La resiliencia
FAO is working with partners in Southern Africa to boost the adoption of conservation agriculture. ©Conservation Farming Unit

Sowing the seeds of resilience

17/07/2020

FAO is working with partners in Southern Africa to boost the adoption of conservation agriculture 

As part of the inaugural African city food month campaign, and in line with one of this week’s theme’s – resilience – we took the chance to speak to Collins Nkatiko, CEO of the Conservation Farming Unit (CFU) based in Zambia. 

The CFU is working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other partners in Southern Africa to help farmers increase their productivity and build resilience to climate change. In particular, the project Strengthening Coordination, Scaling Up and Governance of Conservation Agriculture in Southern Africa (SUCASA) is focused on reinforcing partnerships in the region – between multiple agencies, NGOs, governments, international research organisations and the private sector – to promote the adoption of Conservation Agriculture (CA) and ultimately help farmers become more resilient. 

FAO also works in Zambia on projects to connect farmers with CFU-supported tillage service providers.

What are the challenges faced by communities in Southern Africa in achieving food security and developing sustainable livelihoods?

As of last year, 42 million people in the region were food insecure and there are numerous reasons for this. When it comes to farmers, the increasing prevalence and unpredictability of weather events as a result of climate change is certainly a major factor. On top of this, many farmers lack up to date knowledge of farming techniques and the basic business and financial skills to maintain sustainable production. At the same time, extension services are either few or limited.

This all means that many farmers tend to have low economies of scale and, as a result, struggle to provide for their families.

How is the CFU helping farmers respond to these challenges?

The CFU provides training in Conservation Agriculture (CA) to farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa to help them remain economically productive in spite of climate change.

We do this by sticking to our core belief that quality and practical extension training on CA should be repeated and reinforced by a network of experienced trainers and farmers. 

We also have a new initiative: our e-extension services platform, which is accessible though mobile phones. By dialling in to the platform, farmers are able to listen to training material on a number of topics; this is particularly useful for those who lack access to training through traditional means.

How does the adoption of CA practices support sustainable food systems?

Empirical evidence shows that smallholder farmers who adopt CA practices, which aim to minimise soil disturbance, in combination with other good agricultural practices, attain greater yields per hectare when compared with farmers that adopt conventional farming practices. As a result, households that adopt CA practices often have higher levels of food security and are better able to survive poor harvests or extreme weather events, in particular droughts.

We saw this during the 2018/2019 drought in Zambia: farmers that carried out CA had better yields than those that did not. Subsequently, these farmers had more profitable harvests and were better placed to procure inputs for the following year. 

What is needed for CA to be scaled up in the region?

First and foremost, we need aligned messaging to raise awareness of how CA can transform production systems and lives. 

It is crucial that, as partners, we share best practices to bring about a change in mind-set, not only among farmers, but also among key decision makers; such an approach will avoid a duplication of efforts. In fact, this is something we’re already working on through the SUCASA project in collaboration with FAO and other partners.

Greater investment is also important, as are long-term programmes that promote CA, through which we must ensure that farmers are linked with private sector buyers and suppliers, while also prioritising crop aggregation and third-party service provision.

How can CA adoption be of use to farmers in an urban setting?

On small plots in semi-urban settings, minimum-tillage CA has been shown to be effective in the farming of vegetables and high value crops. Urban agriculture by nature is land constrained, but we have seen small areas of land successfully farmed using CA in high-density areas in Kenya, Malawi and Uganda. The COVID 19 pandemic and its disruptive effect on the food supply chain has underlined the importance of resilient food systems. 

This week African City Food Month will turn its attention to Nourishing our cities: sign up here to participate in the webinar

Watch farmers in Zambia explain how Conservation Agriculture has helped them

 

 

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