4 tons per ha from land dry enough to smelt iron!

Isaiah 35:6 – For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert

The soil on which Pastor Chinyange farms is beautiful soil – red clay, hard – in fact hard enough to smelt iron and to make the beautiful clay pots one sees for sale along the sides of the Masvingo-Beitbridge road. Its beautiful soil indeed, but not for farming – in fact the area is traditionally considered ranching land, common wisdom holds that very little will grow there. Being region 5, it is Zimbabwe’s driest area, receiving very little rainfall annually.

But in this past season, in this vast and dry land there was a beautiful patch of lush green maize, standing defiantly against both common wisdom and the elements. This was the work of a man who believes in the God of the impossible. And what was achieved is hard to comprehend – Pastor Chinyange has farmed here before, and from this very patch he has failed to get even one bucket of maize in past seasons. In fact two years ago he even hired a tractor hoping mechanisation will improve his yield, he got nothing even then. This year was different – he got 50 bags (2.5 tonnes from a quarter of a hectare of land.

So how did all this happen, I ask him? In 2009 he heard of Foundations for Farming through a meeting of EFZ farmers (he is EFZ chair for Mwenezi and vice chair for Masvingo Province). However, at the time it was too late in the season to apply what they had heard. So in 2010 he started early.  At the time, the ground was so hard the hoe was bouncing off as he dug the well-spaced holes where the seed would go in. He is laughing as he tells me this, as if to say only a mad man would do this! But by faith all things are possible, and dig he did, well-spaced holes lined up with precision.  High standards matter here. He stops here to tell me about the principles of Foundations for farming – do things on time, to the highest standard you can, minimise wastage, and do it all with joy, for the joy of the Lord is our streng

Next he put in the mulch – Mwenezi being dry, it took considerable effort and cost to obtain the mulch, but herein lies the secret.

Mulch is any organic material that will cover the ground – fallen leaves, grass, old maize stalks etc. Mulch does several things – it stops the erosion and washing away of soil that would happen if there was no cover (it has been proved that without this 90% of rainwater runs off, and with mulch only 6% runs off, with 94% retained). Mulch prevents evaporation of precious moisture, and it provides food for the organisms in the soil that in turn provide nutrients for plants. By covering the ground, it also limits the growth of weeds.

The rain was late – rainfall in Zimbabwe should start around late October/early November, but in Mwenezi that year rain fell for the first time on the 5th of December. Pastor Chinyange planted on the 7th of December, and the crop that grew was a lush, beautiful healthy green crop with on average 4cobs per stalk. This was phenomenal – no-one in the neighbourhood had seen anything quite like this in so dry an area, people were asking him if he waters his maize by night! There was good reason for this question – following the rainfall on the 5th; the rains disappeared for pretty much the rest of that season. Like any farmer who has scanned the heavens for rains, each week he would calculate that if the rains came now, I would have maybe three of the four cobs per stalk, then two, then even the one still standing was starting to look doubtful. And still there was no rain. What was happening though was that the dew that comes in the early hours was retained by the mulch, and this was sufficient to keep the crop growing (remember before the times of Noah it never used to rain – maybe this is how God watered the earth?)

The long and the short of it is that from land dry enough to smelt iron, this man of God obtained yields of just over 4tonnes per hectare. The country average in areas with good rain is less than 1t/ha, and in fact his own neighbours got absolutely nothing this year, and some will probably be receiving food aid again this year. If the rains had come on time, and more than just that one time, he would probably have got between 6-8t/ha.  I asked him what he will do with all this, well he will sell some he says, but some will be donated to the local remand prison. In the circumstances we all face in Zimbabwe at the moment, prisons are struggling like everyone else, and he felt they need his support.

This is the whole heart of the program – giving. Give and it will come back to you, a good measure pressed down shaken together and running over will be poured in your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Luke 6:38 He explains that mulching is giving food to the soil so that it gives back – we can’t just take away from the soil year after year and still expect a good yield. God ordained that the soil will be fed organic matter, hence the importance of mulch. This is not to say it is not possible to feed it other things like artificial fertiliser, but while this too is food, it’s a bit like the difference between eating organic food and living on McDonalds!

Giving to receive – not as sometimes preached in the prosperity gospel, but as taught by a God who gave his son is the fundamental key to reversing the cycle of poverty. This is only possible through a changed heart following true repentance and an acknowledgement that a true and saving faith in God shows itself in actions of faithfulness. It is active faith that makes Pastor Chinyange apply the principles of ‘farming God’s way’ to a ground dry enough to make clay pots. And it is the mercy of God that his effort brings forth an oasis of green in a sea of scorched brown earth.

And Jesus said ‘do not be afraid; only believe’

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