By MATHEWS NYIRENDA
POOR cultivating methods and practices among small-scale farmers has resulted in low production and productivity. One type of farming practice is the Chitemene system popularly known as The slash and burn farming system.
The Chitemene farming system leaves not only a degraded large area of deforestation but also unfertile soils after being used for a few years.
The Chitemene farming system led smallholder farmers to abandon the exhausted unfertile lands after being used for about 4-5 years for another.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the left area takes about approximately 20-30 years for it to be revived back to life. But with the rapid population growth, opportunities to shift from one farming land to another have become seemingly impossible.
In Kasama District in Northern province, the threats are huge as effects of the Chitemene farming system are still being felt as smallholder farmers are forced to maintain the degraded fields.
This burden has left smallholder farmers eager to learn ways on how to intensify and sustain their farming practices to improve soil fertility.
Agricultural Committee Chairperson for Ngoli Agricultural Camp in Kasama District, Joseph Mulenga, observes that farmers lack knowledge on how to remain productive.
Mr Mulenga explained during a recent sensitisation meeting of the SIFAZ Project that there is low production of some crops in his area because smallholder farmers do not understand the basics about enhanced agricultural technologies.
“Smallholder farmers have not only enough farmland, but also the zeal to have good harvest just like any other farmer, but lack knowledge on issues ranging from planting techniques, spacing, land preparation and pesticides to use at a particular stage,” Mr Mulenga explained.
While endorsing the Sustainable Intensification of Smallholder Farming Systems (SIFAZ) project on behalf of his fellow farmers in his area, which has partnered with Government through the Ministry of Agriculture in partnership with FAO and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CYMMIT) meant to promote smart agriculture through the Sustainable Intensification of Smallholder Farming Systems (SIFAZ). The Project aims at addressing challenges of low agricultural production and productivity caused by climate change.
The SIFAZ Project is targeting to improve the different farming systems in the three ecological zones of the country which are all threatened by climatic hazards.
Mr Mulenga urged project implementers to be strategic to ensure that most smallholder farmers understand and adopt the intensified sustainable farming practices.
He further said that Sustainable Intensified Practices (SIPs) will help smallholder farmers become resistant to harsh climatic conditions that are unpredictable and protect their soils from becoming unfertile.
However, low production can not only be attributed to the impact of climate change, as Marjory Musonda, a smallholder farmer in Chanda Mukulu Agricultural Camp, narrates that she has been cultivating on the same area for a number of years with farming practices that she believes were good but records low production levels.
Ms Musonda said she has been continuously cultivating maize on the same land and has been practising what is known as “Fundikila” where weeds are used for manure by preparing fields in the early months of the year before the soils lose their moisture. The weeds are buried in ridges which are later undone when farmers are ready to plant before the onset of the rains in November.
Ms Musonda further welcomed the farming practices being promoted by SIFAZ which will intensify the local farming systems like Chitemene and Fundikila and increase the production and productivity of smallholder farmers.
She admitted that most farming lands cannot support crops to their full yield potential for a small-scale farmer to thrive. Mrs Musonda further called experts in the Ministry of Agriculture to work closely with the farmers and solve these issues.
Kasama District Senior Agricultural Officer, Aaron Mutale, explained that ‘Fundikila’ is a type of alley cropping and has the potential to improve soil fertility especially in Kasama District where heavy rainfall washes away vital soil nutrients leaving it acidic. But there is still a gap in the practice no wonder Marjory Musonda experiences low yields.
Mr Mutale emphasized that smallholder farmers still need to intensify their farming practices which the SIFAZ project will address in the four years period of its implementation.
He observes that smallholder farmers practice ‘Fundikila’ from time immemorial which depends on weeds that do not provide certain soil nutrients needed for their crops, hence the usage of chemical fertilizers which have also become expensive for smallholder farmers.
He said that for smallholder farmers to be productive, there is a need to change their mindset from cultivating on a large field for higher yields to farming on a small piece of land and still have adorable high produce.
In the same vein, Kasama District Crops Husbandry Officer, Amukena Mukololo, narrated to farmers that farming as a business encompasses management of available resources i.e. time, labour and inputs to sustainably increase profits of low-income smallholder farmers. ‘Fundikila’ is a conservation farming practice as mentioned earlier needs to be intensified to show positive results at least in a short period of time.
He said intensified farming systems being introduced are using plants (including green legumes) that are intercropped to provide green manure which can be used to improve the results under the Fundikila farming system and reduce the usage of chemical fertilizer.
The SIFAZ Project has already implemented trails which were under the Adaptive bio-physical and socio-economic research in Kasama District in two Agricultural Camps, namely; Musa and Kapanda.
The trails performed in partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) were meant to find suitable sustainable farming methods to be promoted beginning this year.
Mr Amukena further reviewed that sustainable intensified farming systems have already been proposed and include practices such as dibble stick planting, ripping, zero tillage or direct seeding and permanent ridges.
He explained that the small ridges that smallholder farmers make get washed away easily especially due to heavy rainfall but permanent ridges will hold the soil together with vital nutrients for a long time and hence, will save on labour as well as time.
“Our smallholder farmers should start treasuring soils first by ensuring that fertility is sustained through practicing an intensified farming system which will guarantee higher production levels but also secure soil fertility over the years,” he exclaimed.
Thus, soil fertility management for higher production should be a priority for smallholder farmers. Soil fertility in this sense is supporting the soil to have the capacity to receive, store, and transmit energy to allow the growth of any type of plant.
Mr Amukena narrated that apart from the two traditional farming practices in the Bemba land, the long “recommended use” of fertilizers, pesticides, and other synthetic chemicals to address problems in agricultural production has so far been disturbing the life cycle of various organisms in the soil, leading to poor soil health and resistance in insects, diseases, and weeds, a challenge that the project is addressing.
He concluded saying that a balance of physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil are of prime importance for a smallholder farmer to attain high production.
It is with great hope that our smallholder farmers appreciate this knowledge, and speed up their production levels. –NAIS
By MATHEWS NYIRENDA