Janet Dzimiri’s laugh is warm and infectious – but it disappears abruptly when she talks about the past. “Our life was very hard”, whispers the 49-year-old farmer and mother of four. “We often suffered from hunger and only ate in the evening”. When her husband died 19 years ago, she hit rock bottom. The farm produced too little to sustain the family, so they had to work for other farmers to earn money to make ends meet. Janet Dzimiri was only able to send her children to school thanks to the support she received from aid workers. Three of the children have now moved away and live in South Africa, while one daughter has stayed behind. She now helps her mother to raise four nieces and three nephews. Janet Dzimiri says that their parents had fallen ill and died.
“Compost is a good thing”
The turning point arrived upon meeting Jona Mutasa. Janet Dzimiri met this small farmer from her region on a composting course. “Compost is a good thing”, she explains, “but unfortunately, it’s useless against the striga weed or the stemborer moth, which affected my maize very badly”. In 2007, she was invited to visit Jona Mutasa and his wife to learn about the Push-Pull method for combating these pests. Together with a group of other farmers – most of whom were women – Janet Dzimiri successfully completed the training course. At the end, she was given some desmodium and elephant grass seeds, and she converted her cultivation system to Push-Pull. “Since then, my harvests have been very much better”, she says. “These days, we’ve got enough to eat. If there is sufficient rain, I can even bring in enough maize to sell some of it”.
At last a turn for the better
Janet Dzimiri uses desmodium and elephant grass to produce nutritious hay that helps her two oxen, cow and calf survive drought periods. A varied flock of poultry also bustles about her farmyard. As a result, she can now send all her foster children to school out of her own resources. After all the years of struggle, the life of the Dzimiri family has at last taken a turn for the better – and she’s hardly alone in her success. In Zimbabwe, female farmers in particular benefit from the advantages of the Push-Pull method. 75% of those who have undergone training are women, and a great many of them are widows. They all maintain the highest respect and gratitude for Jona Mutasa and Rosewiter Chikupe, who have made supporting small farmers in Zimbabwe their life’s work. Janet Dzimiri says that “I do not know how to tell Jona and Rosewiter how grateful I am.”
However, this brave woman still cherishes one great hope: “It would be wonderful if my own children came back from South Africa and started up again here”, she says. There is hope that this wish could come true now that Push-Pull allows her to offer them the prospect of successful lives as farmers.
More on Jona Mutasa and Roswiter: Small farmers in the fast lane.