DANIEL SIKAZWE, Monze
IN a small Zambian village of Nabukuyu, small scale farmers rekindled the spirit of the resilience and value of indigenous knowledge and food.The peasant producers exhibited a show of strength and defiance to the fast spreading food neo-colonialism.
They ate traditional foods, beat traditional drums, blew horns and performed lyrical poetry that articulated the fact that the majority of the producers of the global food can only be ignored at the risk of a major food and social crisis.
A well-known global food crisis has already happened in the last decade. That was between 2007 and 2008. Food prices around the world peaked and caused unfathomable suffering among the poor of the world. It was as a result of a well-orchestrated assault on indigenous forms of organising agriculture.
Since then, there has been a great awakening to the importance of looking from within and less from without when it comes to food production, globally.
Nabukuyu, in the southern town of Monze, Southern Zambia, is a community that has lost more than 3 quarters of its indigenous seeds.
The loss of the valuable seeds has been conventional agriculture which stresses monoculture – the practice of growing only one crop.
In the first quarter of 2018, at Nabukuyu the crisis was apparent.
Hundreds of small-scale farmers had been waiting. Desperately. The rains were late. The government was late.
When the rains came, three months late, the residents of Nabukuyu feared the proverbial biblical flood of Noah had come upon them. For a month, the heavens opened with fury and it poured like the floodgates of the Atlantic Ocean had been inadvertently opened.
The Government was desperately working with its agents in the Farmer In-put Support Programme (FISP) to deliver fertiliser to the farmers. Very late. It was a story the villagers had become accustomed to listening to – with a well-known end.
Ignatius Nchimunya, a small scale farmer of Malambo Kalima village, near Nabukuyu in Chief Mwanza’s area – told the story of his frustrations.
‘Fertiliser used in conventional agriculture costs a lot of money. So do pesticides,’ he said as he looked at the fading cumulus nimbus after a morning downpour.
A septuagenarian, Peter Jakalasi Munamwanza, made it clear that the Zambian government’s introduction of conventional agriculture was the beginning of an agricultural system that turned citizens into objects and a commodity with which to trade in food for the multinationals to generate profits.
‘Before conventional or Western agriculture introduced cattle in Tongaland, we used to till the land with small artisanal farming tools. Then we would plant our crops in October which would normally be the start of the rainy season. And we never used fertilisers. The crops were healthy and the food was plenty,’ Munamwanza reminisced.
It was the end of February. In decades gone by, around this time, Nabukuyu residents would be beaming with expectations of a good harvest coming. In 2018, there was a feeling of exasperation.
Prosperous Miyoba, the village headman of Mapahula, a neighbouring village to Nabukuyu, recoiled the transition from a lost past to an emerging future.
‘Before the Zambian government introduced heavy use of fertilisers in conventional agriculture, in Tongaland, we used to use cow dung as our soil enriching element,’ Miyoba recalled.
During that past in which cow dung was used to enrich the soils, another complimentary soil enriching element was the use of indigenous nitrogen fixing plants.
Ignatius Nchimunya, who had seen the value of the wisdom of the ancients of Tonga land, had by February 2018 begun to realise the benefits of that abandoned agriculture system.
‘The trees we plant in our traditional agriculture are able to get rid of the pests associated with conventional agriculture,’ Nchimunya said.
The Septuagenarian, Nchimunya, and Miyoba were able to reflect on the past, and look to the future of their agriculture with hope on the sidelines of a field day in which Shephered Mpande, a farmer whose field served as a model of permaculture, was elated by his newfound freedom.
‘We are afraid of expenses that are associated with conventional agriculture seed acquisition because we cannot afford them in this difficult economy.
We want to use the traditional seeds available – share with friends, with fellow farmers so that we don’t starve. We should be able to pay our children’s school fees. We want to have food throughout the year,’ Mpande said.
Miyoba spoke about the future of Agriculture in the Nabukuyu area – choosing to leave the difficult past behind him.
‘When the Government introduced fertiliser, we abandoned our traditional agriculture. We looked to fertiliser to bring us higher yields and prosperity. Now we have many times when government vouchers come without the promised money. Permaculture has returned us to our original farming system of using goat droppings and cow dung as manure,’ Miyoba said
Permaculture is the original agriculture system of the local people. In this system farmers use natural intercrop, natural soil nourishing materials and more importantly exchange indigenous seeds.
Eunice Lwiindi, the chairperson of the Nabukuyu Seed Multiplication Group, stated the importance of sharing indigenous seeds.
‘Looking at the way the weather is at the moment, the crops that we are growing, they are failing but the old, old crops that we were growing at first were not failing even in the weather that we are experiencing at the moment,’ she said.
Sharing seeds is keeping the heritage of a people alive. This fact was emphasised by Christopher Banda, a small-scale farmer who was part of a group commissioned by the Regional Schools and Colleges Permaculture (ReSCOPE) to undertake research to ascertain the varieties of traditional seeds available in the Nabukuyu community as well as those that had been lost since conventional agriculture took the reins from traditional farming.
‘The rate at which we are losing our indigenous seeds is very high. And as we are losing these seeds, we are actually losing our inheritance. Seed is actually war in other countries. We are supposed to guard indigenous seed for the sake of us who are living and for the sake of the future’’, he said.
Going forward after the Nabukuyu field day, a participant, Hastings Mwenda, of the Zambia Women and Girls’ Foundation, held the view that the future of food production in southern province lay in educating young people in schools about permaculture.
‘We are teaching them the importance of working with nature and not against nature. We are advocating for permaculture to be integrated into the Zambian school curriculum,’ said Mwenda.
The future was the reason for the field day at Nabukuyu. The field day was organised by Regional Schools and Colleges Permaculture (RESCOPE), a non-governmental organisation that promotes agroecology, the practice of growing food crops.
DANIEL SIKAZWE, Monze