IN the recent years, technocrats have been working on ensuring that almost all the farmers adopt conservation farming practices.
A lot of money and time has been invested to first of all come up with the messages and delivering these messages to the targeted farmers. Programmes like the Conservation Agriculture Scaling-Up (CASU) have been crafted and sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Zambian government to ensure adoption of this programme.
As Zambia is in the middle of the rainy season which is synonymous with the agricultural season, it is utterly imperative for farmers to realise that whatever they do has implications on the environment. The world is currently grappling with climate change which has a potential of changing the world from what we know it as and it is the responsibility of everyone to mitigate its effects. More so, farmers should adapt. The answer to this in an agricultural sense is Conservation Agriculture. Not just part conservation agriculture, but in its entirety.
However, farmers’ levels of adopting this important technology have been at a snail’s pace. Many farmers prefer to stick to their old (conventional) ways of agriculture which is affecting their productivity negatively. Government extension workers and Non-government organisations have traversed the length and breadth of the country to ensure this change.
For example, in Sesheke District of Western Province, the CASU programme under the Ministry of Agriculture and the Wild Wide Fund have been promoting Conservation farming but the community is still lagging behind in terms of adoption. Finding a farmer practicing some aspects of Conservation Agriculture without practising all its aspects is a common sight.
Conservation farming emphasises on crop cover, minimum tillage and crop rotation. It also encourages farmers to do agroforestry through the planting of trees with particular emphasis on planting the Musangu tree which is also known scientifically as Faidhebia Albida. The 2016/2017 farming season Sesheke District agricultural office distributed over a thousand Musangu seedlings to farmers across the district in order to encourage them and show them the benefits of this revered plant. It is expected that within three to four years, this plant will start giving the beneficiary farmers the results and that they will expand the number of their Musangu trees
Minimum tillage entails that farmers have to use basins and/or a ripper to till their land. Despite making basins seeming to be a toll task that requires a lot of labour if one has an ambitious field. In the long run, the amount of labour that is saved is a lot because this practice is particular on individual basins rather than the parts of the field not planted. Despite this, many farmers taking up basin making just do it on a small area because they believe it’s labour intensive.
Many consider a Magoye ripper to be a more appropriate implement that a small scale farmer can use to cover a larger area for increased production. A ripper ensures that only the part where seeds would be planted is the only part where soil is disturbed. The Magoye ripper ensures that Soil disturbance is reduced from hundred percent in Conventional Agriculture to only Ten percent. This entails among other reasons, the micro soil organisms not to be disturbed which is the case when conventional farming is employed.
The Magoye ripper should be on the budget of all farmers for them to reap the benefits of climate adaptation in the face of poor rainfall distribution and low rainfall that has been recorded in the country this farming season. The Farmer Input Support Programme which has been rolled out across the country allows for farmers to choose agricultural inputs of their choice, this allows vulnerable but viable farmers to collect this important implement and finally get it off their ‘bucket list’.
Furthermore, crop rotation is very necessary as well if farmers are to be considered as practising conservation agriculture in its entirety. Crop rotation is the planting of a different crops on the same piece of land in various seasons. Farmers practicing conservation agriculture are able to plant various crop types divided on the same piece of land. They can plant legumes and cereals while rotating them the following farming season. They can also interplant different kinds of crops. Legumes are very important in conservation agriculture because they fix nitrogen back to the soil. This is necessary to maintain the quality of soil on which a farmer depends on for their livelihood.
Livestock is also an important aspect of the conservation agriculture practice especially for small holder farmers. Livestock provides the much needed manure to bring back soil fertility and put back the micro-organisms that were lost in the fields. Farmers in this aspect are encouraged to take excellent care of their livestock because they are an invaluable component of their survival in these changing times. The Manure in this system of Agriculture is placed only in the ripped lines as opposed to spreading it all over the field in Conventional Agriculture.
It is also important to remind farmers that herbicides are recommended if they are to practice Conservation Agriculture in its entirety. Herbicides ensure that the soil in between rolls remains undisturbed by conventional practices of weeding. Every year, it is expected that farmers will till only in the lines they tilled the previous year. In this period of weeding, this reminder is paramount to all farmers practicing Conservation Agriculture. There are a wide range of Herbicides on the market which among them are Paraquat and Glyphoset. These herbicides should be mixed with water in right quantities and must be sprayed in the fields while wearing proper gear. The gear includes a musk, gloves, gum boots and thick clothing.
Leaving crop cover of at least thirty percent after harvest is another principle that many farmers are still struggling to implement. This crop cover is necessary for soil nutrients not to be washed away from the field when the rains come. The soil micro-organisms also feed on the crop cover which in turn gets decomposed to create natural manure. Organic matter in the soil improves infiltration rate and water retention. This is because they create enough airspaces in the soil. Indeed, farmers who burn or remove all the crop residue after harvest will see the difference between their fields and that of their neighbours who leave sufficient crop cover in their fields after harvest. In many areas of the country where smallholder farmers are, communal grazing and wild fires affect the crop residual retention. However, farmers should try to find means in which they can increase the retention. This can be achieved through fencing with natural fences such as Jatropha or the actual building off fences.
In summary, every human being in the world requires a farmer at least three times a day. Therefore, if the human species is to survive, improved technologies in agriculture have to be adopted and adopting such practices like Conservation Agriculture should be done in its entirety if wide spread positive results in productivity are to be realised. More work in convincing farmers should be implemented especially in Zone one of the ecological map of the country which generally receive less amount of rainfall. NAIS