Mr. Phiri - NGS World Radio Interview

Mr. Phiri – NGS World Radio Interview
Washington, DC
November 6, 2006

Problems promote sometimes.  You know when you are suffocated, somehow, sometimes, that challenge comes to be a very strong success.  During the 60s, I got involved in the struggle which really came up to me being dismissed from work.  The government declared that Zephaniah would never have any job in life anymore. When I took my Bible, I read from the Book of Genesis.  I got caught up by the Garden of Eden.  I read about the Garden of Eden.  After reading about that garden, I knelt down and prayed to God for guidance, commitment and love.  I prayed for these three points.  I remembered that my land had no water, yet in the Garden of Eden I read about the river that used to give moisture to the crops or to the trees planted by the Lord.  The Bible really inspired me.  Then from there I started making a garden.  The land where we live, we have a very poor soil.  We have the semi-arid soil, the poorest soil.  And the rainfall is so poor, very little – less than 600 millilitres a year.  It’s very dry.  But when I looked at the region, I found that crop production was so poor, so little.  I then came up with an idea.  To have better crops, one has to have good rainfall or use quite a lot of manure in the land.  Then I started  because in the Bible I had read Pishon was the river that used to water the garden.  I then started water harvesting.  I made quite a big number of structures harnessing the little water that may have fallen rather than letting the water just run off.  Then at the end [of my land], right down below, I went and sunk a well.  This well is a challenge, I tell you, because all the water I have harvested up hill seeped into the soil.  Then when you damage – let’s say I am cut here, you will see the blood oozing.  There is a reason why this blood oozes out.  The nature of a human being and Earth is the same.  I came up with an idea.  I have made the structures up here.  These structures hold water.  How can I whisper to the water in the ground that this water should come to where I want it and do the job?  Ah Zephaniah.  Things are wonderful!  I dug a well; I sank a well below.  Then, you know when you damage the Earth, nature moves the air and the ground moves the water to cover the open point.  When you take the soil out of the pit, the pit remains open.  Nature will make this pit close.  Then seeing the soil is no longer there, nature says to water:  “Water!  Go and fill that opening!”  It became magic.  The concept is that naturally, I love a human being.  I love people.  And when I said my prayer before doing this project, I looked for love.  People come to draw water from my own strength.  I’m not worried and I feel happy when they get this, so that’s how I worked it out.  After which I came up with an advanced idea.  I dug some infiltration pits in the contours.  When the rains fall, indeed this water is reserved.  And I stock fish!  I planted trees, fruit trees.  I intercrop, I have quite a lot of different species in my land.  If you come in that region you’ll find that quite a lot of production toward crop raising is very high because they have seen the secret that in this area we need to have water.  We need to store water, to manure our lands.  Then the successes come up.
FYI from Wikipedia: A river named Perath (Hebrew for Euphrates) is one of the four rivers that flow from the Garden of Eden according to Genesis 2:14. This Hebrew word, derived from either the word "stream" or "to break forth", has been translated as Euphrates[2]. It is the fourth river, after the Pishon, the Gihon, and the Tigris, (Hebrew name is Hiddekel) to form from the river flowing out of the garden. The river of the same name marked one of the boundaries of the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants (Isaac, Jacob, etc). In the Hebrew Bible, it is often referred to simply as "The River" (ha-nahar). (Genesis 15:18).

Review of The Water Harvester - New Agriculturalist

Reviewed in the New Agriculturalist

The Water Harvester: Episodes from the inspired life of Zephaniah Phiri

By Mary Witoshynsky
Published by Weaver Press, Box A1922, Harare, Zimbabwe
Distributed by the African Books Collective, 27 Park End Street, Oxford, OX1 1HU, UK
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Website:
2000, 70pp., ISBN 0797421238 (Pb) £10.95

Small scale farming is not really in fashion at the moment; food production it is argued, would better be done on a bigger, more efficient scale. In Zimbabwe, where Mr. Zephaniah Phiri, The Water Harvester, lives and works, the take-over and break up of large, commercial farms has been attacked for its disastrous effects on national food production.

Zephaniah Phiri's story is a challenge to this prevailing mood. It is the story of a man who has spent much of his life developing new ways to harvest rainfall and preserve his soil. While the Zvishavane Water Project, of which Phiri is the founder, has received international attention and funding, its founder has remained loyal to his small-scale background. As a boy, he says that he was not aware of poverty. His family had enough to eat and were happy. This kind of innocence and optimism runs through his tale. Ambition has led him not to make bigger and better projects but to find ways for more people to learn of his 'water planting' ideas.

His story has been written on the basis of numerous conversations, and is presented not as a smooth connected narrative, but in short snippets, separated by attractive patterns and drawings. His language reveals his empathy with his land. He believes that water can be 'planted', and was first inspired to harvest rain by the book of Genesis, and the two rivers that watered the garden of Eden. From this he learned that by creating bodies of water on his land he could create life, and that by digging pits in the land he would prompt a natural healing process that, as a by-product, would provide water for his plants. Like blood collecting in a cut in the skin, in order to clot and heal, so water would gather to heal the pit with fresh soil. Phiri's early attempts to farm the wetlands led to repeated fines, until he invited a judge to come and see if his work was really doing the damage it was accused of.

Phiri was imprisoned and tortured for years, for helping Zimbabwe's freedom fighters, and later set up one of Zimbabwe's first indigenous NGOs, the Zvishavane Water Project, through which he broadened his range of innovations and his contact with farmers both in Zimbabwe and further afield. All his technologies have been low or no cost (except labour). He uses infiltration pits in combination with contour ridges to collect run-off water and soil. Walls built from broken stones slow run-off and catch soil on steep slopes, or can be used to dam up gullies. 'Poor man's tanks' are covered pits filled with rocks, where water running off from washing areas or overflowing from ponds can collect, to seep slowly into the surrounding soil keeping the crops alive.

It would be easy to be dismissive about Zephaniah Phiri and his philosophy; to write it off as unpractical and romantic. Those in the business of development planning may regard the close relationship between farmer and land as an irrelevant luxury. But if he, who has experienced torture and imprisonment, can remain ideologically intact, positive and free from bitterness, as this short account reveals, who has the right to say that the way he is helping fellow farmers to follow is the wrong one?

Review of The Water Harvester - Mukai

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Mukai/Vukani Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe issue No. 37, November 2006.

The Water Harvester: Episodes from the inspired life of Zephaniah Phiri.

Written by Mary Witoshnsky, published by Weaver Press, Harare, Zimbabwe 2000.

Review by Stewart Musiwa


This book chronicles the life of Zephaniah Phiri, an innovative Zvishavane communal farmer who turned barren land allocated to him by colonial authorities into a wet farmland through creative harvesting of rain water for use in dry times. He achieved this by channelling rain water into hand-dug reservoirs, wells, ponds and stone-walled canals that trapped water for a long time and could be drawn upon for irrigation after the rains.

