Marrying water and soil: adaptation to climate by a smallholder farmer in Zvishavane, rural Zimbabwe

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis is a qualitative ethnographic study of innovations implemented by Mr Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, a smallholder farmer from Zvishavane, rural Zimbabwe. Ethnographic data provides insight and lessons of his practices for rethinking existing strategies for adaptation to climate change. The concept of adaptation is probed i n relationship to the closely related concepts of vulnerability, resilience and innovation. This study also explores the concept of conviviality and argues that Mr Phiri Maseko's adaptation to climate hinges on mediating barriers between local and exogenous knowledge systems. Ethnographic fieldwork aided by an analytical framework of resilience makes clear that his farming practices are informed by a realisation that dualisms are problematic. His innovations are a way of building resilience to climate change and his practices demonstrate the interdependencies in a socio - ecological system. This study argues that innovations by smallholders play a complementary role to interventions by outsiders in the discourse of adaptation to climate in the drylands of southern Zimbabwe. Mr Phiri Maseko harvested water as a way of adapting to climate variability. I argue that he offered tangible adaptive climate strategies through his innovations that "marry water and soil so that it won't elope and run - off but raise a family" on his plot. His agricultural practices are anchored on the Shona concept of hurudza (an exceptionally productive farmer). This thesis explores the concept and practices of uhurudza , to suggest that the latter - day hurudza (commercial farmer) as embodied by Mr Phiri Maseko offered an important set of resources for the development of climate adaptation strategies in the region. Therefore, his activities call for a revisit of the notion of hurudza based on grain harvested, one that includes consistent income generated from selling farm produce. His innovations demonstrate elements of conviviality, resilience, accommodating local knowledge as well as ideas he learnt from various educational institutions in order to adapt to climate variability. This thesis explores the usefulness of Mr Phiri Maseko's innovations for other smallholder farmers in the Zvishavane area who have replicated it. I demonstrate that due to the success of his innovations, uptake has been high underpinning the fact that these smallholders appear to be managing to adapt to climate variability. This ethnographic study of smallholder farmers' adoption of innovations to climate highlights the "complex interplay" of multiple factors that act as barriers to uptake. Such interplay of multiple stressors increases the vulnerability of smallholders. I conclude by arguing that in as much as the skewed colonial land policy impoverished the smallholder farmers, Mr Phiri Maseko nonetheless redefined himself as a latter - day hurudza and thus breaks free from the poverty cycle by 'conjuring ingenious' ways of reducing vulnerability to climate. I do not suggest that his innovations offer a 'silver bullet' solution to the insecure rural livelihoods of smallholder farmers; nevertheless, they are a source of hope in an environment of uncertainty.