Spreading the word on conservation agriculture

Spreading the word on conservation agriculture

08/05/2013

In southern Zambia, the village of Sikaunzwe is abuzz with activity for the 2012/13 agricultural season. For many families in this farming community, growing crops – from maize to fruits to legumes – provides them with their primary source of food and income. This also means a lot rides on the upcoming harvest and some farmers are willing to move away from conventional farming to try new methods to increase their yields.

Former police officer Albeus Mabuku, a Sikaunzwe resident, takes farming seriously; while most small-scale farmers in his area are still planting, Mr Mabuku’s maize crop has shot up and stand relatively high for the beginning of the planting season. In fact, Albeus Mabuku’s half-hectare plot next to his home has caught the eye of many of his neighbours, even Kauwo Grey, a Sikaunzwe Agriculture Officer from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.

Thanks to funding by the European Union Food Facility (EUFF), Mr Kauwo Grey, has been working closely with a number of vulnerable farmers in Sikaunzwe who have been selected as lead farmers, helping them increase their yields through adopting conservation agriculture (CA) key principles and helping them help others (up to 15 neighbouring farmers per lead farmer) to do the same. Following routine field visits, Mr Grey found that it wasn’t just lead farmers and other beneficiaries of the EUFF-funded Farmer Input Support Response Initiative (FISRI) that were adopting CA, but also a number of non-beneficiary farmers, like Albeus Mabuku, were spontaneously adopting as well.

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For Albeus Mabuku, CA was all that participants in his farmer group could talk about, with some members applying CA methods for the second consecutive year in a row. After visiting and seeing improvements in members’ fields, Mr Mabuku was eager to put CA to the test. So eager, in fact, he constructed his own handheld ripper. With this tool, he began ripping his land, while his wife planted. As the maize crop emerged, he then applied mulch, a key CA principle, for the first time. Albeus Mabuku liked applying mulch because it helped ward away unwanted weeds – a major concern for his farm in past seasons.

Seeing noticeable benefits to CA on his own farm, Mr Mabuku didn’t stop there; he then ripped three-fourths of another plot of land he owned further down the road to cultivate more maize, along with other crops, such as groundnut. As this plot of land is larger (about 1.5 hectares), weeding might be a laboursome task so he waits for a new supply of herbicides from his children. With all the early preparation Albeus Mabuku has done, he believes that using CA techniques “is better” than conventional farming, and although his crops have not fully matured, Mr Mabuku is confident his yields will improve this harvesting season. He proudly believes that he “will continue with this type of method” for agricultural seasons to come.