Getting this 8-acre piece of land was not easy for Phiri. Born in Rhodesia as a son of a Malawian immigrant, Phiri had a hard time getting this piece of land as the colonial administrators regarded him as a foreigner with no right to land. By and by, through the goodwill of a one-time Rhodesian Prime Minister, Mr. Garfield Todd who was a friend of his father’s, Phiri was finally allocated this piece of land. As a native reserve farmer in the 1960s, Phiri faced the common problem of being allocated land unsuitable for crop production in a drought prone area. However, he was able to make good use of the land through innovativeness. Using his water harvesting techniques Phiri transformed his little plot into the now famous Zvishavane Water Project (ZWP) that has attracted visitors from many parts of Africa.

On his road to success Phiri encountered many obstacles. He was arrested on several occasions by colonial authorities for both political reasons during the liberation struggle and also for not complying with soil conservation laws of the time that restricted farming near stream banks. However, Phiri continued to demonstrate to them that his cultivation techniques, using traditional methods that did not use chemicals and cause no damage to the soil, conserved the environment better than the farming methods encouraged by colonial agricultural authorities. Colonial authorities did not understand this and continued to arrest him. It was only when during a court proceeding a magistrate agreed to visit his farm and see for himself how environmentally friendly his farming methods were that the colonial government eventually let him free to continue with his farming.

Later on, agricultural experts began to appreciate how his methods conserved both soil and rain water that would otherwise be lost as run-off. It later dawned on the experts that Phiri’s methods were preferable to those they encouraged, namely the digging of contour ridges. Contour ridges never conserved rains water but wastefully drained it away from the fields. Phiri’s water harvesting techniques proved useful as they combined environmentally sound traditional ways of cultivation with scientific farming methods that agricultural experts have now approved and recommended for farmers. His water harvesting techniques have benefited not just himself and his family but also the community around him.

This book, although based largely on a story Phiri told about himself, is more than just an autobiography. The author does not intend merely to showcase the 78-year old Phiri’s innovativeness as a marketing technique. Rather it is meant to inspire both communal and commercial farmers who want to creatively harness rain water for irrigation after the wet season. Above all, the author hopes that this book will inspire not just farmers but everyone who wishes to make a unique contribution to the world through innovation.

Review of The Water Harvester - Masvingo Star

Former detainee transforms arid plot into bountiful homestead

Masvingo Star, sildenafil 17-23 November 2000

Title : The Water Harvester
Author : Mary Witoshynsky
Editor: Irene Staunton
Publisher: Weaver Press

Zvishavane, in southern Zimbabwe, lies in arid yet starkly beautiful terrain where small-scale farmers labour in an often fruitless struggle with fragile soils and erratic rainfall. Yet it was here that Zephaniah Phiri Maseko cultivated his unique character and vision to transform a resource starved subsistence plot into a bountiful farmstead.

The Water Harvester,  is a biographical tale written by Mary Witoshynsky, an American.  Phiri relates the challenges that inspired him to combine traditional agricultural wisdom with the scientific land management scheme mandated by government.

In so doing, at times under great duress, he achieved startlingly better returns. His lifelong dedication to soil nutrition and water conservation generated an innovative land husbandry régime well regarded by agro-ecologists.

These experts are not alone in grasping the significance of Phiri's methods as a basic for coaxing barren ground to yield abundant harvests of grain, vegetables, fruit - and water.  He has further established well-nurtured fish ponds in the district.

More profoundly, The Water Harvester reveals the family survival strategies of man of immense courage, perception, patience and generosity.

Distilled by Phiri's sage reflection and told in his own words, the story is imbued with his idioms, his rhythms and his experiences.

One feels refreshed - inspired by this champion of human dignity; a man whose endurance enabled him to found one of Zimbabwe's first Non- Governmental Organisations (NGO's).  This is called Zvishavane Water Project.

From here he conveys the power of self-reliance throughout the often neglected small scale farming sector of Southern Africa.

Far beyond this broad community, The Water Harvester invites readers to celebrate the boundless potential for human fulfilment .

After reading this biographical novel by Witonshynsky who stayed with the Phiri family for four years I was captivated and without option sought to review this book.

The book was recently launched during a colourful ceremony at a local hotel in Zvishavane during which Witonshynsky related that when she visited zimbabwe for the first time she happened to know about the episodes from the inspired of Phiri which generated interest to write a book about him.

She had never written any book in her life time.  The Water Harvester is her first book.

During the launch attended by its editor Irene Staunton, environmentalist, ecologists local community members and officials from Zvishavane Water Project, Mary Witonshynsky shed tears as she related episodes from the inspired life of Phiri.

The book is divided into five parts focusing on the intoduction, part two on beginning of Phiri's life, part three on his courageous involvement in chimurenga war (liberation struggle), part four in his Water Harvester's Gospel and the last part is on illustrations on Phiri's water harvesting life in Zvishavane.

The later forms that element of his life which has made him the most famous person in this district and Zimbabwe at large.

Phiri who was born in 1927 says, "Life is slippery," His observation springs from long years spent at the margins of survival as a subsistence farmer.

his experience is rooted in Zimbabwe's communal lands, the contemporary offshoots of native reserves originally demarcated by colonial Rhodesia's European settler governors.  That was the time when land segregation uprooted tens of thousands of African familis from their homelands and offered little but to c o a x   sustenance from isolated parcels of unproductive ground scattered across the colony's hinterland.

On the other hand water and soil diminished, fiscal limitations rapidly merged with the inherited lack of political will for equitable governance, thereby precluding the new leadership from meaningful
engagement with their public mandate to upgrade rural livelihoods in the 1960's, Phiri took it upon himself to tackle the disparities of his livelihood situation in order to ensure the survival of his family.

But he had to suffer n u m e r o u s  consequences for developing these practices under the colonial regime.  hos work was periodically derailed by the Rhodesian regime and further complicated by the psychological and physical brutality of war.

In part two: chimurenga, Phiri relates his war time experiences and sheds light on the senseless cruelty that shrouded the lives of communal area villagers throughout the region.

"In August 1976 I was arrested by the police and indeed got into a pot of fire."  He was taken handcuffed and manacled to Shabani police station where he was tortured.  Two of his shoulder bones broke and his lip disjoined.  He was beaten with the burt of a gun.  This was after he was caught in possession of arms of war left at his home by freedom fighters.  the Rhodesian forces interrogated and tortured him, wanting him to reveal information on the whereabouts of independence war fighters.

He was further taken to Gweru prison where he stayed for four years and five months he at most times manacled.  At one time he alleged that members of Special Branch decided to give him poisoned milk but something made him resist taking the milk.

