“I marry water and soil so that they won’t elope and run-off but raise a family on my plot” says a beaming Mr Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, an award winning smallholder farmer from Zvishavane in rural Zimbabwe. Mr Phiri Maseko is a miracle worker who harvests water as a way of adapting to climate variability. His marriage of water and soil is about harvesting water as it cascades down the hill next to his homestead. He constructed structures that harvest water such as sand traps. He has also constructed a pond at the foot of the hill that overlooks his home where he ‘welcomes’ water he harvests and calls it the “immigration centre”. The water moves through the soil to his fields where it goes into canals. He uses the water in the canals to irrigate his crops. The water he harvests has transformed his plot into what he calls a “water plantation”. Mr Phiri Maseko’s neighbours have benefited from his water harvesting. They fetch drinking water at one of his wells.

Mr Phiri Maseko’s agricultural practices are anchored on the traditional Shona concept of uhururudza (productive farming). Mr Phiri Maseko is an accomplished water harvester, a hurudza (productive farmer) and thus breaks free from the poverty cycle by ‘conjuring ingenious’ ways of reducing vulnerability to climate (Mabeza, 2014). His innovative practices have made him famous.
Awards have been pouring in non-stop. The awards include the Ashoka Fellowship in 1997, the National Geographic Society Award for Leadership in African Conservation in 2006 which had a handsome monetary value (see Picture of Mr and Mrs Phiri Maseko posing with the certificate). In 2010 the University of Zimbabwe’s Centre for Applied Social Sciences (CASS) conferred on him a Lifetime Achievement Award (Mabeza, 2014). Mr Phiri Maseko is also earmarked to be awarded an honorary degree at one of the state universities in Zimbabwe.

Mr Phiri Maseko’s water harvesting practices offer hope for dryland farmers.

By Chris Mabeza

Reference: Mabeza,C.M. 2014. Marrying Water and Soil: Adaptation to Climate by a Smallholder Farmer in Zvishavane, rural Zimbabwe. PhD Thesis: University of Cape Town