy pearl millet variety. Mrs Mangoyi of the same community also got Misodzi mitsvuku, the brown/white tear variety of jugo beans.

 

Knowledge from across Zimbabwe and beyond…

EarthLore’s Method Gundidza (centre) exchanges with Mere Jah from Benin (left), representing the African Biodiversity Network, and Zeddy Chikukwa from the Chikukwa Ecological Land Use Community Trust, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. Photo: Sara Davies

Now in its seventh year, Harare’s Good Food Festival has given farmers from across the ten provinces of Zimbabwe the opportunity to meet and exchange ideas and knowledge. With over 100 farmers represented, this really is the event of the year for small scale farmers.

As well as gaining new seed varities, Mrs Mangoyi also learnt about mango fruit drying techniques from a fellow farmer and resolved to attempt it home since she has a lot of mango fruit trees and often just watches the fruit she cannot eat or cook fresh rot on the bough.

The final day of the festival furthered this knowledge exchange. Appropriate technology for small-scale, agroecological farming was displayed, including solar dryers and grinding mills, giving farmers the chance to explore new, ecologically sound ways of adding value to their produce.

 

Deepening exchange

Seed custodians who are working alongside EarthLore relax and chat as they display the seed diversity they have been reviving. Photo: Sara Davies

Last year EarthLore supported nine farmers from the three communities of Chiroorwe, Gangare and Mamutse to attend the Festival. This year saw expanded participation, bringing one farmer from each of these communities who attended last year, plus two new farmers. An additional five farmers also attended, from the two new communities of Mutsinzwa and Mazvimba/Masasire that EarthLore is working with.

Bringing these farmers together, EarthLore is helping other farmers to see, be inspired by and share in the fruits of a revival of seed and knowledge now underway in communities across Zimbabwe.


 

The participation of EarthLore in this event was thanks to the support of the Seed & Knowledge Initiative (SKI), the African Women’s Development Fund and Comic Relief.