"I think God's guidance was really within my family because you know during the hard days I always saw that somebody guided me, made me safe from getting hurt."

In 1980 he envisioned a process that would enable him not only cultivate, but to simultaneously rejuvenate the fossil stream near his home and make it live once more.  But perhaps most important, a major impetus for Phiri spreading his knowledge via the Zvishavane Water Project is his awareness, learned from a lifetime of experience, that African farmers have had little choice but to be increasingly responsible for helping one another, for outside assistance rarely makes its way to the places where it is most crucially needed.

Since then numerous articles and studies have been written about the water and soil conservation techniques that Phiri has innovated over the course of his lifetime,  and for which he has earned broad recognition.

In allowing myself to pass judgment after reading this fascinating novel written on personal interviews, one is persuaded to recommend it as the most captivating and fascinating book about a man's personal experience.  It is the personal archive of the man himself, expressed in his own words.  Even Mary the author herself says, "it is not a rags to riches, for the Phiri family remains on the same small plot, located in a region where paved roads, electricity and telephones are still for the future.  It is instead the story of a wealthy spirit, of a man who cultivated an Eden, not for himself but for the dry land farmers of the world."  Today his dream which has come true in as far as conserving water and soil is underlined by the Zvishavane Water Project which has become an envy of local communities and the international world.

At the age of 73 years Phiri now lives on the fruits of his effort and sweat from conservation - the knowledge which has been inherited by the present generetion in and around Zvishavane.

Besides farming he has been a teacher, war collaborator, ecologist and agricultural adviser.  Phiri however says although people emulate his efforts towards conserving water and the soil to achieve sustainable agriculture he reminds them that this could achieve better success if they peasant are given a fair share of arable land.

Even the author admits: "I was born and grew up in America never wishing to be a farmer and a writer until I realised the potential and fascinating of Phiri."

Price US$500

Review of The Water Harvester - Law Society Journal

Book review
Law Society Journal (The Law Society of New South Wales)
October 2002, Vol. 40 No. 8

Planting water in a dried-out land

The Water Harvester, as told to Mary Witoshynsk, Weaver Press, Harare, Zimbabwe, 2000, 61pp, $18.95.

Environmental Challenges of Sub-Saharan Africa by Professor Akin Mabogunje, CASS Monograph, No. 7, Malthouse Press, Lagos, Nigeria, 1996, 44pp, $6.95.

By Michael Mobbs (A lover of water)
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

‘I plant water as I plant crops’, says Zephaniah Phiri Maseko, in this book about his work. ‘So this farm is not just a grain plantation. It is really a water plantation. Planting water in my soil keeps it alive.’
To a boy from the Australian bush his African words ran at me, and I held this small book with purpose, and read it quickly.
Born in 1927, Phiri was a poor indigenous farmer in Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia), on run-down, dry land. Phiri started putting in modest self-designed wells and dams. He used rocks on the farm to build free storage wells, or eroded sands and soils to make little dams or contour banks. He used his hands, horse-drawn scoops and such ordinary tools as poor people there can afford.
But in 1967 Phiri was taken to court by the government’s Land Development Officer, charged with unauthorised farming. He was charged and fined twice. At the hearing of the third charge he asked the magistrate to visit his farm and see that there was no crime. After visiting the farm, the magistrate asked the prosecutor, ‘What is wrong with this?’
‘There is nothing wrong with this’, replied the prosecutor. And that was the making of Phiri. from then on, he became an accepted doer whose examples are copied widely.
It’s a funny thing, to compare then and now. We read in papers of the white farmers being booted off the lands they once took from indigenous people like Phiri. And the law is not much good to them, for today’s government is bent on giving the land back to the former owners, whatever a court may say.
Phiri has much to say about how to make something of nothing, and does it with few words, and some handy drawings of his water designs. And he has much for lawyers in Australia, for whom the law is mostly a dry farm, too, where ideas are the best thing they can grow. Phiri shows that by observing things accurately, by asking basic questions, some profits can be won. And lawyers with a farm or a dry garden will get much out of Phiri’s modest ways of handling soil and water.
More, Phiri shows positively to any person what to do with buggered-up dry country and, God knows, we have enough of that in Australia. So, go to; read this one.
And if you think things are crook for you, read Professor Mabogunje’s booklet and cheer yourself up. In the sub-Saharan countries things have long gone from bad to worse, an worse is coming each day. Average income there is less than a dollar a day, and going down.
With a mix of facts about the decline of natural lands, waters and air, and the agricultural industries that depend on these resources this reads as a dry book about a dry place.
But with its short observations on the impact of international finance and institutional aid upon the environment, apparently from the eyes of a person who lives and works daily with political and policy forces to try and improve things, there are useful warnings to do-gooder lawyers wishing to visit their policy frameworks on other countries.
Thus, Professor Mabogunje observes, ‘In the closing years of the 20th century, the situation in most sub-Saharan African countries is almost on eof back to the drawing board. Three decades of trying to drive the economies of these countries on the basis of outside inspirations and planning have left them prostrate, the people wallowing in deepening poverty and the environment exposed to all forms of pollutions and hazards. More importantly, the international indebtedness to foreign investment are forcing on their governments an agonising reappraisal of what development is about.’
I hope, when they find out, they can let me know.

Review of The Water Harvester - Mirror

Sunday 3 October, 2004 – AFRICA ONLINE – THE SUNDAY MIRROR

Zephania Phiri: from simple Zvishavane peasant to number one national hunger fighter

Ezekiel C. Makunike

Zvishavane District in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe is not only the home of the Dadaya Mission or Shabani-Mashaba Mines; it is also the home of Zephaniah Phiri Maseko and the Zvishavane Water Project.

While other countries, especially those in the West may take water for granted, in arid areas like Zvishavane District, water is a supremely precious natural resource. While populations increase, water does not, and yet every living creature; animals, plants and people need it in order to survive. Besides, there is no substitute for water! The solution to the equation is that maximum efforts must be made to conserve that vital and limited natural commodity! The expression, “necessity is the mother of invention” has been proved true through the dauntless efforts of a seemingly ordinary peasant family; the family of Zephanaiah Phiri Maseko. We must emphasise the word, “seemingly”, for indeed Phiri has proved himself to be a remarkable visionary, a resourceful thinker, and a giant hero of a man! It could well be said, “He has done what Napoleon could not do!” He has, throughout his lifespan, demonstrated remarkable courage, resilience and indomitable fortitude against otherwise insurmount-able odds and adversaries. He has transformed a hitherto dry area into a perennial wetland through his innovative and rather unorthodox labour-intensive water harvesting techniques. His now famous “Phiri Pits” have captured the rain water whose seepages have literally met the water level in the ground below; thus resulting in raising the water table that ensures constant moisture to his trees and crops.. “This has created a unique perennial wetland, ready to nourish the soil for bountiful harvests throughout the year. He had not read these techniques from a book or from formal schooling for indeed his formal education is minimal compared to the successes he has achieved so far. His successes came by sheer dint of his inborn education, fertile imagination and natural commonsense. In a book, “The Water Harvester”, written by Mary Witoshynshky and published by “Weaver Press”, the reviewer, a Mr. W. Chakanyuka, in his article published by “The Masvingo Star” newspaper (November 17-23, 2000) he had this tosay, ‘‘Phiri relates the challenges that inspired him to combine traditional agricultural wisdom with the scientific land management schemes mandated by the government. In doing so, at times under duress, he achieved strikingly better harvest returns. His lifelong dedication to better soil nutrition and water conservation generated an innovative land husbandry regime well regarded by agro ecologists”. The reviewer goes further and says these experts are not alone in grasping the significance of Phiri’s methods as a basis for “coaxing barren ground to yield abundant harvest of grain, vegetables, fruit and water. He has further established well accomplished fish ponds in the district”.

