Sleep­ing gi­ant awak­ens

Or­ganic farm­ing model at Arda Mushumbi Herbal prod­ucts for Ger­many mar­kets Com­mu­nity em­pow­er­ment through out-grower pro­grammes

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - SOCIETY - Garikai Mazara

THE tem­per­a­tures around Mushumbi Pools, es­pe­cially dur­ing this time of the year, can be un­for­giv­ing. One can lit­er­ally make a cup of some steam­ing cof­fee with water straight from the tap!

But driv­ing from Chit­sungo, just some five kilo­me­tres be­fore Mushumbi Pools, a breeze so dif­fer­ent from the heat hues that char­ac­terise the Zam­bezi es­carp­ment, hits one’s face.

It is a cool breeze, like you have ap­proached a mas­sive water body, you won­der if you have sud­denly neared an ocean. And there is even that un­mis­tak­able smell of wet soils ev­ery­where.

As you raise you head to take in the sur­round­ings, your eyes meet prob­a­bly the most beau­ti­ful scenery you will have to come across in the whole of the Zam­bezi es­carp­ment, an un­escapable swathe of green right in the mid­dle of the swel­ter­ing heat, the dry and hot desert that is com­monly re­ferred to as Dande.

“We are on a mis­sion,” ex­plains farm su­per­vi­sor Themba Gunja, who of­fers to take us on a tour of the farm in the ab­sence of farm man­ager Lowrie Flana­gan, who has rushed to Mushumbi for some sup­plies.

“We want to re­vive Arda Mushumbi to even greater heights than it used to be,” fur­ther ex­plains Gunja.

“Right now we have about 45 hectares un­der a cen­tre pivot but by Jan­uary we should have in­stalled two more piv­ots. The stump­ing for that area is cur­rently go­ing on.

“All-in-all, this is a thou­sand-hectare farm and when we be­come fully op­er­a­tional, we will have all the thou­sand hectares un­der ir­ri­ga­tion, draw­ing water from the Manyame River.”

Whilst to the open eye what could be strik­ing is the hectares of green in the mid­dle of the dry and hot Zam­bezi, what is more re­mark­able, as Gunja goes through his ex­pla­na­tions, is that Arda Mushumbi is a wholly or­ganic farm.

“We don’t use pes­ti­cides or her­bi­cides here, we grow our crops or­gan­i­cally. We have had to ferry eight 30-tonne trucks of pig ma­nure all the way from Harare. Although the pig farmer in Harare gave us the ma­nure for free, we had to hire the trucks to carry the load. That is how se­ri­ous we are about our or­ganic farm­ing.”

But the sur­prises don’t stop with just the or­ganic farm­ing, Arda Mushumbi is farm­ing sev­eral crops, most of which you prob­a­bly have never heard about be­fore.

For starters, the farm has 20 hectares of pa­prika, 10 hectares of moringa and an­other 10 hectares of chill­ies. That could be all about the crops that most of us are fa­mil­iar with.

Then Gunja, like a man in a trance, started talk­ing about thyme, pep­per­mint, leek, dan­de­lion, be­sel, melisa lemon mint, lemon grass, spearmint, sun hemp, car­away and camomile.

But who the heck would buy that kind of pro­duce?

“Well,” he started to an­swer in a man­ner that showed he could have been asked the same ques­tion a thou­sand times over, “All the crops we are grow­ing here are for ex­port, Ger­many specif­i­cally. In fact, the ma­jor in­vestor in the re­vival of Arda Mushumbi is a Ger­man na­tional, who has a ready mar­ket for the pro­duce.”

Be­sides the moringa, pa­prika and chill­ies which are al­ready be­ing grown on a com­mer­cial ba­sis, the rest of the herbal crops are still be­ing grown on a three-hectare trial plot.

“We are still try­ing to find out which of these herbal crops grow un­der these cli­matic con­di­tions suc­cess­fully, and those that would have passed the trial phases will move to full-scale pro­duc­tion.”

Though prid­ing it­self in the rare or­ganic farm­ing model, Arda Mushumbi, in the long-term, wants to be a lead­ing sup­plier of ste­via, hence its part­ner­ship with Ste­via Zim­babwe, in a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship.

“Ste­via is the next best thing to hap­pen to healthy liv­ing, it is al­ready the sub­sti­tute for sugar in most de­vel­oped coun­tries.

