Dr Anxious Masuka, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement, during a recent visit to the ICRISAT Matopos Research Center, called for continued close collaboration between the Government of Zimbabwe and ICRISAT to ensure the benefits of research quickly reach poorly-resourced communal farmers and help Zimbabwe achieve a middle income economy by 2030.
Dr Masuka informed that 70% of Zimbabwe’s population depends on agriculture and most of these are small-scale and communal farmers in the drier parts of the country. This group is set to benefit from the products and innovations developed by ICRISAT, he said.
Dr Martin Moyo, Senior Scientist-Farming Systems and ICRISAT’s Country Representative- Zimbabwe, articulated the institute’s country strategy for Zimbabwe that hinges on four research themes- Developing high yielding crop varieties with traits preferred by farmers and the markets for food, feed & fodder; Developing production systems and management practices that enhance smallholder farmers’ resilience to climate shocks; Developing adaptation strategies for sustainable and productive integrated crop-livestock systems; and Improving watershed management in dryland systems.
Dr Hapson Mushoriwa, Principal Scientist & Regional Breeding Theme Lead – East and Southern Africa (ESA), talked about ICRISAT’s ESA Crop Improvement Program, which has its regional hub at ICRISAT Matopos. He said the main focus is on improving yields under drought and poor soil nutrition, developing biofortified products that are highly nutritious, with special focus on iron, zinc and calcium since these are essential for pregnant women and young children, and developing products that fit well in crop-livestock farming systems. He also showed the delegation some of the state-of-the-art machinery- XRF machine, an NIRS analyzer and seed blowers- that ICRISAT recently acquired to support its breeding efforts.
Ms Tanyaradzwa Tenesi, Research Technician at ICRISAT Matopos, showcased some of the varieties and hybrids that have been developed by ICRISAT and explained their attributes.
Mr Bellington Mudyawabikwa, Research Associate in charge of ICRISAT Matopos’ laboratory, showed the delegation porridge meal, baking flour, baked muffins and cookies produced from small grains.
The Minister suggested a partnership between the government’s Institute of Engineering and ICRISAT to develop cheaper machinery for dehulling, milling and processing small grains so that poor farmers in rural areas can also make such products and feed their family or sell the products to generate income. He called the products a “great step” in reintroducing small grains to rest of the population that has forgotten them.
Commending ICRISAT’s staff and expressing his gratitude, the Minister said that small grains will be more important than ever in ensuring the country’s food security as Zimbabwe gets drier and warmer due to climate change. He called for more research on small grains to develop high yielding and nutritious varieties that can meet needs when other crops fail due to changing climate.
Dr Henry Ojulong, Senior Scientist-Plant Breeding – ESA, informed the Minister that ICRISAT is carrying advanced tests on promising sorghum and pearl millet hybrids that are part of their breeding pipeline.
Dr Masuka urged ICRISAT to speed up the tests and come up with hybrids that are ready for registration in two years.
The Minister also said that the government’s Crop Breeding Institute (CBI) can step in to ensure quick registration and release of the hybrids so that the farmers who have been suffering low yields from use of using old varieties and recycled seed can benefit soon.
Nigel Muchiwanga: (Research Associate, Crop Improvement),
Martin Moyo: (Country Representative, Zimbabwe) and
Tanyaradzwa Tenesi: (Genebank Technician).