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Going Back to the Basics for Zimbabwean Farmers

For 18 years, Thokozile Ncube has been planting her crops in manure-filled holes covered with straw — and every year, she grows enough to feed her family, as other farmers in Zimbabwe’s drought-prone Matobo district watch their crops shrivel. The traditional planting method helps crops survive droughts by keeping them hydrated for longer than tilling and watering an entire field, said the mother of eight from Gwangazile village, 40km south of Bulawayo. As erratic rains and worsening dry spells make it harder to rely on rain to water crops, a government programme aims to get more Zimbabwean farmers to revive the technique known as “potholing”, which fell out of fashion decades ago. Potholing is a form of conservation agriculture, an approach based on three key principles: minimal soil disturbance; crop rotation or inter-cropping — growing two or more crops together; and permanent soil cover using mulch, straw or other crops. As well as saving water, climate experts say conservation agriculture produces fewer carbon emissions than more modern surface and flood irrigation