The book reviewer summarises Phiri’s successes when he says, “Zvishavane lies in arid yet starkly beautiful terrain where small-scale farmers labour in an often fruitless struggle with fragile soils and erratic rainfall. “Yet it was here that Zephaniah Phiri Maseko cultivated his unique character and vision to transform a resource starved subsistence plot into a bountiful farmstead”. This has attracted the attention and interest of ecologists, environmentalists and agro researchers from within Africa and abroad. Located at nearly twenty kilometers beyond the Zvishavane Town on the Shrungwi road and turning to the left, Phiri has proved to be a small-scale peasant farmer with a difference! His rural communal property is a mere eight acres of land. Propelled by the Biblical message of the Book of Genesis Chapter 2, he has literally created a model image of the Garden of Eden at a terrain where such a novelty was previously least expected or dreamed of. The Biblical Adam and Eve were given the Garden of Edenas a gift. There were rivers to water the Garden. Phiri and his family laboured hard to create it. There were no rivers anywhere close to irrigate his garden and yet he needed to survive! There was no better place for him and his family to move to.. He was stuck there. He was to “stay put!” He thus had to learn to swim or sink, as the saying goes! A group of 22 people from the Manicaland Province and some from Mozambique and sponsored by Environment Africa, a conservation development organisation, visited the home of Phiri on September 8, 2004. Members of the group specifically came from the following districts: Nyanga, Mutasa, Mutare, Marange, Chimanimani in Zimbabwe; and Manica in Mozambique. The writer, resident in Harare was also part of the group. The visitors saw, to their amazement healthy crops such as bananas which were already pregnant with overweight clumps of fruit, sugar cane, beans, wheat, green maize at the ripening stage, vegetables and fruit trees of all kinds.

But indeed Phiri’s road to success was not paved with gold. During the colonial days as way back as the 1950s he was arrested for interfering with the colonial soil husbandry policies of the time. The area agricultural demonstrators sent reports to the Land Development Officer(LDO) who in turn ordered Mr. Phiri’s arrest for the simple reason that he was doing things his own way and not the “official” way! He was planting barn grass and kikuyu grass to preserve his water in his catchment area. At the courts Phiri gave his statement on what he was doing. The authenticity of his arguments led the Magistrate to decide to visit Phiri’s home fields to see it for himself. He was impressed by what he saw and ordered Phiri discharged and let him go free. Mr. Phiri proved himself a genius who knew far more appropriate technology thanthe then agricultural demonstrators of the time! But Phiri’s problems with the colonial government did not end there! In August 1976, at the height of Zimbabwe’s liberation war he was arrested by the police for being in possession of arms of war left at his home by the freedom fighters. The colonial government called these freedom fighters “terrorists”. He was taken to Shabane Police Station handcuffed and manacled. He was tortured and two of his shoulder bones were broken. His hip joint was disjointed. To this day he walks with a limp. He was further taken to Gweru Prison where he languished for four and half years, handcuffed and manacled with leg irons.

In 1980, at Zimbabwe’s independence he vigorously continued his water conservation and management techniques. Since then, numerous articles and studies have been written about his water and soil conservation techniques which in turn have made him world famous. Hisvisit to the United Kingdom helped him secure funds to found one of Zimbabwe’s first Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) , the now famous Zvishavane Water Project, an umbrella organization with over thirty members with him as the Chairman. Now at the age of 77, a contended Phiri kept his audience spellbound for close to an hour when he narrated his arduous journey fighting material deprivation and imminent poverty as he says in his own words. “In the 1950s I was facedwith a dilemma. With a wife and six children but with no job prospects having been fired from the then Rhodesia Railways job in Bulawayo and declared ‘not fit to be employed anywhere in the country’”, started experimenting with harvesting the little water that fell during the brief annual rainy seasons. His home is situated at the foot of a huge rock formation. He decided to harness the rainy water that flows from it and captured it in pits he dug so that the water thus captured can seep through the soil below and nourish his crops and fruit trees.

Further below he dug what he calls infiltration pits along the contour ridges, thus preventing the rain water from flowing away from his fields.

Having perfected the retention of this water he dug fish ponds. “There is a lot of fish in those ponds” he proudly says and he invites children from neighbouring schools to come and fish as part of their orientation to the value of water conservation.

News of his successes went far and wide. As stated before, a British organization invited him to London where he spoke about his water harvesting techniques. The trip opened the doors of financial help and fame. He did not like the financial help to go to his personal purse. Instead he desired that the money went to the establishment of what would benefit more people than just himself. The Zvishavane Water Project was the answer.

People have come from all over the world to see and learn from Phiri’s successes. Phiri himself has been invited to lecture and participate in water harvesting workshops and seminars to about nine countries in Africa and overseas.

If Africa could produce more of the likes of Phiri, indeed Africa would truly need not starve! With hardly anything added from outside, Phiri has used nature to enrich itself. As earlier pointed out, his water harvesting techniques have raised the water table to a level where it is easily reached by the roots of his crops throughout the year. His income is considerably higher. He practices the organic method of farming, that is to say, the non application of chemical fertilizer. This has sustained his soil fertility. Admittedly, the younger generation of today and tomorrow may not be able to sweat while doing the drudgery work of digging and shoveling in making the “Phiri Pits”, but there ought to be modern small-scale machinery that can be used to achieve the same goal. Phiri is not only an asset for the Zvishavane District or Zimbabwe itself, but indeed the whole Sadc countries and Africa at large. The Environment Africa-sponsored group that visited his home and Project was agreed that Phiri deserves an honorary doctorate degree in agriculture by the country’s universities or for that matter, a Hunger-free Africa Prize Award! For indeed fighting poverty and eradicating hunger is one sure way of bringing about peace..

