Zimbabwe’s commercial farming sector was traditionally a source of exports and foreign exchange, and provided 400,000 jobs. However, the government’s land reform program badly damaged the sector, turning Zimbabwe into a net importer of food products. For example, between 2000 and 2016 annual wheat production fell from 250,000 tons to 60,000 tons, maize was reduced from two million tons to 500,000 tons and cattle slaughtered for beef fell from 605,000 to 244,000. Coffee production, once a prized export commodity came to a virtual halt after seizure or expropriation of white-owned coffee farms in 2000, and has never recovered.
For the past ten years, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has been assisting Zimbabwe’s farmers to adopt conservation agriculture techniques, a sustainable method of farming that can help increase yields. By applying the three principles of minimum soil disturbance, legume-based cropping and the use of organic mulch, farmers can improve infiltration, reduce evaporation and soil erosion, and build up organic soil content.
Between 2005 and 2011, the number of smallholders practising conservation agriculture in Zimbabwe increased from 5000 to more than 150000. Cereal yields rose between 15 and 100 per cent across different regions.