By NICHOLAS MWALE
“WE have been farming for a long time but our yields have always been low,” a small-scale farmer, Daniel Mutale of Luwingu District in Northern Province has bemoaned.
Mr Mutale of Mucheleka agricultural camp in the outskirts of Mbala, about 20 kilometers east of the district pointed out that farming had not been so profitable to him and many farmers in his area because they just had been producing enough for household consumption.
He grows Beans, Cassava, Groundnuts and Maize.
“Previously, we used to make very big ridges where we used to plant our crops but the yields were not high,” he recalled.
“Now we have been taught by the Camp Extension Officer that our production because the big ridges are take up a lot space and are not sustainable.”
He is a lead farmer under the Sustainable Intensification of Smallholder Farming Systems in Zambia (SIFAZ) project being implemented in the district.
SIFAZ is a €12 Million Euros project, which is funded by the European Union (EU), and being implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the Ministry of Agriculture and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT).
The five-year SIFAZ project, which is running from 2019 to 2024, is aimed at addressing the challenges facing the agriculture sector in Zambia, the crops sub-sector in particular, mainly related to low productivity impelled by a number of factors.
The low and declining productivity among smallholder farmers in Zambia is reportedly propelled by factors that include unsustainable farming practices, decreasing soil fertility and land degradation, as well as adverse climatic changes.
The SIFAZ is project is championing the adoption of sustainable intensification practices by small-scale.
The project is being implemented in 27 districts of Zambia selected from five provinces, namely; Southern, Western, Northern Copperbelt and Eastern, representing all the agro-ecological zones.
With the goal to improve sustainable and climate smart crop production and management practices with a gender sensitive approach, SIFAZ is targeting to benefit a total of 16,000 smallholder farmers, out of who 8,800 should be men and 7,200 women.
After undergoing training in some good farming practices, Mr Mutale has changed from making big ridges to small permanent ridges where he is able to maximize yields on a small portion of land.
A visit to his farm revealed that Mr Mutale has also adopted intercropping as evidenced in his one lima field where he has made small permanent ridges in which he has intercropped Cassava with Mbereshi Beans.
“When we intercrop beans with cassava, the beans return soil fertility for cassava to grow very well,” he explained.
“As a lead farmer, I have a demo as required by the camp extension officer, and I work with my follower farmers to implement what the camp officer teaches us” Mr Mutale said.
Mr Mutale said lead farmers encourage follower farmers to change the old ways of farming and follow the methods which are being taught in order to increase crop yields.
“I have nine (9) follower farmers and I am happy to see that what we do in the demo plots is what we are all able to do in our respective fields. Us as lead farmers, we are told to monitor our follower farmers to ensure that they do what we are told,” he said.
Mr Mutale explained that the SIFAZ project was teaching farmers to maintain the small permanent ridges as making new ones disturbed the soil fertility.
Lillian Shambuluma is another small-scale farmer of Mukula village in Mucheleka Agricultural Camp who has adopted sustainable intensification practices.
She practices permanent ridges and crop rotation trough which her crop productivity has improved in just two years of adopting the techniques.
Ms Shambuluma is involved in the production of Soybeans, Maize, Groundnuts, Fingermillets and cassava.
“I used to produce 15 bags of maize in one Lima but now am producing of 30 bags,” Ms Shambuluma testified.
She hopes this year I will get even better yields than last year.
Lucky Kanenga, is the Camp Extension Officer Mucheleka Agricultural Camp who, through the project, has made sure that farmers adopt the sustainable intensification practices and the teachings in their fields.
“Farmers have been wasting a lot of time in farming but harvesting less, and this is because of the old farming methods,” Mr Kanenga observed.
In his agricultural camp, Mr Kanenga explained that farmers have welcomed the sustainable intensification practices that SIFAZ was promoting.
He mentioned making permanent ridges, crop rotation, mulching as well as pest and disease management practices as some of the techniques being rolled out in the area.
Agriculture is the main stay of Luwingu, and is the main economic activity for the district.
Most small-scale farmers in the district are into production of Maize, Beans, Cassava, groundnuts and many other crops.
In fact, Luwingu is reportedly one of the main sources beans supplied in some major markets such as Chisokone in Kitwe District on the Copperbelt Province market and Soweto market in Lusaka usually traders go to buy in Luwingu.
It is one of the districts in Northern Province that produce a lot beans besides Senga Hill, Mambala and Mpulungu.
In Luwingu, SIFAZ is targeting a total of 440 small-scale farmers in two agricultural camps, namely; Mucheleka and Shimumbi.
District Agricultural Coordinator, Aswell Lubungo explained that the project is targeting 220 farmers per camp out of whom 20 are lead farmers with 9 follower farmers each.
“Under SIFAZ, we are looking at activities such as conservation agriculture, under conservation farming, we are encouraging farmers to practice measures such as crop rotation where you have to rotate the crops. For example, where you had grown maize, the next season you can grow groundnuts which are a legume crop so that there is an improvement of the soil fertility. We are also encouraging farmers to practice what we are calling intercropping,” Mr Lubungo explained.
He said under intercropping, farmers are being encouraged to mix the leguminous crops and field crops.
Mr Lubungo said for example maize which is the staple crop and beans that is overgrown in Luwingu.
“If there is no nitrogen in the soil, then the leguminous crops will fix the nitrogen,” disclosed Mr Lubungo.
Mr Lubungo explained that the district, through the project was also carrying out market data collection so as to know the players in the market in Luwingu in terms of agriculture.
Luwingu is a rural district and most of the farmers are poor resource farmers.
He said training had also been conducted to capacity build farmers so that they could be independent and be able to run their farming as a business.
He mentioned the low adoption rate of sustainable intensification practices by farmers as the main challenge the SIFAZ project was facing.
Mr Lubungo however said his office would persevere in promoting the technologies and providing the extension services with the hope that time would come for farmers start realizing the profits of the technologies. -NAIS