Mr. Phiri was born in Zimbabwe of a Malawian father and a Zimbabwean mother in 1927. His father was a school teacher at the Dadaya Mission. (Ezekiel C.Makunike is former Director of Information, Government of Zimbabwe and now founder and Director of “Tese Tigute”: a Rural and Community Improvement Project).

Zephania Phiri's Book of Life



The Man and His Awards The NGS Award Statement, 2006 Mr. Phiri’s National Geographic Society Radio Interview, Washington, D.C., November 6, 2006 “Zephaniah Phiri Honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award” by Mary Witshynsky, Zimbabwe Review, Issue 07/2, May 2007, Britain Zimbabwe Society Elected as an Ashoka Fellow in 1997: “Commitment to Soil and Water: a lesson from Zimbabwe” by Yasmina Zaidman on (dated March 2000) and extracts from the Ashoka Website; and extracts from an Open Democracy piece “Zimbabwe’s Hope: in memory of Zephaniah Phiri Maseko” by Yasmina Zaidman dated March 2002, which mistakenly reported his demise! The Water Harvester: episodes from the inspired life of Zephaniah Phiri, Mary Witoshynsky (Weaver Press, 2000) Overview and Introduction – Ken Wilson


The Water Management and Agricultural Innovations “The Man Who Farms Water” by Brad Lancaster “Water Harvesting and Soil Conservation”, Zvishavane Water Project, 1995 “Making the Most of Spatial Variation” extract from Hazards and Opportunities book by Ian Scoones A Lifetime’s Record of Innovation and Experimentation: Mr. Phiri’s Water, Soil and Landscape Management Principles as Exemplified on His Own Land, Ken Wilson (with a series of maps and diagrams) “The Water-Harvesting Innovations of Mr. Phiri Maseko, Zimbabwe”, Extract from the International Sustainable Agriculture Extension Manual, 1995 UNISA, Module 3: Sustainable Natural Resource Use, Household Food Security UNISA/SAIDE/W.K. KELLOGG, pages 139-142 Save a Seed and Plant Water (Abstract by Sasa Petejan)

“Editorial viewpoint: making science and technology work for the poor’, Ian Scoones, World Review of Science, Technology and Development, Vol 4, No 2-3, 2007 Influencing Policy Processes for Sustainable Livelihoods: strategies for change, James Keeley (Institute for Development Studies, Brighton, 2001)


Taking His Knowledge to the People through the Zvishavane Water Project “Farmer-based Research and Extension” by Z. Phiri Maseko, Ian Scoones and Ken Wilson, ILEIA, December 1988, Vol 4, No. 4 Project proposals to Oxfam and EEC, 1987 and 1988 “Beating the Drought”, Oxfam Project News Briefing, November 1987 “Beating the Drought: Zvishavane Water Resource Development and Management Project, Zimbabwe” from Oxfam’s Move Against Poverty, 1987 “An Old Man Like Me”, Oxfam Progress Report, July 1988 World Development Movement Program for Mr. Phiri’s Visit as part of the North-South Interdependence campaign with the Council of Europe, July 1988 (including transcript of a radio interview, and report of a meeting) The Z Pack: Zimbabwe, Zvishavane, Zephaniah Phiri, Oxford Oxfam Group, April 1991 A Series of Reports from ZWP Staff and Oxfam field staff on developments at ZWP between 1987 and 1995 Extracts from Mr. Phiri’s Field Notes, 1987


Newspaper and Review Articles (a) Newspaper Articles “A Visit to the Water Harvester” (The Zimbabwean, 14-20 December, 2006), Robin Palmer “Where No Water Goes to Waste” (Sunday News, January 29th, 1995), Sifanele Ndlovu “Zephania Phiri: from simple peasant farmer to number one national hunger fighter”, by Ezekiel Makunike, Sunday Mirror, October 3rd 2004 “The Miracle of Water”, Somerset County Gazette, June 24th, 1988 “Doing Well on Six Acres” The Dorset Evening Echo, Monday July4th, 1988 OTHERS?? (b) Reviews of The Water Harvester The Mangalore & Bangalore Morning Daily, 2001 “Former Detainee Transforms Arid Plot into Bountiful Harvest”, W. Chakanyuka Masvingo Star 17-23 November, 2000
“Listening: books from Zimbabwe” Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol 28(1), 2002 by Professor T.O. Ranger Ezekiel Makunike, review on the Weaver Press Site The New Agriculturalist review (2001-2002) “The Water Harvester” by Slow Food and Terra Madre Stewart Musiwa “Water is Life” in Jesuit Communications, April 2008 Michael Mobbs in the Law Society Journal – The Law Society of New South Wales (Vol. 40, No. 8, October 2002) Review in Spore Magazine Vol 98 (April, 2002) Review in The Financial Gazette, November 02-08th, 2000 by Grace Mutandwa (c) Other Reviews Review of Beating Hunger: The Chivi experience: A community based approach to food security in Zimbabwe, by Kuda Murwira et al., referring specifically to VaPhiri’s contributions.


Testimonies Individuals who have already contributed: Mary Witoshynsky Brad Lancaster Colletah Chitsike Bryn Higgs Ian Scoones (message) Robin Palmer Achim Steiner Munei Chiganangana (poem dated Feb 1995) Irene Staunton and Murray McCartney (Nomination for a PhD, 2010) Ian Scoones (Nomination for the King Baudouin Prize, 2004) Charles Hungwe Cecile (Sam) Jackson Michael Drinkwater Walter Mugove Nyika Still to come: Josphat Mushongah Daniel Ticehurst David Cooper Hopefully many more can and will be collected at and for the event. Other individuals are being located and requested at this time: everyone is invited to contribute.


Photographs From Ken Wilson from 1981 of farm From Ken Wilson from 1986-1988 of farm and projects From Ken Wilson from 1990s of farm and family From Mary Witoshynsky from NGS Award in 2006 From Ian Scoones of family dated 2009 From Murray McCartney, graduation ceremony, 2009 National Geographic Portrait MORE SOUGHT….

Press Release for Zephania Phiri's Life Time Achievement Award

Press Release:

Mr. Zephaniah Phiri celebrated with a Life-Time Achievement Award World-renowned Zvishavane innovator Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maseko will be celebrated with a Life-Time Achievement Award by his many friends and admirers at an event on August 24th 2010 at the University of Zimbabwe. Mr. Phiri who is now 84 and who was detained and tortured during the chimurenga war has developed over more than 40 years an extraordinarily successful suite of innovative water harvesting and management systems for sustainable agriculture on his 8 acre plot in Msipane in the Runde Communal Area. Based on deep understanding of local hydrology and years of careful experimentation Mr. Phiri has vastly increased the productivity of his soils, the diversity of his crops and his ability to cope with drought.

