By Osman Mohamed Osman, IFRC

Thomas Kafas Shumba smiles as he inspects his only surviving portion of maize crop plantations, adjacent to his mud-walled house—in Wanasi village, Zimbabwe.

Clad in a printed grey shirt and a pair of black trousers, the father of five moves around his tiny farm, showing a team from Zimbabwe Red Cross how conservation farming, a new technique, saved some of his crops, despite poor rains a month ago.

Eighty farmers, including Shumba, were trained by the Zimbabwe Red Cross on keyhole farming—an agricultural system in which crops are planted in circular garden beds—with a compost pile in the centre.

Crops planted this way withstand harsh conditions, thereby allowing the farmers to have food for their families throughout the year.

A year ago, before Shumba was introduced to keyhole farming, the situation was completely different for him. One day, he woke up to perished crops in his farm, due to drought in the southern African nation.

“Before we received financial help from the Zimbabwe Red Cross, life was difficult for us,” he says, as he uproots weed from his small farm. “Life improved when Zimbabwe Red Cross came and trained us on how to plant crops that are drought resistant.”

Financial assistance

In 2016, Zimbabwe experienced some severe lean seasons due to the impacts of the El Niño induced drought which left about 42 per cent of the population food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance.

With support from a number of donors, the country’s National Red Cross Society provided financial assistance to affected families. In every household, within the targeted community, each family member received about 6.7 Swiss francs.

In an attempt to reduce the risks of food crisis, the Zimbabwe Red Cross also trained farmers on goat breeding methods: to ensure that livestock owned by affected families can survive harsh conditions.

“We know that Zimbabwe will face future disasters. Our job is to ensure communities are equipped in the best way possible, through initiatives like keyhole farming and goat breeding, so that families are able to withstand future shocks such as droughts, floods, and other disasters,” said Maxwell Phiri, ZRC Secretary General.

To build safer and resilient communities, each of the trained 80 farmers are expected 20 more in their respective districts.

This will make Shumba, who doubles up as a Red Cross volunteers—and hundreds of farmers—be able to plant, harvest and provide food to his family all the time.