Amid climate change, small-scale farmers find merit in traditional techniques

Many small farmers are using natural methods to improve the soil and protect against pests. 'We can feed our people,' one says.

Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters
Subsistence farmer Joice Chimedza harvests maize May 10 on her small plot in Norton, a farming area outside Harare, Zimbabwe's capital.

Like many small-scale farmers, Elizabeth Mpofu from drought-hit Zimbabwe has had to adapt her homestead to cope with a changing climate, which the United Nations says threatens to push millions globally into poverty and hunger.

She has found ways of adapting such as collecting and storing rainfall underground, and using mulch to lock moisture in the soil, which have kept her family comfortable despite living in southern Zimbabwe's Masvingo province, one of the country's driest regions.

Techniques like hers can feed the world, she said on the sidelines of an annual meeting of the Committee on World Food Security, a U.N. body which brings together governments, business leaders, farmers and food experts to review the global response to food security issues.

"We can feed our people, we can feed even the whole world through agroecology," said Mpofu, who is general coordinator of La Via Campesina, a movement representing more than 200 million smallholder farmers.

Small farmers produce most of the food eaten in developing countries. Many are using agroecology techniques that include using natural methods to improve the soil and protect against pests.

La Via Campesina has more than 40 agroecology schools around the world, where farmers gather to share ideas and experiences in adapting to the changing climate.

"We know this is the best solution to climate change," Mpofu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The committee that gathered in Rome last month looked at high-yielding crop and cattle breeds and the intensification of farming as one way to help reduce poverty in rural areas and to feed a growing population.

Some of the farmers who were present fear this will sideline their methods of farming and centuries of know-how, and may worsen their lives.

"What is going to be the life of a peasant without his or her own indigenous species?" Mpofu said.

"I don't know how to keep those new (cattle) species they want to bring. They are very expensive to take care of, they have to have food, medicine to cure these animals," she said.

Drought forced Mpofu to limit her cattle numbers, but her goats, sheep, guinea fowl and other livestock continue to grow.

She said farmers using traditional techniques managed to grow enough to feed their families through the drought.

"We are growing a diversity of small grains which are doing very well in this climate change," Mpofu said.

"But for those farmers who are really focused more on hybrid seeds ... not really considering the weather conditions, then all (their) crops were gone," she said.

Reporting by Alex Whiting, editing by Katie Nguyen. This story originally appeared on the website of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption, and climate change. Visit

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