Using nothing but local materials and his own labour he designed and built check dams to manage water flows from the ruware behind his home, trenches and “Phiri pits” to aid infiltration rather than erosive surface flow, protected and vegetating drainage lines, three large ponds, several water tanks, and many wells and canals to distribute water around his land. By “planting water” in his land and carefully nurturing his soils he has crafted an intensive largely organic minimum-till farming system which far out-yields anything else developed for the sandy soil areas of Natural Region IV. His approach has attracted attention from across Zimbabwe, Africa and the wider world.

Numerous technical articles on water harvesting and sustainable agriculture have been published about him in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, and The Water Harvester: episodes from the inspired life of Zephaniah Phiri was published by Weaver Press in 2000. Thousands have visited his farm from all over the country and Mr. Phiri has taken his message of indigenous innovation across Africa, Europe and the USA. Many Government bodies, donors and NGOs have replicated elements of his approach and the pioneering indigenous NGO he established in 1986-1987, Zvishavane Water Project, has worked across this semi arid region for nearly 25 years in support of thousands of community water projects for people, animals, farming and gardening. Mr. Phiri was awarded an Ashoka Fellowship for his innovative work in 1997 and in 2006 he was honoured by the National Geographic Society (US) and the Howard Buffett Foundation with the Award for Leadership in African Conservation. On August 24th 2010 he will be presented with a Life Book of materials published about him and the work of Zvishavane Water Project and share testimony from Zimbabwe and around the world on the continuing relevance of his approach to development.

Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Dr B.B. Mukamuri 0912-112774

Overview of Zephaniah Phiri's Book of Life - K.B. Wilson

Overview and Phiri’s Book of Life Dr. K.B. Wilson On the Occasion of his Life Time Achievement Award August 24th, 2010

Why are we here today at the University of Zimbabwe?

^ Zephaniah Phiri shares a lighter moment with friends

We are here because it is fitting that a University should concern itself with remarkable innovation and practical research by ordinary citizens as well as by its own staff and to seek to understand and document what has been achieved, and to disseminate these learnings to wider society. And one such person is Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maseko. For there is no Research Institute or University Farm in this region that has developed and tested over forty years such an innovative, productive, sustainable, resilient and cost-effective system of cropping for the semi-arid sandveld and kopje region that characterizes so much of the Communal Areas of this country.

At its heart is PLANTING WATER, because in these hot dry environments water arrives rapidly and leaves rapidly. And it doesn?t leave alone. According to VaPhiri, one job of the farmer is to prevent water and soil eloping and running off together. Instead he wants them to settle down together on his farm and raise a proper family with him. VaPhiri?s system is characterized by: Intensive capture, management and tight re-cycling of water and nutrients, with ponds, trenches, trap dams, canals, wells and more. A creative deployment of indigenous knowledge, combined freely with ideas gleaned from other farmers, extension agents, formal scientific research and the Permaculture movement; Extraordinarily bold but careful experimentation to enable adaptation to his unique landscape, responding to and transforming the mosaic of soil types and hydrological regimes that characterize landscape, and doing so sustainably and over decades; Long term thinking; a system that yields in wet and dry years, and yields more every year… Reliance not on donors or financial and technical investments but on what the family can achieve with its own labor and local and cheap materials; Diverse farming systems: substantially perennialized, intercropped and rotated with an extraordinary number of legumes, organically fertilized, biologically controlled for pests; in 2009-2010 season there were 55 crops planted on the farm, not including indigenous fruit trees or indigenous semi-cultivars, or counting varieties…  This is based on LIVING SOIL and sustained biomass and biodiversity. It is extraordinary how much life there is on his land. And it is increasing. At his old homestead on the edge of the ruware, which is just 52m x 80m at its widest point we assessed woody plant diversity in 1999 and then again in 2010. 1999: 149 trees of 41spp, both indigenous and exotic 2010: 175 trees of 55 spp of which 24 are fruit trees A 25% increase in 11 years.

Dr David Cooper hosted your visit to the Oxford University farm 25 years ago. Now he is running a division of the Convention on Biological Diversity. He sends greetings and will kubururuka when he hears this information. You may remember how surprised he was by the interest you gave to the oak trees that the university allowed to remain in the wheat fields, when Agritex insisted that all trees be removed from fields at home. When seeking to replicate photos that I took on VaPhiri?s land over the last 30 years to show all this change I could barely get to some of the places the vegetation is now so thick and many of the photos just show a wall of green. Mr Phiri seeks to RHYME WITH NATURE in his methods. There is so much life on his land that nowadays his neighbors refer to “shiri dzevaPhiri” when their crops are damaged. As such VaPhiri is doing something terribly rare: achieving intensive use while BUILDING natural capital. As Godfrey Nyakanyanga from Mutoko said back in June 1997: “God is going to bless you for your ideas of managing nature?s systems”. Who is it who is saying that VaPhiri?s approach is remarkable? It is now the whole world. The man who paid the colonial government fines because they said he was destroying the land earned the Buffet Foundation award for Leadership in African Conservation in 2006. Mr. Howard Buffett sends greetings: he is Sudan and is sorry he could not make it today.

The man with primary education has become recognized as a RESEARCHER by specialists from all over Zimbabwe?s university, research and agricultural institutions, as well as international agencies such as ICRISAT, FAO, IFAD etc. Let me quote you some people from his visitor?s book: G. Gumbozvanda (ICRISAT) “This is an eye opener. Extend this to higher institutions of learning and colleges for indigenous soil and water conservation” W. Shoshore (Agritex) “We need to learn more from the innovative researcher” Miriam Mhunduru (VSO) “An excellent display of indigenous knowledge” M. Muvondori (Masvingo Province) “Very helpful to my theoretical concepts” Lovemore Mufumhe (DDF Water Division) “The place is like a training institute” W. Chivisa (ICRISAT) “Inspirational. Advanced agriculture in dry areas. Against the odds.” Christos Sibanda (then of Institute of Water and Sanitation Development) “Mr. Z Phiri?s site is even better than last time. The water he planted is ready for harvest” From UZ Agriculture we have comments like “very impressed” from Z Mugwira, while Chipo Mususa said “magnificent” and Florence Mtanganengwe “excellent”.

Brian Mudzodzi from MSU said “this place is unbelievable”, and Dr. Mtaita from Africa University said it was “perfect” (since when VaPhiri implemented 100 improvements). Mr. Phiri?s work is cited in a dozen books and journals, including one of the UNISA Text Books. It is for these kinds of reasons that Ezekiel Makunike tells us that the 22 person group from Environment Africa that visited his home on Sept 8th, 2004 argued unanimously he “deserves an honorary doctorate degree in agriculture by the country?s universities”. G. Tobaiwa from CARE suggested in 1998 “We urge this centre to be developed as a conservation college. This is great ideas!” Countless international researchers from around the world have acknowledged his influence, and many sent messages of congratulations and gratitude to him today. Professor Ian Scoones of IDS in Sussex said that Mr Phiri was the Professor at “Mhototi University” where he first learned about all the issues of his career, and the person that he most admired in the world. But we have messages from people as diverse as Prof Sam Jackson, Dr. Michael Drinkwater, Bryn Higgs, Professor JoAnn McGregor is here today, and many others send good wishes, including Professor Terry Ranger, who has also written about him and his ability to listen to the land. The Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos of Ecuador has sent a message of congratulations today. Mr. Phiri also has a solid place in the history of the global water harvesting movement. Brad Lancaster from Arizona in the USA, one of its recognized leaders and author of its main handbooks, has always said that it was VaPhiri who showed him the way and he has sent a message of thanks and congratulations today that will bring tears to your eyes.

