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Conservation agriculture sweeps across Zambia

9 May 2017

Kabuba Matengu picks fresh greens from her garden for supper every night
Kabuba Matengu picks fresh greens from her garden for supper every night
Farmers inside the Simalaha Community Conservancy in KAZA TFCA have more than enough fresh vegetables to feed their families, and surplus produce is sold. This because conservation agriculture is being practised here, and it’s changing people’s lives dramatically.
Chrispin Muchindu with non-GMO maize seed
Chrispin Muchindu with non-GMO maize seed
Simalaha Conservation Agriculture Manager, Chrispin Muchindu, says the farming practice has lifted villagers out of poverty and provided an alternative livelihood, while the community waits for the wildlife to multiply so it can be harvested for income. The farming is entirely organic, using potholing with manure as fertilizer, and chilli and tobacco are used as effective pesticides. Seeds are all non-GMO and are carefully selected to suit the sandy soils, and are also early maturing varieties that produce within six weeks. Farmers use simple hoes and maybe a ripper pulled by oxen. No tractors are yet used in the project.

'This is a farming system cited to be beneficial to the community using the resources that are around the homestead. Conservation agriculture doesn’t damage the environment and actually improves soil quality,' explains Chrispin. 'It has short and long term benefits for the community, who can grow and harvest their vegetables almost immediately. And it’s sustainable year-round with irrigation.'

What makes conservation agriculture different is that it causes minimal disturbance to the soil, less land is used as yield is high and so less land needs to be cleared. Forested areas are also spared because farming is more viable than burning mopane trees to make charcoal to sell. In all, conservation agriculture provides food security, profit from the sale of surplus produce, and it conserves biodiversity as minimal land is needed for high yields.

Community buy in

Treadle pump in action
Treadle pump in action
When the project started in 2013, Chrispin says very few people joined, 'but we still trained 150 farmers as we intended. In the second year, people flocked in to learn the farming method because they saw the benefits of the project.' While the project trained 450 farmers and gave them starter packs of seed, an additional 447 were trained but sourced their own seed. In future Chrispin hopes to reach 10 000 farmers in conservation agriculture through the use of technology. He will train 100 contact farmers, who will in turn each train 100 more farmers.

From the first round of farmers trained, they all went back to their villages and immediately started farming prolifically, using conservation agriculture methods, intercropping and crop rotation. Maize, sorghum, pearl millet and cassava are the crops that are grown during the rainy season. The backyard garden crops which are grown during the dry season are: onions, tomatoes, brinjal, pumpkin, ground nuts, maize, rape, ochre, sorghum and cow peas. All the gardens are lush and abundant. Chrispin adds that because farmers can irrigate using the treadle pumps given to them by Peace Parks Foundation, they can now grow fresh maize for sale in during the dry winter season – which is sold at far higher prices than dry maize. He says: 'Families produce far more than they can consume from their gardens, so surplus is sold to pay for other things the family needs, including school fees.' The farmers are all smiling.

From poacher to farmer

Jurious Munalula and his son
Jurious Munalula and his son
Jurious Munalula says his son will definitely go to school, because he can pay school fees from vegetable sales. In the last three years, Jurious’s life has done a complete turn around. 'I was a poacher and charcoal burner before I learnt about conservation agriculture introduced by the project,' he says shyly. 'My life was not okay, now it is good. From my starter pack of seeds I now have two hectares of ground nuts, sorghum and maize and was given a water pump for irrigation. I really appreciate what the project has given me and I am inspired by the visits from the two inspiring managers, Crispin and Nyambe (Simalaha Wildlife Manager). I am now a conservation vigilante and give information to the game scouts to support conservation efforts. I was a poacher so I can spot suspicious people easily.' Jurious is using his past to protect his future.

Story and photos by Keri Harvey