As a Western Canadian grain farmer, it was a privilege to attend the Kapiri Mposhi Cons-ervation Farming Field Day in Zambia on March 3, 2009. On our farm near Edmonton, Alta., we practised some forms of conservation farming, as do most other grain farmers. While in Zambia, we work with some farm cooperatives in the Mpongwe and Kitwe areas, and we were very interested to learn how conservation farming could be adopted for small-scale farmers.
Several hundred farmers, both men and women, came to learn about a way of farming that would conserve their land while increasing yields and thus income. As a female farmer myself, I was excited the field day was on the farm of a woman, Agnes Ndililwa.
The event was organized by the Conservation Farming Unit of the Zambian National Farmers Union, together with the Seed Farmers Association of Kapiri Mposhi. It is one of many such field days being organized all across Zambia to encourage farmers to adopt conservation farming (CF) practices.
Traditional ways of farming — continual cropping with corn, burning stubble, plowing the soils, late planting and weeding, with little input of any kind of fertilizer — deplete the fragile tropical soils. Degradation of the soil not only means an ecological loss, but a substantial economical loss — especially a loss of food security.
Food security drives the Zambian government to promote CF practices, especially for small-scale farmers. The Norwegian Government has supported them in this cause since 1996. GART (Golden Valley Research Trust) in Chisamba Valley has a large area dedicated to CF research plots which I would highly recommend everyone to visit.
Mrs. Ndililwa’s farm is living proof that the CF techniques work. She has now practised CF methods for three years. She began in 2006 with one small plot. The second year she expanded to 0.75 hectares, and now has 1.75 hectares in corn, 0.25 hectares in soybeans, 0.25 in groundnuts, and 0.25 in sweet potatoes. She also grows some velvet beans and sun hemp for green manure. (In total, that’s less than 10 acres.)
Her yields have increased substantially since adopting CF methods, she tells me. She now expects to receive 50 to 60 bags of corn (50 kg each) from each 10 kg bag of seed. Before she was only getting 10 to 12 bags. The crops all look wonderful. Of course, the rains this season have been plentiful without being devastating.
DIRECT SEEDER FOR SMALL SCALE FARMS
Organizers of the Field Day brought out a Fitarelli planter. This machine can be drawn by a pair of oxen, or four men, the demonstrators told us. It can apply seed and fertilizer at the same time, and has the capability to seed directly into a field, without first removing the grass or plowing. The grass is then sprayed down with a total herbicide. This does two things: It makes work much easier, and also keeps the ground covered, so that rains don’t wash it out or the sun bake it.
The Fitarelli planter is really a simplified version of the no-till seed drills we use in Canada. One woman commented that it is something a cooperative could buy together, or one person could buy it and rent their services out to others. So the wheels were definitely turning in people’s heads!
“Imagine! We have been wast-
Ndililwa’s yields have increased substantially since adopting CF methods, she tells me. She now expects to receive 50 to 60 bags of corn (50 kg each) from each 10 kg bag of seed. Before she was only getting 10 to 12 bags.
ing our time, our money, and our energy!” These were some of the exclamations of the women I accompanied through the field day. They were referring to the
needless energy expounded by plowing, often by hand, to the wasteful practise of burning, and of money lost to poor practices. They were so excited to learn there was a better, more efficient way that they could themselves implement.
It is this excitement that the field day was meant to foster. There was no actual training given that day. Meredith Gaffney, who works at the Lusaka Conservation Farming Unit office, told me the aim of the field day was to show farmers
what could be done.
Ms. Gaffney told me that interested parties could ask for training in the CF methods. Already it is arranged that someone will come to Kitwe to meet with interested farmers. They will bring the special hoes to for preparing the soil the CF way. I hope they have enough hoes — the order is large!
Eva Sanderson organized our bus load of 36 farmers from Kitwe. She is so happy to see how the field day excited and motivated this group. There are some very good farmers among them, so I have no doubt she is right.
The day was a success for our group and for my husband and myself. We are greatly encouraged to see that we preach something that is already being practised with success. If Mrs. Ndililwa can do it, others can follow. She would second that, I am sure.
For more information on conservation farming practices in Zambia, visit www.conservationagriculture.net.
Marianne Stamm is a freelance farm writer from Jarvie, Alta. Email her at [email protected]