If you had four children, but only enough food to feed one, how would you choose?
It’s a choice Vurayayi Pugeni’s mother had to make when he was growing up in Zimbabwe. Fortunately it’s not one mothers today in Pugeni’s village have to make because they enjoy food security, thanks in part to a research project designed by Martin Entz, a professor of cropping systems and agronomy at the University of Manitoba, with help from others including Alden Braul, an agronomist who is now with Hemp Production Services, a sister company to Hemp Genetics International.
They designed an intercropping system for the country which gave farmers a diversity of crops to plant and harvest simultaneously, including new legumes crops.
“There’s also food diversity in the food people eat because the legumes are giving people opportunity to have diversified foods,” Pugeni, who works on African development programs for the Mennonite Central Committee out of Winnipeg and with the Zimbabwean-based NGO Score Against Poverty, told those attending an organic hemp field day at Wayne Williment’s farm Aug. 23. “Farming systems are now more resilient,” Pugeni said because the project has introduced intercropping, including legumes, into the local farming system.
“For example, our farmers say lablab (a type of bean) is so drought resistant even in the worst drought year they are assured of a harvest. The other thing is that yields are increasing because of the cover crops, because of the intercrops are working as cover crops and they are also fixing nitrogen in the soil and for that reason the cereal yield is actually looking good.”
Intercropping suppresses weeds and that makes life easier for mothers who get stuck with the weeding.
“So we are already seeing the gender impacts of this work that is helping people adjust to climate change and food insecurity,” he added
The project started with four farmers, Braul said. Then it went to 12 and then more than 100.
“This next year it will be probably in the hundreds,” Braul said, adding that Hemp Genetics International and Hemp Production Services have been supporting the project technically and financially.
“We’d like to take some of our (Canadian) farmers to visit these projects and encourage farmers and others to also support this project because it has a lot of good things going for it.”
The companies, which are owned mostly by farmers, have always been committed to international development, Braul said later in an interview.
“This is just part of who we are,” he said. “We believe it is really important to support farmers also in developing countries who are challenged just simply to have food security. We will continue to support organizations like the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, but also this is a unique opportunity to work directly with Score Against Poverty.
“We often talk about being global citizens, but we are also global farmers. The more opportunities we have to understand the plight of farmers in other countries will help us be better people.”
So much of agricultural innovation is “centrally planned,” in a laboratory and then expected to be replicated around the world, Entz told attendees.
“But cropping systems need to be designed where the farmers live,” he said, adding that has been his approach in Canada and Zimbabwe
“They (farmers) are very smart, they are very intuitive and that’s what we are doing — working with them and empowering people,” he said. “We’re giving them a tool box and saying, ‘let’s work together and apply what you want to do.’”
The collaboration is opening farmers’ imaginations and that’s unlocking possibilities, Pugeni said.
“People are experimenting,” he said. “People are not so afraid of mixing crops together.”
And that’s making more land available to women, who traditionally sow their legumes in plots close to home. But with legumes now being intercropped with maize — a crop grown by men on bigger acreages — men and women are working together.
“And who wins? The ladies are like, yeah, ‘I have more land for my legumes,’” Pugeni said. “So women now have more access to land.”
Pugeni said he thanks God every day for bringing him to Canada.
“This is a land that is so blessed and people here are so fortunate to have food and to have food in abundance,” Pugeni said. “So as you break your bread every day think about people all over the world who are hungry, particularly think about Score (Against Poverty).”