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Hope grows in the fields of Africa

Zimbabwe Programme / Partner story

Image © Foundations for Farming Zimbabwe

When James Shawa’s fields of maize weren’t thriving, he began to explore the reasons behind the crop failure. Regenerative agriculture held the answers. “I learned that a good harvest doesn’t depend on (chemical) fertiliser,” he says. “I realised I can use what God has already given me.”

James started using chicken manure to feed the soil, and added a layer of mulch so it wouldn’t dry out. This process has a name. Known as regenerative farming, it is a holistic approach to farming that promotes carbon sequestration, soil improvement, watershed health, and biodiversity. James soon saw the difference – he was quickly rewarded with a rich harvest. “We are so thankful that our maize looks well,” he says, standing among the plants of maize that are now towering above his head. “This year we will have enough food.”

Across Africa, 80 per cent of the population relies on small farms’ produce to feed their families, but fewer and fewer are able to do so, as the yields are simply not giving what they once did. This leaves countless people in a precarious position – one failed crop could tip whole communities into famine.

That is why Foundation for Farming (FfF), a not-for-profit organisation based in Zimbabwe, wanted to do something about it. “There’s an answer to the poverty and hunger that has stalked this beautiful country: it is as simple as it is hopeful,” says William Tom, lead trainer at Foundations for Farming. “We teach farmers to become faithful stewards of nature. We train people to use sustainable, nature-based farming methods. These simple, climate-smart methods regenerate soil and feed their families.”

Regenerative farming practices focus on producing food organically, in ways that restore the soil and wider environment. Instead of endless expansion, over-ploughing, and chemical fertilisation, methods include composting, mulching, mixed cropping, minimum soil disturbance, and agroforestry.

The big idea? Small field – more yield. The techniques lead to less soil erosion, efficient water management, more nutritious food, and increased biodiversity. Climate-smart farming reduces the impact of droughts and makes plants stronger to withstand pests and diseases.

All of this means crops are working harder for the land they occupy. Communities that learn FfF principles produce on average eight metric tonnes of maize per hectare – eight times the Zimbabwean average for small-scale farmers.

“When farmers become self-sufficient and generate surplus from their land, it is transformational,” says Ben Gilpin, head of Oak’s Zimbabwe office. “Communities can escape poverty, have healthy and more varied diets, improve the environment, and generate enough income to build a better future for themselves and their families.”

For James, the recovering soil on his land has created fertile ground, and not just for food for his family. He has been able to sell surplus maize to pay for his children’s school fees. In addition, he has shared the techniques he’s learned with his community. “I hope my village will come out of poverty,” he says.

Since it began in 1982, Foundations for Farming has been testing and developing these ideas in Zimbabwe – and exporting them around the world. Clouds End, its 15-hectare model farm outside Harare, is home to crop trials and research, as well as a training centre that teaches methods under the FfF mantra: “On time, at standard, without waste and with joy”. In 2021, FfF received the Presidential award for making Zimbabwe food secure for the first time in 20 years.

Oak has supported Foundations for Farming since 2022, as part of our Zimbabwe Programme, which funds local organisations involved in supporting the hopes and aspirations of Zimbabweans, particularly those furthest from opportunity. We support organisations that help families and communities thrive, and those that build skills and foster entrepreneurship. Click here to learn more about the programme.