Mkhululi Ncube, Chronicle Reporter
AT the foot of the spectacular Matobo hills in Matabeleland South, a unique organic farming story is unfolding, with dreams to tap into the export market.

Unlike most community gardens, the gardens in Matobo District are based on organic farming, an agricultural system that uses ecologically based pest controls and biological fertisers derived largely from animal and plant waste.

Organic farming uses fewer pesticides, reduces soil erosion, decreases nitrate leaching into groundwater and surface water, among other benefits.

In Matobo, the water which is used comes from boreholes that are powered by another natural resource – solar energy. Women are the main target, constituting 70 percent of members per garden.

When complete, the project is targeting to have set up 51 gardens in three districts of Matabeleland South and it is being financed to the tune of 1,3 million British pounds by the Isle of Man government.

A non-governmental organisation, Practical Action Aid is the funding partner while Fambidzanani Permaculture Centre is the implementing partner.

At the moment there are nine gardens in Matobo and 30 in Gwanda, six in Bulilima District while 12 are yet to be operationalised.

One of the gardens in Matobo District is Stekula garden in Swene Village in Ward 16.

A beneficiary Mr Pianos Ncube who is also the marketing officer for the garden said their two-hectare garden along with eight others in the district started in 2018. “I wish everyone can follow this organic concept not only with their gardens but even in their fields. This will greatly decrease the health problems associated with consuming food grown using pesticides. Let us be frank using synthetic chemicals is not good for our bodies. Some of the diseases killing our people are caused by consuming food grown using pesticides,” he said.

Mr Ncube said they are supplying some of their produce in Bulawayo.

“We have linked up with supermarkets for our products in Gwanda, Maphisa and Bulawayo. They are very happy with our products and we will even do traditional grains like sorghum using the natural way of farming so that we promote the health of our people. But we live in a global village and hence the big vision is to penetrate the export market because there is so much demand for food grown organically,” he said.

Mr Ncube said they are receiving support on how to do farming using the organic methods as it comes with its own challenges.

“We are improving every day on the use of nature to grow our food. You will be shocked that within these beautiful mountains we have a number of trees that can cure various diseases that attack our crops in the gardens. Our institutions of higher learning must help the country by researching these so that they help the country,” he said.

Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre programs and resources mobilisation team leader Mr Edwin Mazhawidza said organic farming is beneficial to rural communities struggling for resources.

“Most communities cannot access agro -chemicals like your fertilizer. Apart from that, the issue of climate change now is a big concern. This area is dry hence we took the organic route so that the people can get maximum benefits.

They are using organic manure which can conserve water and various mulches from bio mas transfers from the forest which also conserve water and act as nutrition for the crops. It is a venture that can be sustainable in this area apart from the various benefits of the products as well,” he said.

Mr Mazhawidza said the nine gardens started at different stages because of various challenges associated with finding water and clearing the land but highlighted that farmers who started early are reaping rewards.

“The farmers who are into their third season of cropping have done significantly well with some farmers making as much as 10 000 rands from selling their products like tomatoes in a season. Others are revamping their homesteads from funds realised from selling. There is a ready market here because the majority of people cannot grow their own vegetables because of water challenges,” said Mr Mazhawidza.

Miss Lydia Sibanda from Thuthukani garden made up of 31 members, 26 women and five man said farming using organic methods has assisted them to satisfy a unique market which is health conscious.

“We have learnt to farm using our natural resources. For example, if we need to spray our vegetables, we use aloe vera, chillies mixed with other local available trees and it is producing the results. Besides that, we have been taught to mix our crops with those that can eliminate pests. When we plant our vegetables, we mix them with onions which are good in protecting the vegetables from attacks,” she said.

Ms Sibanda said other natural pesticides they use include garlic and ginger which have greatly reduced operating costs for the farmers.

Matobo District Development Coordinator Mr Obey Chaputsira hailed the move to use locally available resources taking into account the situation on the ground.

“In the long run this will boost the district economy because there is a huge market for crops planted using organic methods. Besides money, there are many benefits accruing from using this method such as health benefits.” he said.

Practical Action Project Coordinator Melody Makumbe said their approach is based on agro ecological production which is friendly to the environment.

“We seek to address issues like climate change, minimising carbon in the atmosphere through promoting use of organic matter for soil fertility improvement, use of water serving technologies through drip irrigation to serve the little water we receive. We encourage use of natural or bio pesticides and discourage use of synthetic Agro -chemical to factor health issues,” she said.

Practical Action Agriculture systems and innovation leader for Southern Africa Dr Maria Gossi said 30 farmers have been certified by the Zimbabwe Organic Promoters and Producers Association which will see them reaping rewards.

“We have managed to connect these farmers with others from other areas to various supermarkets so that once their produce become organically certified they can reap more rewards for their products,” said Dr Gossi.

She said the farmers have a huge potential to export their products.

“By using solar energy these farmers can produce throughout the year without water challenges. There is therefore a huge chance for them to export. We are linking them to existing markets and producers who are already exporting, so soon that will happen, “she said.

She said they are working on value addition for products which have a ready market international.

Dr Gossi urged government agencies to support the unique gardens so that they achieve their export [email protected]