Conservation agriculture way to go

MINISTER of Agriculture Michael Katambo (right) hands over seed to Chief Kalomo of Chikankata at a field day in Magoye recently . PICTRURE: TRYNESS TEMBO

IN THE wake of the global climate change expected to worsen in the next 10 to 20 years, Zambian farmers need to consider adopting best agricultural practices that can sustain food security.
Across Africa, tens of millions of poor families depend on soil and rainfall to provide the basic necessity of life – food.
Farmers need to consider conservation agriculture which has proven potential to improve crop yields while improving the long-term environmental and financial sustainability of farming.
On average, a small-scale farmer practicing conservational farming is able to harvest about 5.4 tonnes of maize per hectare compared to 2.8 tonnes for one using conventional farming while commercial farmers can produce up to 18 tonnes per hectare.
Conservation agriculture is a set of soil management practices that minimise the disruption of the soil structure, composition and natural bio-diversity hence adopting the practice will result in one taking advantage of the natural ecological process by conserving moisture, enhance soil fertility and improve the soil structure among other benefits.
Since 1995, conservational practice has been in the country and about 300,000 farmers have now adopted it out of the total of 1.5 million farmers in the country.
To promote the practice, Government through the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock has launched the second national agriculture policy.
The document is intended to provide stakeholders in the agriculture sector with a framework for developing the industry in the country.
Ministry of Agriculture Michael Katambo revealed that one of the thrust areas of the second national agricultural policy is to promote research on new varieties in view of changing climatic conditions.
Mr Katambo notes that the rural communities lack the capacity to respond and adapt to changing climatic conditions hence the need for players in the sector to invest in research and development of climate-resilient varieties.
“There are indications that new risks from climate change are expected to pose serious threats in all agriculture sectors,” he said.
Conservation farming has been continuously promoted by the Conservation Farming Unit (CFU) of the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) since 1996.
Agricultural experts note that while food needs are growing the resources are not as an industry, there is need for players to find smarter ways to help society to thrive.
Pioneer Dupont country representative Samson Nyendwa advisesd farmers to consider adopting the practice as it is more beneficial and result in them being more food secure.
Mr Nyendwa believes that food is the most basic need and engine for economic development of any country.
“We need to revitalise the agriculture sector and see how we farm as well as find solutions to the changing world. Farmers are the first to face an ever changing landscape while consistently striving for yields, resilient and desirability,” he adds.
As seed producers, they also need to find solutions to challenges faced by farmers by coming up with varieties that will stand the effects of climate change.
It is also important for institutions such as scientific community, central government, policy makers and regulatory bodies to collaborate because they play an integral role as an enabler of global agriculture success.
Mr Nyendwa understands that farmers require suitable means that will increase their performance through products that will control weed, pests and seed that is resistant to diseases among others.
The good news that comes with conservational farming is that when you ask any of the many thousands of farmers who have adopted the practice, they are more food secure, they have surpluses’ to sell, can avoid labour peaks, reduce costs and produce good crops even in the driest seasons.
Richard Nakeeye, a farmer from Magoye who is practicing conservation farming feels that Government still needs to partner with the private sector to help farmers’ access machinery for their operations.
But there several farmers that want to join the practice but have a challenge with access to equipment to use.
Mr Nakeeye also urged Government to utilise the media to preach about various activities in the agriculture sector as it borders on the growth of the economy.
Mr Nakeeye believes that if ideas are shared through the media more farmers will be reached and in turn boost their productivity as well as raise their household income levels.
“I would like to urge my follow farmers to adopt conservation farming practice in the 2018/19 farming season as a way of cushioning the effects of climate change,” he said.
The agriculture sector continues to be the backbone of Zambia’s economy and the main source of livelihood for the majority of the people in rural areas.
Another farmer from Magoye, Monde Choolwe, said using conventional methods he would plough his land but found his crops were overwhelmed by weeds the plants were small and stunted.
Therefore, he would get poor yields not just from maize but other crops such as soyabean, groundnuts and black sun hemp.
“I was only ploughing and was getting lower yields because when you plough the grass comes up faster because the ground in soft,” he said.
Conservation farming does not recommend ploughing land but instead advocates a minimum or zero tillage approach to ensure the soil is disturbed as little as possible.
With conservation farming, Mr Choolwe said he is able to produce an average of about seven tonnes of maize per hectare, about 4.2 tonnes of groundnuts from two hectares and over one tonne of soyabean from one hectare.
Additionally, farmers need to plant improved seed and follow best agricultural practices to have good crop yields.
CFU president Collins Nkatiko says that the unit has been training 200,000 farmers annually out of which about 60,000 join the practice.
Mr Nkatiko hopes that this year about 60,000 to 100,000 farmers will join after the training.
Currently, CFU has presence in six provinces namely, Copperbelt, Western, Central, Lusaka, Southern, Eastern and part of Muchinga.
“CFU is providing training to staff from the Ministry of Agriculture to spread the news of conservational farming as the unit only has 151 officers,” he said.
While, conservation farming is the way to go, stakeholders need to continue complementing Government’s efforts to achieve national food security and improve the industry’s performance in view of climate change.
Farmer education also needs to be intensified so that they can appreciate the benefits associated to conservational farming in view of climate change.
When farmers begin to increase their production it means that they will become successful and their lives will be enriched.

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