ALVIN CHIINGA, Lusaka
NESTED between Lusaka’s sprawling Kamanga Township and Chamba Valley is a 10-acre farm where a retired civil servant has been practising organic farming for about 30 years.
What started as a maize farm has over the years blossomed into the vibrant organic farm which it is today.
It is now a household name in the vicinity as people throng the farm to purchase organically grown fruits and vegetables that do not pose health hazards to consumers.
It is scientifically proven that organically grown crops pose no health risks to consumers.
Consumption of organic foods reduces the risk of one developing cancers which are common nowadays.
Organic farming is a technique which involves cultivation of plants and rearing of animals in natural ways.
The process involves the use of biological materials, avoiding synthetic substances to maintain soil fertility and ecological balance, thereby minimising pollution and wastage.
This is what a retired civil servant, Getrude Zulu Shinkanga has been doing for over three decades at her farm in Lusaka.
At 76, Mrs Shinkanga looks younger than her age and says her good health could be attributed to the organically grown foodstuffs that she has been consuming over the years.
“I started with maize, but afterwards after getting a lot of information through the SCOPE project on permaculture, I ventured into organic farming and I have never looked back,” she says.
She was trained by SCOPE Zimbabwe before traversing the Southern and Eastern African countries such as Malawi, Kenya and Uganda to learn more on how to grow crops organically.
SCOPE Zambia is a project under ReSCOPE and operates on two fronts – resuscitation of school environments and the empowerment of small-scale farmers by giving them tips on how they could improve their yields using organic fertiliser.
It is an initiative that has seen schools and small scale farmers in five countries, namely Zambia, Uganda, Malawi, Kenya and Zimbabwe improve their soils and yields.
Mrs Shinkanga and other small scale farmers that have learnt this technique have been using fermented organic fertiliser, which is in liquid form.
At her farm, the septuagenarian has over 22 different types of fruits and also boasts of over 26 varieties of vegetables.
Her Chamba Valley Permaculture Farm supplies seedlings countrywide to schools and farmers affiliated to the SCOPE Zambia project.
“I supply seeds, seedlings to schools and farmers countrywide. People who prefer organically grown fruits and vegetables also come to buy from this farm,” she says.
Mrs Shinkanga’s farm has provided a convenient market for people from near-by residential areas such as Chelston, Kamanga and Chamba Valley, who flock there every day to buy fruit and vegetables.
“Some come here from Kamanga and say they don’t have enough money to buy something and I just give them some piece work before I give them the vegetables or fruits such as organically grown bananas, oranges, lemons, cucumbers,” she said.
Mrs Shinkanga manages the farm with only four workers, including herself.
“It does not require a lot of manpower to grow crops organically because, for example, we don’t even spray using chemicals,” she says.
Melody Daka, who has been a regular consumer of organic fruits and vegetables, says she believes in having a healthy diet.
“I come here almost every day. The produce they sell here are healthy,” she said.
Mrs Shinkanga, who is also a SCOPE Zambia board member, envisages that with the high cost of fertilisers and chemicals used to spray crops, small-scale farmers should embrace organic farming.
“Small-scale farmers have an opportunity to live a healthy life, and keep the fertility of their soils good at the same time,” she says.
She says organic farming is another way that small-scale farmers can contribute to food security in the country.
At the farm there is nothing that is thrown away.
Harvested maize stalks, leaves and other post-harvest remnants are ploughed back in the soil as manure.
The farm does not spray its crops with chemicals to kill herbicides but rather opts to plant crops which repel harmful insects.
They also use organically made liquid fertilisers.
SCOPE Zambia national coordinator Annie Chikanji says this initiative is a first of its kind and farmers that have been involved are not regretting getting involved.
“In Zambia, we have 17 partners, which is a network of different NGOs, faith-based organisations and community-based organisations and we operate in Eastern, Copperbelt, Luapula, North-Western, Western and Southern provinces,” she said.
The programme started in Zambia a few years ago though for Mrs Shinkanga, she learnt techniques of organic farming much earlier.
SCOPE works with communities and encourages farmers like Mrs Shinkanga to produce organically grown crops.
Ms Chikanji says organic fertiliser has benefitted many farmers in the country.
She says the driving factor for SCOPE to start helping farmers in its target areas is mainly because Zambia’s land is degraded and on the other hand, fertilisers are expensive for the average farmer.
“One of the main ways we improve the soils with the farmers under the project is through using organic fermented fertiliser,” she said.
Ms Chikanji is quick to say that the fermented organic fertiliser is manufactured using local materials before it is distributed to the farmers.
“You will need ingredients such as charcoal, dried grass or leaves, maize bran, ash rock which is crushed from rocks animal manure [but don’t use manure from hybrid animals because of chemicals it contains] cow and village chicken manual is appropriate,” she says.
This natural fertiliser could be supplemented with a solution of molasses or brown sugar mixed with water.
“The only thing you could buy from all these [inputs] are molasses or sugar. Farmers spend less. Thereafter you need a drum of water,” she says.
This can be done by dipping a 50kg sack of manure in a drum of water (200 litres) and leaving it there for two weeks. Thereafter, the water is diluted 20 times before applying it to the crops.
“The liquid is too strong, hence you need to dilute it. The diluted liquid is enough to cater for one hectare of farm land.
It is the easiest way of having your home fertiliser,” Ms Chikanji says.
She says the other method of improving soil fertility is by mixing fresh cow dung, cow urine, legume powder (cowpeas or beans) molasses, water and soil from an old tree.
“Again this mixture should be put in a drum of 200 litres of water and every day the farmer should stir the mixture three times for seven days.
Thereafter, the liquid manure would be ready. Again, it should be diluted 20 times,” she says.
Farmers like Mrs Shinkanga that have used this type of home-made organic fermented fertiliser have never looked back because of its benefits to the soil.
“Using fermented organic fertiliser has benefits such as a good yield, strong stems for the crops and farmers don’t have to use pesticides,” Mrs Shinkanga says.
Organic farms like Mrs Shinkanga’s have potential to improve public health and also preserve soil fertility.