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CFU-Promoting Smart Agriculture in Zambia

BY VICTOR CHABINGA

There are many visible effects of climate change in Zambia. It has had many impacts on the health and agricultural sectors as well as the economy of Zambia. Floods have not only destroyed houses and destroyed crops; the emergencies have also resulted in the spread of water-borne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, and dysentery. Droughts and irregular rain patterns have caused crop failure and have largely reduced the food security of the country. The fact that Zambia is already facing the impacts of climate change cannot be denied and its effects can be seen all over the country. However, most of the population is uninformed about this matter. Many people do not know how they are contributing to climate change or how they can do something about it. That is exactly what the government in Zambia is trying to tackle.  The strategy is for the different government departments, such as the Ministry of Agriculture to sensitize their respective communities on climate change and be a channel through which various environmental projects can be undertaken.

Climate Change in Zambia as already stated has negatively impacted the Zambian agricultural sector vis-à-vis an increase in the incidence of hunger due to destruction of crops, reduction in cultivatable land and increased soil erosion.

On an economic outlook, the Central Statistical Office (CSO) according to a survey conducted ‘Post Harvest Survey’ reviewed that the production of staple crops which include maize, millet, sorghum and rice has been dropping steadily in recent times.

This was mainly due to the droughts and in some cases floods, that where experienced in the country. What this means to-date is that if such an occurrence was to happen, we are likely to face even more pressure on our economy.

Farming is a significant contributor to climate change, but it’s also affected by negative effects such as the two main greenhouse gasses, Methane and Nitrous oxide, which are released in high amounts during crop and animal production.

Now in aiming to reduce these greenhouse gasses, farmers have to adopt farming practices that will not harm nature or negatively affect climate.

One of these farming practices is Conservation agriculture. This is an approach which includes a set of practices which conserve the soil, water, soil moisture, enhance fertilizer and seed use and in turn saving money and time.

When it comes to adaptation measures in the agricultural sector since Climate Change is already running its course, the Zambian government is now encouraging farmers to find means of improving sustainable agricultural practices.

Gracing a Conservation Farming Unit (CFU) Field Day in Mpongwe, Acting Mpongwe DC, Moses Banda emphasized that farmers should indeed adopt conservation agriculture in order to mitigate the effects of climate change and enhance food security in the country.

Conservation farming is being adopted as a means to which as a nation, Zambia can combat Climate Change.

The Conservation Farming Unit (CFU) has been spearheading the concept of Conservation Agriculture in Zambia since 1996 but it upscaled its activities in 2006.

“CFU has been operating at a large scale since 2006, in Zambia the CFU is currently present in 45 districts”explains CFU Research Manager, Gibson Simusokwe.

In Zambia the CFU network is spread across 6 regional offices, 100 dedicated Field Staff and a cohort of 2,880 Lead Farmers.

CFU mainly concentrates on providing the extension training service – spread through the Lead Farmer system. These Lead Farmers (who are well trained by CFU Field Officers) train anyone in their communities who wants to acquire the knowledge on CF. There are no incentives given – people come because they want to learn the technology. For the last 10 years, the CFU has rolled this training out to over 150,000 farmers a year. Last year it trained over 260,000.

In the last 2 years, over 54% of the farmers that were trained went on to adopt CA practices . Those farmers who adopted went on to increase their yield by an average of 88% above those who did not.  It is estimated that each farmer who benefits from CFU training increases their production value by $187 per hectare/year.  Nearly 50% of the farmers that CFU trains are women.

Ruth Nyirongo,a beneficiary farmer from Kasavasa area of Kabwe explained in an interview with the National agricultural Information services (NAIS),that the concept of Conservation Agriculture has helped to increase her crop yield and her family income.

“CFU also concentrates on making sure that farmers are able to source the tools and equipment that they need to successfully adopt Conservation Farming, “adds Cephas Mkandawire,Mechanisation Manager at CFU. This means working with the private sector to ensure that the supply of CF tools and inputs is available and that the tools on the market are the optimal ones for the job.

