Method Gundidza works with our partner the EarthLore Foundation based in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 2014 he returned to his native community in Zimbabwe and now supports his home village and neighboring communities to revive their traditional knowledge and crop diversity – helping them overcome food shortages in this drought prone region.
Through his work with EarthLore and Gaia, Method was inspired to see how it was possible for communities to revive their traditional knowledge and practices, to bring back the apparently lost traditional seed varieties, regenerate ecosystems and Sacred Natural Sites and strengthen community confidence and governance. He witnessed how, as communities brought back their traditions and practices, the land and the food systems revived, and they became more food and seed secure and more able to make informed decisions.
After participating in a induction training by Gaia for EarthLore in 2014 he decided that he should take what he learnt to his own community in Zimbabwe. He shared his experience with his mother, Ziripa, and other elders. Ziripa Gundidza is an elder from the Karanga tribe and lives in a village called Gangare, in Bikita district, south-eastern Zimbabwe. She was thrilled when her son returned home to his roots, to encourage communities in his area not to lose their traditional knowledge, crop diversity and practices. As he tentatively shared his ideas with the other elders, they became animated sharing stories about their former practices, Sacred Natural Sites (marombo), and the diversity of seeds and foods they used to have. When he told them about his experience with communities who had been in a similar situation and were now much better off because they had rebuilt their cohesion and knowledge and practices, they were inspired. After a series of visits, Method invited some of the leaders to an induction training with Gaia in South Africa in 2015. They returned home eager to apply what they had learnt.
At the end of the training, Method agreed to accompany his mother’s community, and neighbouring communities Chiroorwe and Mamutse, to initiate regular community dialogues with elders and those in the community who were interested. They began to share their knowledge about seed diversity, the Sacred Sites and rituals which ensured rains, the customary laws to protect forests and rivers and more. They committed to meet regularly to keep the momentum going.
In September 2015, when the rains were expected, Ziripa and a group of women in her community who had kept some of their traditional seeds over the years, decided to plant much more finger millet and pearl millet than they had been doing recently. When the rains finally did come in January, they planted some maize, but much less than usual.
By then the millet had already grown in spite of no rain. It was not as robust as it should be if the rains are not disordered but, because millet is drought resistant, it still managed to grow and provide food.
By March 2016, those who planted more of their traditional crops, were able to begin harvesting millet and sorghum to feed the family, and many were still harvesting in June. In contrast, the maize had not survived well with the little rain that they had had since January and produced very little and in some fields, nothing.
In Ziripa’s community, of the 17 families who planted millet, 9 harvested enough to feed the family. Of the 13 families who planted sorghum, all had enough to feed the family; and of the 14 who planted maize, only 3 had some maize to harvest, but not enough to feed the family.
It has been a clear lesson for the communities who began the dialogues. They have seen first hand how their traditional crops are better adapted to climatic changes than the hybrid crops they buy or get from the government and some NGOs. This has motivated them to discuss how they can bulk up their supply of traditional seeds and bring back the full diversity of the different varieties they used to have. They have agreed to lay aside some of their communal land for multiplying seeds to share more widely and to share their knowledge of how to do so.
This situation stimulated the elders to want to talk more about seed saving and after a long winding discussion, the elders remembered that they used to mix all small grain seeds with sand and store them away in a clay pot in a granary and some times in caves, just in case of wars breaking out. Another smaller clay pot was used with a lid and sealed completely using clay from an anthill. “No matter what the severity of famine or drought no one would ever be able to separate sand from millet to consume the millet as food and this ensured that seed was always there in the worst cases” said one of the elders.
One of those participating in the dialogues is a government agricultural extension officer from a community nearby. She has been so inspired by this experience that she is committed to support these communities and her own to follow a similar path. She has also committed to influence the government to make sure that extension officers enable communities to revive and share their own seed diversity and not be pressured to grow what are known as ‘government crops’.
Ziripa and others in the community had recognised that some of their knowledge about protecting soils and water harvesting had become eroded. They discussed this in their community dialogues and Method agreed to look for support. Earthlore Foundation invited ZimSOFF, the Zimbabwe Organic Smallholder Farmers Forum, to provide agroecology training for Gangare, Mumutse and Chiroorwe communities in Bikita – to give a boost to their traditional farming practices.
Agroecology trainings were carried out by two Zimsoff farmer leaders, in the communal gardens of each community, and attended by over 157 women and men farmers, elders and youth. Each farmer was invited to talk about the crops they had grown in the last season and the yield. Results affirmed that farmers who grow small grains managed to get good results as compared to maize. In particular, three crop varieties – Mhunga (pearl millet), Mapfunde (sorghum), Rukweza (rapoko) – proved better in unreliable climatic conditions when compared to other crop varieties.
The elders were enthusiastic to share their knowledge on the nutritional value of traditional crops. For example, Rapoko, a millet variety, has high nutritional value as it is a rich source of calcium, iron and vitamin B. It is valued for its medicinal properties, useful for treating herpes, diarrhoea and abdominal problems, and Rapoko porridge is recommended for people who are unwell. It is also used in traditional sacred site ceremonies such as rain-making, as well as giving thanks to ancestors. Mhunga (pearl millet) and Mapfunde (sorghum) have similar values and uses.
The ZimSOFF leaders were so impressed with the enthusiasm and commitment of the communities to revive not only their former seed diversity and food system, but also to regenerate their wider ecosystem – that they have invited Gaia to provide induction trainings for ZimSOFF staff and community leaders.
We live in a time of multiple, complex crises. There are no easy answers. Working to uphold the health and diversity of our living planet is always rewarding, but we think you’ll agree it can sometimes feel like swimming against the stream. And yet like salmon we leap, and more often than you might expect, we make it. We invite you to make the next leap with us by making a donation of any size. Thank you for your solidarity.