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Organic “junk” feeds communities in rural Zimbabwe

Monday, November 27, 2017 - 11:05

They call him Mr. Mangwenjengwenje or Mr. Junk. This is a nickname, Ntokozo Ndlovu (35) a rural farmer from Komayanga Ward 16 in Nkayi District, Matabeleland North Province of Zimbabwe, has acquired over the years. Mangwenjengwenje, has done a first for his community by pioneering ecological farming, which involves growing crops and livestock rearing using climate resilient sustainable agriculture methods which emphasise on conserving the environment. While promoting food and income security for farmers, ecological farming also preserves the environment. 

Mangwenjengwenje, a married man and a father of seven children, is using locally obtainable plant material to produce fodder for cattle fattening in the rural Nkayi which is a dry area situated in agro- region 5 which is a low rainfall area where farmers struggle to find food and water for their livestock.

“There is a time when cattle fail to find food during dry seasons, the farmers bring their cattle to me for fattening using the fodder I will have produced during the seasons when there is plenty of grass. The fodder is a combination of grass called sun hemp, banner and bean crops such as velvet, cowpeas legumes and sunflowers, which are very nutritious for cattle. The plant materials are dried and then stored for cattle to eat when there is no grass to eat on land.

“As we talk right now, there are a total of 25 cattle belonging to eight farmers from the community which I am currently feeding in the cattle pens my family and I built. Each farmer who brings their cattle for fattening pays US$5 for a hay bale. I keep the cattle for between 45 and 60 days. One head requires 15-20 hay bales a month if it is being treated for an illness. If the purpose is to provide nutrition, one head requires 60 bales per month.”

While some farmers take their cattle to Mangwenjengwenje for fattening before they sell them, others bring their cattle for feeding and preparing them for use for draught power: “Realising that my cow would not be able to provide me with draught power because it was very thin and frail, I took it to Mangwenjengwenje for feeding. I can assure you that I will use my cow now for draught power because it is now healthy,” said Spiwe Ndlovu, one of the rural farmers who has been assisted by Mr Junk.

“I have become a little animal doctor as farmers also bring their cattle for advice when they are sick. I either tell them that the cattle may be requiring a medical solution or feeding, a skill which I have attained from the Health Education and Food Organisation (HEFO), an ActionAid partner,” said Mangwenjengwenje

“We used to lose a lot of our cattle because we did not know how to look after them. Mr. Mangwenjengwenje is assisting us now,” said one woman from Nkayi during an exchange visit in Nkayi by a team of ActionAiders from Senegal and The Gambia who are implementing similar activities in the two countries under an Agro-ecology and Resilience Project (AER) project.

Mr. Mangwenjengwenje and wife Virginia have increased their family cattle head from 4 to 12 in the past five years.  Mr. Mangwenjengwenje said the community cattle were fetching about US$150 per head prior to fattening but now they were being sold for between US$350 and US$450, which has increased the income for the community Mr. Junk is supporting.

Asked why they called him “Mr, Junk,” Mangwenjengwenje said: “I am a Jack of all trades.  I use locally available plant material, which they call junk. I am into cattle and crop farming and I use organic material which can be considered junk by those that do not know how this can be useful to farming initiatives in an area like Nkayi which faces acute water shortages during its driest seasons.

“In some of my fields, I irrigate my crops using plant species which have lots of water such as water melon and tomatoes during the peak of the dry season, to reduce some moisture stress to plant species such as maize. These plants with lots of water provide moisture, manure and other nutrients to the crops when they dry as they turn into organic matter.”

Mr. Junk has also become an employer within the community, working mostly with female headed households, mainly elderly women struggling to make ends meet.

“When I have difficulty getting petty cash, I come to Mr. Junk and work in his garden and fields and I know at the end of the day I get something or my grandchildren. I have helped him in his galley reclamation projects where we plant sugarcane like grass and aloe vela plants at the mouth of an advancing galley threatening Mangwenjengwenje’ s fields. The galley is also threatening human lives, animals and roads in the community. I have helped Mr. Mangwenjengwenje fetch water for the cattle that are being treated in the cattle pens,” said one woman from Nkayi.

Mangwenjengwenje ‘s wife Virginia works with her husband mostly in the garden where organic farming is also practised as well as in the fields where they practise climate resilient sustainable agriculture methods such as basin farming, popularly known in Nkayi as Gachombo. Mangwenjengwenje and wife are mentoring 10 women farmers from the community who are being trained on livestock and crop management using organic agricultural methods.

ActionAid Zimbabwe has been supporting communities to implement climate resilient sustainable agriculture initiatives in its operational districts as it seeks to promote improved food security and livelihoods in Zimbabwe.