Analysis: FRANCIS MAKASA
AMID climate change, the concept of sustainable farming (also known as biological farming) makes a lot of sense as it takes care of the environment and makes profit for the farmer.
However, to actualise sustainable farming, farmers, especially small-scale ones need incentives.
While the concept of sustainability in agriculture is as old as creation, it has become one of the catchphrases of modern times amid the devastating effects of climate change.
In Zambia, conservation farming or minimum tillage technologies have been widely propagated and have proved to be more beneficial to the farmer and the environment than the conventional type of farming.
In conservation farming only parts of the soil on which crops are planted are tilled and so problems like soil erosion are greatly minimised. Soil and all that thrives in it are also least disturbed.
Agroforestry, a farming practice that incorporates trees/shrubs in crop or animal production, is now widely practised locally. Improved fallows where trees like sesbania are deliberately grown on an arable piece of land for two to three subsequent years to revitalise soil fertility is widely practised in Eastern Zambia.
In most parts of southern Zambia, maize crop is grown under trees of Faiderhbia albida (locally known as Musangu). Maize derives soil fertility from the leguminous trees that have an incredible quality of shedding its fertile leaves during the growing season.
Other sustainable practices used from time immemorial include the use of green manuring crops (like pigeon peas), crop rotation, mixed cropping and fallow cropping.
The use of well-decomposed manure and compost is an ancient sustainable farming practice that has immense benefits to the well-being of the soil.
Sustainable farming methods make economic sense as those farmers who use fewer chemicals and more natural fertilisers are more likely to post profits than those who rely solely on commercial chemicals.
Most farmers have realised that soil is a living organism that needs more than the nutrients (like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) found in inorganic or commercial fertilisers to remain healthy.
Soil is made up of mineral matter including plant mineral nutrients, organic matter (dead plants, soil life, and animals and their manure), water and air.
Many living organisms like earthworms, beetles, termites and many minute or microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria, which may not be visible to the naked eye, are also part of the soil. Hence soil is healthy when these living organisms thrive.
Sustainable methods of soil management therefore release organic matter and nutrients that feed the living creatures in the soil.
In return, the soil releases balanced nutrients that feed the crops. The great idea of sustainable farming is to feed the soil rather than directly feeding the crops.
While all other entrepreneurs face price and other business risks, farmers are confronted with additional risk of uncertain yields. In recent years, climate and other variables (like disease outbreaks) greatly influence profitability of farming.
Farmers need to be assisted by responsive government policies to mitigate these risks.
In order to effectively implement sustainable farming measures, farmers need to have security of land tenure.
Insecure land tenure does not obviously offer motivation to implement successful sustainable farming practices.
Amid the vagaries of climate change such as drought, floods, unprecedented disease and pest outbreaks, the need for sustainable farming to enhance the resilience of the environment is inevitable.
However, responsive government policies need to be put in place in order to provide the necessary incentives for farmers to implement such necessary sustainable farming methods to safeguard the environment.
Analysis: FRANCIS MAKASA