Improving household nutrition through diversifying household seed – The story of Ms Mildred Muchabaiwa, a farmer from the Gangare community in Bikita District, Zimbabwe

Mildred Muchabaiwa

Miss Mildred Muchabaiwa is a young farmer in her early 30s living in Bikita, Masvingo province, Zimbabwe. Through the community dialogues and agroecology training offered by EarthLore Foundation, Mildred has come to appreciate traditional seeds and has been amazed by her harvests during the 2019/20 farming season. This has been a challenging year for farmers, with less rainfall than usual, but she managed to harvest enough food for her family and also has seed for the next planting season. Her harvest included rukweza (finger millet), mhunga (pearl millet), nzungu (peanuts), nyimo (round nuts/jugo beans), nyemba (cow peas).

Mildred is pleased to have obtained all these traditional seeds from friends and family who generously shared surplus seeds with her. The new crops she introduced this past year were runinga (sesame) and svoboda, a small grain that had disappeared from the area for as long as people can remember. She has introduced mharupwa (traditional eggplant) which has become another ingredient in the family meals. She also planted varieties that produce fewer seeds like nzungu chena (white peanut). While she is still in the process of multiplying her seeds, Mildred will keep these rare and unusual ones to display during upcoming seed and food fairs and for planting next season.

To produce her traditional crops, Mildred uses cattle and goat manure to improve the fertility of the soil. The application of manure is done during the dry season as part of preparing her fields for planting. She ploughs the manure into the soil and, during this process, she makes rows to plant the seeds.  She has also constructed contours in her field to help retain moisture. This is very important in Bikita, an area prone to drought. 

mhunga (pearl millet)

Mildred says she is not interested in using chemical fertilizers. She recalls a time when she applied Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser to her maize which was doing well but things turned negative when this was followed by a dry spell and her maize failed totally. Interestingly, there was a portion of the field where she had used manure because she did not have enough fertilizer to cover this area. Not only did this maize survive the dry spell but it gave her an even better than average yield. She says it was a lesson for her when she witnessed first-hand the advantages of organic manure over chemical fertilizers.

Mildred values traditional seeds and the way they have transformed her life and improved her food security. She says she will continue building her traditional seed collection and will always plant them to provide food for her family because they are delicious, and they resist drought and are more resilient to pests than any bought hybrid seeds. 

Mildred is aware of the importance during this time of Covid-19 to keep healthy as this is one of the best ways to resist and fight against the virus. During the lockdown, Bikita farmers were increasingly aware of the important work they are engaging in as farmers who are able to feed their families and be increasingly seed and food secure.

The revival of traditional seeds has helped Mildred to have diversity in her meals. Though preparing traditional food is time consuming and labour intensive, she enjoys making nutritious and healthy food for her family who really appreciate the meals she prepares. Their favourites are: mutakura – boiled dry traditional legumes and a starch combination, which is usually maize; sadza rezviyo – a stiff porridge made with millet; remhunga nemirivo mumunda – stiff pearl millet porridge and wild vegetables. 

For traditional ceremonies like kupemberera murora, when a bride is welcomed into the family, and kuvakira makuva, with the unveiling of a tombstone, the community has reverted back to traditional meals because of the traditional crops they are growing again.  For many years western food was eaten at important gatherings like these but now it is traditional food. It has been interesting to notice the change that has come about naturally on its own through the revival of traditional crops.

rukweza (finger millet)

Another important ingredient for social gatherings is locally brewed traditional beer. The availability of mapfunde (sorghum) has enabled local people once again to brew this healthy beer and has led to rebuilding the social fabric within the community. Mildred sees the brewing of beer as vital in bringing people together when they gather to share their labour as a community during harvesting, threshing and winnowing. Most people gather by invitation but some by default to drink the beer and share in the stories, singing and dancing as they refresh themselves and relax in-between the laborious work. Mildred appreciates these gatherings as they allow the sharing of traditional knowledge and opportunities to celebrate their traditions and culture. It is evident that the revival of traditional seeds has produced more than robust traditional crops and healthy food, it is also growing a close-knit community.

Story recorded by Gamuchirai Rupiya, May 2020


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