Drought is endemic to southern Africa. In Zimbabwe farmers have been experiencing drought once every two to three years. Relief agencies have traditionally responded to drought by providing farmers with enough seed and fertilizer to enable them to re-establish their cropping enterprises. But, in the absence of these interventions there are limited sustainable options for farmers to maintain higher productivity levels. ICRISAT has been working with government, NGOs and the donor community to test more sustainable farming strategies that will increase food production levels even under drought conditions. For years, ICRISAT sought to develop more drought-tolerant varieties of sorghum, pearl millet and groundnut. But these offered only limited gains in productivity. More recently, ICRISAT and its partners have been testing strategies to sustainably improve crop productivity. These encompass two major components – conservation farming techniques that include the use of planting basins, which concentrate limited water and nutrient resources to the plant, and the precision application of small doses of nitrogen-based fertilizer. These simple technologies have increased average yields by 15-75 percent, being obtained by more than 300,000 farm households. Rather than simply handing free inputs to farmers, this strategy teaches farmers how to apply the inputs most efficiently. The pursuit of input-use efficiency provides higher and more sustainable productivity gains necessary to achieve food security in drought-prone farming systems. A farm enterprise budget analysis has been employed to show that it is more viable to adopt conservation farming techniques particularly under drought conditions.


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