Imagine agriculture without plowing: Foundations for Farming, a Christian nonprofit in Africa, calls it “God’s way” of farming—an unconventional, eco-friendly method of cultivating crops that has been used for decades in more than 40 countries with spectacular success.
Brian Oldreive, founder of Foundations for Farming, came up with the noninvasive idea of planting crops when his own farm in Zimbabwe neared bankruptcy following years of ruinous but common agricultural practices, according to his foundation’s website:
“Being a man of faith, Brian asked God to reveal a way for him to get out of the dire situation he found himself in. God began to reveal to him that in natural creation there is no deep soil inversion [deep tilling] and that a thick ‘blanket’ of fallen leaves and grass covers the surface of the soil.”
After researching how to apply nature’s methods to farming, Oldreive all but replaced mechanical plowing with a simple hoe—a tool with a thin, flat blade on a long handle, with which holes are manually dug in the ground where crops are then planted on beds of mulch.
Oldreive started out with hoe planting on 2 hectares (about 5 acres) of land. Within six years, he introduced the method to his entire farm of 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres), where a minimum amount of tilling was still done.
In subsequent years, flush with profits, he bought neighboring farms and eventually implemented what he calls God’s way of cultivation on as many as 3,500 hectares (nearly 8,650 acres). His foundation claims it has brought “transformation to individuals, communities and nations through faithful and productive use of land.”
In the 1980s, another Zimbabwean farmer named Craig Deall heard about Oldreive’s zero-plowing approach to farming. Deall thought it was absurd—until he saw the results and not only became a convert but went on to join Oldreive’s foundation as CEO.
“Seeing is believing,” he told Religion News Service’s Kathryn Post of Oldreive’s success. “He held the national corn yield record for this country for over 20 years.”
Oldreive’s approach to farming is called “pfumvudza,” a word in Shona, the Zimbabwean language, that means “new beginnings.” The government of Zimbabwe endorsed the practice in 2020, prompting more than 1.6 million small farmers in the country to adopt it, according to the Religion News Service article. Pfumvudza is credited with playing no small role in Zimbabwe’s first agricultural surplus in two decades.
“What we’ve done is not revolutionary,” said Deall. “It’s going back to how things grow naturally in creation. That’s what makes it so exciting, and what makes it easy—small-scale farmers need nothing more than a simple hoe, and they can be the best farmers in the world.”
There is, in fact, quite a bit more involved: Farmers are also taught to complete tasks on time, at a high level of excellence, without waste—and with joy. At the same time, they are encouraged to look after their families, as good Christians, and be responsible about their finances.
“It’s actually not about agriculture—it’s about the heart,” Deall said, adding “Foundations for Farming teaches holistically and uses agriculture as an entry point for the gospel.”
This past September, Deall was honored as the first recipient of the Extraordinary Impact Award of the Christian Economic Forum (CEF), an international organization dedicated to addressing global challenges through collaboration among Christian leaders.
“CEF created this award to honor those who share our vision of seeking God-inspired solutions to the world’s greatest problems. It was Craig Deall whom God inspired to address one of those challenges—food insecurity—in an African nation.”
The award honors Deall’s role in helping revolutionize agriculture in Zimbabwe. “I’m just a small part of the whole organization,” Deall said. “I want to give all recognition to God, and to the ones that don’t get recognized, the ones we teach in the field,” he said. “They are the real beneficiaries.”
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