Mkandawire also told NAIS that CFU also works to promote the uptake of Tillage Service Provision. CFU recognizes that not everyone has the money to own oxen or tractors with which to rip their land. However because ripping is cheaper and faster than ploughing and gets better results, and enables a farmer to cover a larger area of land than they would manage with hoes alone, it is desirable. By facilitating the uptake of Loans to acquire tractors, and by helping those big farmers who have bought tractors to manage their ripping business, and by helping them connect with the farmers who need their services, the CFU is making sure that ripping services become more common and an option for more and more farmers.

The central tenets of Conservation Farming (CF) or Conservation Agriculture (CA) are the following:

  1. Minimum disturbance of the soils. Instead of over-all digging, ridging or ploughing, a farmer instead disturbs the soil only where he needs to place the seeds and inputs. Minimum Tillage is the central and non-negotiable difference between CF and conventional farming. By disturbing the soil less, the soil profile and health is protected for longer.
  2. Retention of Residues. CF advocates for leaving crop residues in situ after harvest, and not burning or removing them. This plant matter adds to the organic carbon content of the soil, retards top soil erosion and helps to reduce water loss through evaporation. 3. Crop Rotation: Rotating crops breaks up pest and disease cycles and when legumes are incorporated (as prioritized), helps fix valuable nitrogen in the soil for the next crop. Whilst not a part of the CF rationale, those farmers who rotate and do not depend solely on crops such as maize manage to spread their risk and withstand market and environmental shocks better.

Although most of the farmers that the CFU works with are small scale, Minimum Tillage and CF can be performed by farmers across the spectrum. CF works for Hoe farmers , who dig ‘basins’  and for farmers who have access to oxen or tractors, who use them to ‘rip’ lines in the soil. In being able to train farmers on both tillage approaches, CFU is able to attract and accommodate farmers of different sizes or resources, and to be able to help farmers transition across as their options increase.

One of the important facets of CF is that it enables all the land preparation to be performed in the dry season, starting straight after the last harvest. This means that farmers who face labour challenges or struggle to access traditional ploughing services in good time can do their land preparation over several months and be in control when the first rains come. By being able to harvest the all-important first planting rains, the CF farmer avoids much of crop losses that are experienced by farmers who plant late.

When farmers practice CF they find that their costs of land preparation (in terms of time, or tillage hire) go down, as do their input costs, as their inputs are carefully measured into the basins or rip lines (where the seeds go and roots develop) rather than scattered. On average their yields per hectare go up, as do their total amounts produced – so they have spent less money to grow a bigger harvest, and their total income increases – from the first year onwards. As CF also works well withstanding droughts (or too much rain) it also means that farmers who practice CF are better able to survive and prosper despite the increasingly varied climatic conditions that we are facing, as we are seeing this year. CF farmer’s livelihoods are statistically more protected than conventional farmers, even when times are tough.

A conservation agriculture field in Mpongwe, showcasing Soybeans and Maize crop. Picture by Patrick Mangani (NAIS).

The CFU in its quest to reach out to as many small-scale farmers as possible, collaborates with the Ministry of Agriculture Extension Officers in various areas of the Country.

Charity Sakala, an Extension Officer from the Ministry of Agriculture in Mpongwe explained that the CFU and the Ministry have been working together in training farmers about the concept of Conservation Farming and the response has been good.

Change has always been a difficult phenomenon to achieve, and this has been true with conservation farming. Most farmers in the past have been skeptical about changing from the (traditional)conventional practices to conservation agriculture.

“The trend is now changing as many small-scale farmers are now appreciating the importance of smart agriculture and are now adopting conservation farming,”CFU Extension officer in Mpongwe ,Ngenda Mundia testifies.

A conventional field hit by draught in Kasavasa area of Kabwe.Picture by Patrick Mangani (NAIS).

 

It is no longer a fallacy to note that climate change has continued to cause havoc in the agriculture sector and beyond. It is in this light that smart Agriculture should continue to be entrenched in the minds of our farmers.

The CFU continues to play the role of a catalyst of change as it trains farmers on Conservation Agriculture practices. VC/LSK/NAIS/ENDS.

 

 

 

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