Gutu AE Landscape project

Amplifying traditional knowledge and reviving biodiversity within the Gutu landscape towards achieving food sovereignty

Supported by ZIMSOFF

The Gutu AE Landscape Project has defined a way to empower smallholder farmers to take a leading role in defining ecological and sustainable solutions to their landscape. Four villages in the Gutu district under Headmen Mupata, Nesongano, Magombedze and Munyaradzi, all under Paramount Chief Gutu are taking the lead. Each headman has an average of 25 village heads and each village has an average of 20 households. This area is situated in the main watershed of the Gutu district and form part of the Save river catchment area.

The Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF) is a national smallholder farmers’ organisation, with extensive movement building experience. ZIMSOFF is focusing on amplifying traditional knowledge in the protection of biodiversity within the Nyamandi landscape in Gutu district.

Why regenerating the Gutu landscape?

The people living in this area experience many challenges that have developed over a number of years as a result of the loss of traditional knowledge, poor agricultural practices and invasion by alien vegetation.

One of the most immediately visible problems in this area is the encroachment of Lantana Camara, an invasive alien species that impacts on grazing and agricultural land. Farms have lost much agrobiodiversity, and this means the management of pests and diseases in their fields have become a big challenge. Over time sacred sites have been degraded through pollution of water bodies, killing of wild animals, and deforestation. Soil erosion in mountainous areas and on arable land is a huge problem and also contributes to the siltation of rivers and streams. The uncontrolled cutting down of trees in the forests and woodlands further contribute to soil erosion and the degradation of water bodies. A shortage of grazing areas creates a tension between the different land uses and threatens important biodiversity.

What is the vision of the Gutu AE Landscape Project?

This community initiative is a reminder to get back and reconnect to traditional knowledge and to have the wisdom to revive the sacredness of these precious resources in order to contribute to nurturing biodiversity within this landscape.

While reviving traditional knowledge, the 100 participating farming families also aim to showcase the best modern agroecological practices to increase their ability to absorb the shocks of climate change and droughts. By reviving diverse food production systems that integrate crops and livestock, whilst nurturing natural resources, these smallholder farmers are creating communities of practice for landscape restoration, ecological agriculture and food sovereignty.

The communities have recognised that they themselves have contributed to the degradation of their environment by creating dead soils, polluting water and allowing their diversity of seeds and crops to be lost. They recognise that they have to do everything they can to revitalise the soil at their households as a living system. That is the primary longer-term goal in their vision where priority is to start to bring back ecological practices in context specific ways and guarding against repeating past mistakes.

The smallholder farmers identified socio-economic, cultural, and ecological land-use issues which they will need to address to implement their vision. They also voiced the importance of promoting their views on the issues that affect their rights as farmers. They have developed criteria to identify a “best farmer” with good practices showing aspects of landscape regeneration.

What is the process towards realising this vision?

With traditional knowledge systems as the bedrock of their approach, ZIMSOFF started off by facilitating dialogues to co-define with participating communities on why they want an AE landscape approach, what it is and why traditional institutions should lead. This was followed by rituals and ceremonies to inform the spiritual world on their intention and to seek guidance on how to revive water, soil, seed and cultural practices.

A participatory community mapping process identified the challenges and priorities; good practices in soil, water and seed conservation. Farmer to farmer learning and exchanges were organised, some site specific and some exchanges to other areas. Farmer led trainings were very powerful in transferring knowledge and good examples. Action plans and a landscape design were developed for each area and farmers identified the strategies and practices they were able to implement.

A documentation team comprising of youth from the communities was formed and trained in various types of documentation (i.e. video, photo, writing). Since then, they have been actively helping with the documenting of stories of change and data. The widespread sharing of this information also enabled validation of the information and the development of a strategy. A training in participatory action research (PAR) with young people supported the documentation further. A range of activities were developed to enable sharing and showcasing of good practices, including field days, seed fairs and identifying model homesteads.

The four headmen developed bylaws to support the regeneration of sacred sites, water bodies and forests. Women formed seed study groups while working parties and village assemblies have also been revived. This project was closely guided by the principles developed by the regional agroecology landscape collective.

What have we learned so far in the project?

During the implementation it became increasingly clear how important it is to involve local government agencies and politicians when working on a landscape level. As a result of them involving a range of government agencies, the local member of parliament invited ZIMSOFF to reach out to more communities in his constituency and committed resources towards that.

A project of this scale is very complex, and it can be a challenge to know what to prioritise, i.e. what would be the most important thing to do in a given situation.

Well organised dialogues build trust and help to unpack a range of issues that affect traditional institutions and the farming families. Dialogues have the capacity to bring everyone to the same level of analysis and understanding which is important for enhancing coherence and cooperation.

Seed fairs are also not only about seed, but also about good nutrition, motivating farmers and creating a space for knowledge exchange and community building.

Culture is crucial in communities such as these as within Shona culture there are supporting pillars for people’s daily lives and the spiritual world connects them with their environment and the Cosmos.

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