‘‘Ul­ti­mately that is what we want to grow on this thou­sand-plus hectare farm. But the trial pe­riod for ste­via is some eight years, we need eight years to be fully sure that we can grow ste­via suc­cess­fully here.

“So whilst we are wait­ing for our eightyear trial cy­cle, we need to make money to keep the farm run­ning. That is why we are grow­ing these other healthy liv­ing crops. But in eight years’ time, if our trial project yields pos­i­tive re­sults, we will be the lead­ing ste­via pro­ducer in the coun­try.”

In a dif­fer­ent dis­cus­sion with Cloudious Ma­jaya, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Mbire Ru­ral District, un­der which the farm lies, he purred on about the eco­nomic and so­cial im­pact the re­vival of Arda Mushumbi will have on his district.

“The eco­nomic im­pact is too enor­mous to enu­mer­ate, so will be the so­cial im­pact. With some 150 ca­sual work­ers called into work at any given day, and an­other 20 per­ma­nent work­ers, the eco­nomic reach of their earn­ings can­not be over-em­pha­sised,” he said.

But that is not all for the Mbire com­mu­nity. About 2 500 com­mu­nal farm­ers, us­ing dry farm­ing, are to be con­tracted, prob­a­bly by next year, to grow roselle, yet an­other herbal crop.

“The roselle project should be the most ex­cit­ing for us,” con­tin­ued Gunja. “We are go­ing to in­volve and im­pact the com­mu­nity in a far much big­ger man­ner. If the farm­ers fully em­brace the idea, their lives will change for­ever.

“The good thing is that roselle is a peren­nial plant and once it starts grow­ing, there is no need to water it. So the com­mu­nal farm­ers can tend to their other crops whilst roselle is grow­ing. But what should be re­ally ex­cit­ing for the farm­ers is the fact that they will have a ready mar­ket here for the roselle.”

Be­sides roselle, there are huge plans for moringa, which is a pop­u­lar herbal tea in healthy-seek­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

“Al­ready the de­mand for moringa is high and we can­not even meet the de­mand, so there are plans to grow it with the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

The other pos­i­tive for the com­mu­nity will be the de­mand for cat­tle, pig and chicken ma­nure by the farm.

“We can­not keep up with the costs of trans­port­ing ma­nure from Harare, or from wher­ever, hence we will, at one stage or the other, have to en­gage the lo­cal com­mu­nity to sup­ply us with ma­nure.

“In this area, there are cases of do­mes­tic an­i­mals be­ing at­tacked by wild an­i­mals, now the com­mu­nity has yet an­other mo­tive for keep­ing their an­i­mals in pens for longer, they will get money for their an­i­mal drop­pings.”

Chit­sungo Mis­sion Hospi­tal, some 20 kilo­me­tres away, has em­barked on a bio­gas di­gester project, which when fully func­tional, will feed treated ma­nure to the farm.

Flana­gan, who later joined the tour of the farm, said he has many ideas in his mind as he waits for the ste­via project to come to full-scale.

“How about just a hectare of onions, just to test the mar­kets? If we do a hectare of onions, which is about half-a-mil­lion plants, how will Mbare Musika re­act if we were to off­load that har­vest at once?” he mused. “Or we could dry them for ex­port.”

“See, this is one big green­house here, the cli­matic con­di­tions, as long as the water is there, should be ideal for a num­ber of crops and we are look­ing at the op­tions that we have as we wait for the ste­via.”

Whilst the farm is cur­rently sun-dry­ing its pa­prika, they are al­ready build­ing a drier for long-term pur­poses.

“Sun dry­ing will be ideal dur­ing this time of the year, but when the rains come, we will not be able to sun-dry. Plus the fig­ures we are likely to re­alise from our fu­ture har­vests can­not be han­dled by sun-dry­ing, hence the need for the drier,”

Lowrie Flana­gan, the farm man­ager for Arda Mushumbi, chats with Cloudious Ma­jaya, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer for Mbire ru­ral district coun­cil

Farm su­per­vi­sor, Themba Gunja, shows off the 20-hectares of pa­prika

On any given day, Arda Mushumbi en­gages the com­mu­ni­ties around it for ca­sual work. Here, women ap­ply pig ma­nure on the moringa plot

This cen­tre pivot cov­ers 40 hectares com­pris­ing pa­prika, moringa and chill­ies

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