Education and Outreach Mr. Phiri is however much more than an innovative researcher who eats rather than publishes the findings of his research. He is an educator and a motivator. As Kuda Murwira once noted in the farm Visitor?s Book: “what a training center”. His knowledge is written into the land. His humor gives it voice. People have been visiting him for decades and are never turned away. It was ORAP and Sithembiso Nyoni (now the Honorable Minister for Medium and Small Scale Enterprises) who got this started after independence, and introduced me to his work. Parts of his Visitor?s Book have survived for the period 1997 to 2010. I have extracted 2,027 names from that book, or about 25-30 visitors a month. Taking into account that fewer people were visiting until 1990 that still suggests he has had 8,000 visitors – not including those who never signed the book! In this book are people from every government dept, university, district and type of thinking in Zimbabwe. In this book are people from 14 African countries (sometimes who delegations), and 9 other countries in Asia, Europe and North and South America. In this book are the names of 30 NGOs working here in the region. Most important perhaps, in this book are the names of hundreds of farmers who came by themselves or with local NGOs, AREX officers and other local government officials. Here are some of the kinds of comments left by these visitors: Esther Kasalu Coffin (IFAD-Rome) “This is brilliant. Please keep it up and share the knowledge” Dr Justice Nyamangara (UZ and Africare – now CYMMYT) “Very impressed with what I saw. I wish every farmer could copy these brilliant innovations” J. Manyame (CARE, Masvingo, 1998) “This is good. I shall bring some farmers from Chivi” Mr Dube, from neighboring Lwanga School area in Zvishavane: “I have been asked by farmers at our place to come and see your water harvesting Mr Phiri. They want you [to] come and help them.” C Chikomba (CARE Masvingo) “This is incredible. A lot of farmers should have the chance to learn about the techniques” Owen Shumba (SAFIRE) “Please let?s work together from now on” Mr. A Paulo (AGRITEX Gwanda) “Ideal techniques for dry areas! MORE: we shall duplicate them”

Collins Chibvamushure (Farmer) “I learned a lot from you Mr. Phiri. I will do the same when I go back” Pastor Andrew Maphimidze “The Eden Project is a Gift from God” Tim Forster (Brazil) “V. interesting initiative with many examples of appropriate low cost technologies. Let?s promote the ideas? Kevin Lowther (CARE, US) “This is the beacon of light for the region. I learned much.” Lovemore Bayayi (PLAN Mutare) “Your work is cost effective and does not require any donor” And it was true that many of the thousands of farmers who visited him went back and experimented with the approach in their home areas. A few of them are able to be with us today and we shall hear their stories, but across the country you will find this work happening now – moving among farmers, promoted by local and international NGOs. Also here are the voices of school children and young people: Utongeni Secondary School in his home area of Msipane “V. educative. The project has a lot of intelligence and there is need for school pupils [to be] exposed to this project in order to encourage self reliance” Mrs Leratang Monare (EDA Trust in KwaZulu Natal) “We the youth, we thank you and wish you all the best”. Some visitors to Mr. Phiri?s land saw him as a creator of new technologies that should just be exported and copied – silver bullets in development just like all the others. But that is not what VaPhiri taught. He taught the need to listen to the land, to study and experiment with one?s own landscape. He taught that every farmer should be responsible for understanding his own land, and not just relying on technologies developed for other pieces of land – by VaPhiri or anyone else. He taught the value of real science, real indigenous knowledge, and of hard work and responsibility. Of a culture of land stewardship that the planet now needs desperately. VaPhiri doesn?t think much of most of what is called development.

He will have been very happy to see what S. Marimira of the Mutoko Project wrote in his book many years ago: “Emphasis should be stressed to farmers that development can happen without or with minimal donor funds – emphasis on locally available resources.” Zvishavane Water Project But we are here today because his work did not stop at research and then educating people at his home. He also established one of the earliest indigenous NGOs in the country in the mid-1980s, an attempt to do something beyond the usual-usual of development. This NGO was started with nothing apart from will and belief, and a participatory research methodology that came out of the University of Mhototi, and his colleagues like the late Mr. Mathou Chakavanda, and Dr. B.B. Mukamuri and Abraham Mawere who we are with today. It didn?t have legal registration, governance, vehicle, staff, office, funding, etc., at the beginning. It received its first type writer as a gift from an English researcher, Sam Jackson. You will see in the Book of Life that its first proposals were hand written, and then later typed on an old Amstrad for him in the UK! Over the last 25 years it has grown and changed, survived and thrived. Mr. Phiri retired in 1996, granting ZWP the use of a portion of his land as an income generating and demonstration plot. Former and current staff are with us today, or sent messages like Charles Hungwe now in UK, its first administrator. We shall hear more about ZWP from its wonderful Director, Irene Dube. Harvest Time Mostly we are here today because it is time for the harvest. It is time that we recognize this old man. This fellow that E.P. Chiuswa from Zvishavane once characterized as “a wise brainy black man who becomes a water harvester”.

This is a man who has inspired people everywhere, including through the wonderful book of his own words put together by Mary Witoshynsky. There is even an urban youth group in Texas that is called the Zephaniah Phiri Community Development Corporation. This is the man that Gilbert Kimanzi from Kampala described with his “fantastic creativity and humorous explanation”. Who S Bhebhe from Oxfam-UK called “a very gentle unassuming wise man with a lot of knowledge and wisdom”. Mr Phiri, the farmer from Beitbridge, Charles Nyakutombwa, who wrote “You are the Wallmark of Zimbabwe” was not wrong. We need to pause and mention your father, VaPhiri. Amon Phiri of Dadaya Mission, close friend of Grace and Garfield Todd, one of the most powerful of the Church of Christ Preachers – this is not just folk memory – I went through the entire Dadaya Mission papers when I was a PhD student in the 1980s. He was known as BVUMA, and played a prominent role in the Mission, especially after its “Africanization” in 1938.

