BENEDICT TEMBO, Mazabuka
FOR farmers in Magoye on the outskirts of Mazabuka district, last Thursday’s field day at Cotton Development Trust (CDT) was a worthwhile outing as it provided vital learning moments on new technologies in agriculture.
The one-day event was a one-stop centre for farmers, scientists, researchers and policy-makers to share experiences to contribute to increased productivity.
Farmers were happy with the outcome of the field day because it met their expectations as Netafim, a South Africa-based agro firm, exhibited its drip irrigation technology while seed companies displayed their varieties.
Southern Province minister Edify Hamukale demonstrated passion as he toured the stands and attentively listened to the maize seed-manufacturing companies and cotton outfits – the Cotton Board of Zambia and the Cotton Association of Zambia.
CDT and Mahyco on the other hand were two research and development institutions present.
“In our quest to diversify our economy from mining to agriculture, Government is doing everything possible to embrace models that are aimed at improving the agriculture sector and drip irrigation [a model under smart farming] is such a model which we encourage our farmers countrywide to embrace,” Dr Hamukale said.
Dr Hamukale said Thursday’s field day could not have come at a better time than now when Government is looking for partners in the agriculture sector who can help add value to the sector.
The Netafim field day was held under the theme: Sustainable cotton production in a changing climatic environment using simple technology.
“For this reason, I want to thank Netafim South Africa for this undertaking of promoting smart farming through technology,” Dr Hamukale said.
He said efforts by Netafim in collaboration with other partners like Irritech Zambia, the International Development Enterprise, Amiran, CDT and Agrico Zambia by working hand in hand with growers to implement flexible, cost-effective, modular irrigation solutions customised to climate and terrain are welcome.
“We want to urge you to continue supporting farmers with smart models that support agriculture in the country,” Dr Hamukale said.
Pieter Burger, the Netafim agronomist responsible for the Southern African Development Community region, said Zambia has potential to become an agriculture giant in Africa given its favourable weather and abundant water resources.
Mr Burger, however, advised farmers to embrace the new technologies that will increase yields sustainably.
He said drip irrigation technology is easy to adapt and will help farmers transform their agriculture practice into business.
Mr Burger said to change the face of agriculture requires favourable government policies and the availability of finances.
He said the effective participation of all stakeholders will make agriculture a success story in Zambia.
Netafim South Africa technical advisor Nambwale Kalunga said the Neta kits are especially adopted to small-holder needs.
“Drip irrigation developed by Netafim uses specifically designed pipes pre-fitted with advanced drippers. The irrigation system drips the exact amount of water and nutrients that crops need right at the root zone. Thus, every drop of water is effectively used to raise quality and increase year-round yields. This can be evidenced from the results seen in trial of cotton on drip in Magoye at Cotton Development Trust (CDT),” Mr Kalunga said.
He said small-scale farmers now have an opportunity to grow more with less and with Netafim by their side, they will be helped in growing the future through smart and efficient irrigation.
Southern Province Agriculture Coordinator Max Choombe commended CDT for its role in research and development in the agriculture sector.
“For Zambia to develop, we need a lot of research and development and extension services. Any country which is doing well invested a lot in research and development, let us use the technology [drip irrigation] we have learnt today during the field day,” Mr Choombe said.
Agness Munkoze, a Mazabuka farmer requested Netafim to expand and make the irrigation kits available to small-scale farmers as it is evident the technology is here to stay.
Mrs Munkoze of Chikwasala area of Chief Mwanachingwala further thanked Netafim for organising the field day at Cotton Development Trust (CDT) in Magoye, Mazabuka as it enabled many farmers learn about new irrigation technologies.
Mrs Munkoze said female farmers wish to have such technologies at their farms so that it can help increase their household income as they will venture into different crop production.
With the effects of climate change negatively affecting small-scale farmers, Mrs Munkoze asked Government through Dr Hamukale to sink boreholes for farmers to actualise drip irrigation.
Ackson Mainga, a farmer in Magoye settlement, likened drip irrigation to a hybrid seed because of its performance.
“Even a small quantity [drop] can irrigate a lot of plants,” Mr Mainga, 54, said, wishing that Government can avail the drip irrigation equipment to farmers.
He said farmers in his area need boreholes.
Henry Lwiinde of Ngwezi settlement said a 500 litres tank can do well for a small-scale farmer because there will be minimum wastage of water through drip irrigation.
Netafim, in conjunction with CDT, is carrying out trials and demonstrations at CDT. Netafim showcased the irrigation to Mazabuka farmers so that they can see for themselves the positive outcomes and high yields from the irrigated fields.
Martin Simasiku, a cotton breeder at CDT, said in view of threats posed by climate change, measures have to be put in place to mitigate its devastating effects.
“One of the ways of doing so is by introducing modern, simple technologies that will enhance the small-scale farmers’ effectiveness when growing crops. Cotton farmers entirely depend on rains for their crops. Unfortunately, the rainfall pattern is too patchy. These small-scale farmers suffer a lot when prolonged dry spells hit them,” Mr Simasiku said.
Mr Simasiku led Dr Hamukale to the demonstration plot where Netafim is conducting a trial drip irrigated cotton field.
He told Dr Hamukale and his entourage and several farmers that the irrigated lima (a quarter of a hectare) will produce about 3,000 kilogrammes per hectare while the rain-fed field will produce 2,500 kilogramme per hectare.
“The difference is significant,” Mr Simasiku said.
He said it is therefore vital to put in place mechanism of supplementing cotton with irrigation to cushion the drought.
“Netafim specialises in drip irrigation and its results on cotton show significant differences as compared to the rain-fed cotton. Growing cotton under drip irrigation ensures efficient use of water and guaranteed survival of the crop in case of a dry spell. The irrigation kit also has additional benefits such as growing other crops under drip during off season. Crops like tomatoes or winter maize can be grown under drip before the onset of the cotton-growing season,” Mr Simasiku said.
He said there is a paradigm shift in farming technologies taking place globally and Zambian farmers should embrace these methods to increase productivity.
“Increased productivity means small-scale farmers will be able to take care of their families and strengthen their financial muscle,” Mr Simasiku said.
The cotton fraternity took advantage of Dr Hamukale’s presence at the CDT stand to lobby for support to allow the introduction of genetically modified cotton in Zambia.
CBZ executive director Daflin Kaonga said the country is missing out on the opportunity to introduce GM cotton because it is resistant to pests and diseases prevalent in Zambia.
CDT director Lwishya Silwimba said while Zambia is reneging on GM cotton, Malawi is ahead with field trials in progress.
BENEDICT TEMBO, Mazabuka