This well-known phrase – there is method in his madness – is a line in Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet. It refers to the fact that if one takes time to look more deeply into an inexplicable situation, one often discovers there is very good reason and a purpose behind someone’s seemingly crazy behaviour.
No doubt many people, caught up in the money-making capitalist paradigm that dominates so much of the world, would consider Method Gundidza mad to relinquish a successful career in corporate finance and instead dedicate his life to reviving traditional farming practices and the search for lost or forgotten seeds. But, who better than an accountant would be able to assess the true value of seeds, and to conclude that they are the real source of life, wealth and well-being, not money!
When Method was growing up as a small boy in the rural farming village of Gangare, in Zimbabwe’s Bikita district, everyone in the community knew he was exceptional. He might have been shorter and smaller than his peers, but he ran like the wind and was tenacious, bright and committed to doing his best in everything he tackled. It was inevitable that he would leave Gangare and go to University, where he represented Zimbabwe in athletics, involved himself in student activities, and successfully completed his studies as a Chartered Accountant.
After graduating it seemed there would be no turning back for him as he climbed the ladder of success to reach the pinnacle. His career flourished in Zimbabwe but, at the height of the financial crisis in Zimbabwe, he decided to move with his young family to South Africa where employment prospects looked better.
In South Africa, Method was intrigued by an advert for the post of finance manager with the Mupo Foundation (renamed EarthLore in 2016 to reflect its expansion beyond Venda). This small, non-profit, non-governmental organisation offered lots of variety and plenty of opportunities to grow.
Method started in EarthLore as an accountant but found himself increasingly intrigued by the work of the organisation that wove back biocultural systems through the revival of traditional farming practices, rituals and ceremonies, reflecting a deep understanding and resonance with the rhythms of the Earth. EarthLore’s support for communities who embark on this journey regenerates and sustains biodiversity and resilience, as well as the community’s confidence in themselves to take back control of their lives and decisions.
And so, much to the surprise of the Bikita community and the delight of his mother, Method went back to his rural roots. This came from a profound understanding and appreciation of the importance of small scale traditional farming, mainly by women, with their sustainable age-old practices based on deep knowledge of nature and the cycles of Mother Earth. In the process he pioneered EarthLore’s inspirational Back to Roots programme.
Method supports rural communities in South Africa and Zimbabwe – including his home village in Bikita – to become seed and food secure and sovereign so that they are self-sufficient once again. It is also about building resilience to challenge extreme pressures from climate change, land grabbing, extractive industries, including tree farming and mining that robs people of water.
Climate change has hit hard in the region with more extreme and longer periods of drought and floods. However, when rural communities revive their rich indigenous knowledge, their traditional seed diversity, and the practices that link them to the land, they become increasingly resilient. The fabric of the community starts being woven together again and previously marginalised and vulnerable members – the orphaned, sick, disabled and elderly – become included and cared for.
One of Method’s favourite stories about Bikita is when the three villages where EarthLore works decided to return to planting millet as their staple crop. Unexpectedly this brought back forgotten practices that fostered co-operation and a growing sense of community. The revival of millet was prompted by clear evidence that the hybrid maize farmers had taken to planting, over the last forty years, was unable to survive the severe droughts in the area. Maize wilted and died in the baking sun but millet survived and farmers were able to feed their families with even some surplus over to sell. Millet is a labour-intensive crop that required the revival of Jangano/Jaka/Humwe – sharing activities and working collectively together to plough, weed, thrash, winnow. Invariably when farmers come together to do communal work it is a joyous occasion with much singing, laughter, celebrating and sharing of food and refreshments.
Though Method has all the skills and experience for a top management post, his interests lie elsewhere. In 2016, he relinquished his position as finance manager to become programme manager, as he wanted to maximise his time in the field working with farmers, where his passion lies and where his inspiration comes from.
Method has a natural talent for rallying communities at grassroots level behind the cause for environmental conservation, mitigating climate change by strengthening resilience and reviving healthy traditional seeds and farming systems for the benefit of nature – and humans by extension. He is also active at government and policy level to raise understanding of the role of sacred natural sites in governance systems, culture, spirituality, food systems, and indigenous African conservation practices still found in rural communities – and how increasingly important these are in the context of climate change.
Across Africa and internationally Method receives invitations to share or present about this approach to reviving knowledge and seed. He has had the honour of speaking at the UN’s Harmony with Nature dialogue in New York on 23 April 2018. When Method speaks to an audience, it is with passion and confidence drawn from the field and his lived experience, as well as his keen interest in social transformation and regeneration of nature. Often his audience – whether they are local farmers, students or government representatives – will say that his words made them think, pause, and look at things in another way. This is exactly what he hopes for as he questions the prevailing development model with its prejudices and beliefs about modernity, ‘progress’ and affluence. And in the process Method’s reputation continues to grow…….and his apparent madness makes infinite sense.