A man who died too young, but whose powerful spirit protected you through many terrible times, especially during your detention and torture during the liberation war. A man who, like his son, loved creation. Who knew to pray for rain in the “rambo temwa” sacred forests – a man who knew that God was in the land as well as in the Book. Bambo Mdhara Phiri: zikomo bambo kwambili kuti mnafika kuno kuZimbabwe, kuchokela ku Malawi. Tinovuchira eShoko. Zikomo that you shared with us this your son and protected him to grace this land yeZimbabwe. Judith Todd sends her greetings to you. She has known you nearly all your life and was very much hoping to be with us today. Mr. Phiri we join Willie Makomba of CRS who has said “Every visit is inspiring – more, more years!” One way we are harvesting, Mr Phiri is with this BOOK OF LIFE. It was Mary Witoshynsky who said we should call it that. In this book I have tried to put every article published about you, old photos, testimonies and many other things. Like everything to do with you it is living – still growing. Something gets added every day. In it are articles published all over the world. Dr. Robin Palmer has helped locate documents from the Oxfam archives. Professor Scoones found a couple of hundred pages of your field notes from the wells, dams, and vlei projects of 1987 which I have typed up and included. Weaver Press found old newspaper articles about you. You are all over the web. This Book of Life is to make “history heard”, as vaChigovo of Oxfam-Zvishavane once wrote of a visit to your land. When Kurauone Mukamuri, the youngest born at the Mhototi University where we all worked together 25 years ago saw the dictionary of Fr. Hannan he said “that is not a book – it is a small suitcase”. VaPhiri it needs a quite large suitcase to share with you your life! Friends we have many testimonies in here. You can read them in the Books that are going round. I am going to quote just a little from them. You have a letter of congratulations from the assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, Mr. Achim Steiner. He says that “clearly [your] journey and accomplishments demonstrate the „power of one? to make a difference”.

He also writes: “More than 20 years ago Ken Wilson who had been working with Mr. Phiri in Zvishavane wrote to me asking if I knew of any financial support that could be made available to Mr Phiri in his endeavors to explore new approaches to agricultural development in his community. The amount needed was $2000 to $3000 dollars – a grant so small that most aid organizations could not really process such a request. Through a small unbureaucratic fund we – a small group of graduates from the German Development Institute – had set up in 1986 we quickly agreed to support Mr Phiri and transferred the requested amount with the help of Ken”. You have poems. Here?s one from Colletah Chitsike who was with Oxfam in the 1990s and is now in Pretoria: “To all living things Water is the same VaPhiri?s wisdom In all languages Water is the same VaPhiri?s wisdom Water?s rate of evaporation VaPhiri?s wisdom Water and the management of land resources VaPhiri?s wisdom Rate of soil erosion VaPhiri?s wisdom Soil moisture availability VaPhiri?s wisdom Ah, Zephaniah, Bakiti This and more is what I remember of VaPhiri?s wisdom. The man who talked and warned about water and climate change long before it was on development agendas.” And a rich lengthy piece from Dr Robin Palmer, who wrote that famous necessary book Land and Racial Domination in Zimbabwe published back in the 1970s and then worked with Oxfam becoming an early champion of his work which he saw for the first time in 1987. He ends saying Mr Phiri is “one of the most remarkable people I have ever met in my life”. Need for Full Documentation of His Research For years we researchers have been visiting his land and saying that it should be properly researched and documented.

B.B.S. Madondo from Masvingo said in 1998 “Do a resource map of the homestead and farm”. F.S. Makoni of the Institute of Water and Sanitation Development wrote in 2003 “I am impressed and I wish if the project be documented and shared with the region”. N. Hondoyomoto of CADEC wrote in 2002 “Keep on documenting your experiments”. Now is the time. Mr. Phiri is telling us to come now and do our work. We need to gather the historical data and analyze change. We need hydrologists to understand what his work shows about how vleis function hydrologically and what he has achieved through management. For his work has continued. During the 2000s he added about 180,000 litres of permanent storage capacity and 80,000 litres of temporary capacity to the existing approx 1.5 million litres of the three ponds he has built and extended since 1973, and he has done so in ways that bring the water across the land even more effectively than his initial system of wells and canals were able to achieve. The water table has been transformed on his land and even below it, and yet he still doesn?t suffer from water-logging in the main area.

How has this been achieved?

We need biodiversity specialists to document the extraordinary plant, bird, insect, amphibian and other above ground diversity, and to study the below-ground biodiversity of the extraordinary soils he has created over the years, and to work out how that biodiversity works on a productive farm. We need soil scientists to understand how his been able to exploit, manage, and ameliorate the diversity of sands, loams and clays on his farm through a wide array of no-cost techniques of green manure, cattle manure, termitaria soil, dug clay, nitrogen fixation etc, and what it has meant for long term agricultural productivity. How has Mr. Phiri increase soil depth so greatly in the central area? To assess the quantitative impact of all his soil conservation efforts. We need agronomists to work on his cropping systems, pest-control methods, and so forth. We need social scientists to document his extension and teaching methods. To situate his knowledge and cultural values in the sweep of history. And most of all we need to bring these works together in a single integrated way as the master himself conceives them. Today at the University of Zimbabwe I call on us to do that, and according to vaPhiri?s wishes show that Zimbabwean science knows no boundaries. He is opening his laboratory and giving us 40 years of data – everything except that which he has eaten already – and with his big heart is asking us to honor it and share it with the nations.

Review of The Water Harvester - A McKinley

Reviewed by A McKinley

Zvishavane, in southern Zimbabwe, lies in arid yet starkly beautiful terrain where small-scale farmers labour in an often fruitless struggle with fragile soils and erratic rainfall. Yet it was here that Zephaniah Phiri cultivated his unique character and vision to transform a resource-starved subsistence plot into a bountiful farmstead.

In The Water Harvester, Mr Phiri relates the challenges that inspired him to combine traditional agricultural wisdom with the scientific land-management schemes mandated by government. In so doing, at times under great duress, he achieved startlingly better returns. His lifelong dedication to soil nutrition and water conservation generated an innovative land husbandry regime well regarded by agroecologists. These experts are not alone in grasping the significance of Mr Phiri's methods as a basis for coaxing barren ground to yield abundant harvests of grain, vegetables, fruit - and water.

More profoundly, The Water Harvester reveals the family survival strategies of a man of immense courage, perception, patience and generosity. Distilled by Mr Phiri's sage reflection and told in his own words, the story is imbued with his idioms, his rhythms and his experiences. One feels refreshed  - inspired by this champion of human dignity; a man whose endurance enabled him to find one of Zimbabwe's first indigenous NGOs: the Zvishavane Water Project. From here he coveys the power of self-relience throughout the often neglected small-scale farming sector of southern Africa. Far beyond this broad community, The Water Harvester invites readers to celebrate the boundless potential for human fulfilment.

You will never forget the inspiration of Mr Phiri, The Water Harvester, and after reading his story you will never again see the world in quite the same way.