ESTHER MSETEKA, Lusaka
COMMUNITY Markets for Conservation (COMACO), an agro-processing company , is supporting the cultivation of Gliricidia, a â€œwonderâ€ tree that can be intercropped with other plants.
COMACO, which focusses agroprocessing in Eastern Province, has planted over 10 million Gliricidia sepium seedlings between December 2015 and February 2015 to help small-scale farmers reduce their dependence on chemical fertilisers.
COMACO says in a statement issued to the Daily Mail on Monday that Gliricidia was introduced after a study showed the benefits the tree has on crops.
â€œThe trees are planted in rows about five metres apart and rows of food crops are planted in between.
â€œDespite the work involved in raising tree nurseries, which often requires farmers to build their own wells to irrigate the seedlings as they grow in readiness for transplanting, the investment in labour seems to be paying off as more farmers witness the benefits outweigh the costs,â€ it says.
The study showed that farming with Gliricidia provides an annual cover of nitrogen-rich leaves as protection when farmers cut the stems to open the fields to sunlight at the time of planting.
â€œWhen the stems are cut, a large amount of the roots hairs in the soil are shed and this provides an important pulse of nutrients into the soil. In addition, the tree roots themselves support root nodules of bacteria that also release nitrogen into the soil. In short, Gliricidia is a fertiliser tree,â€ the statement says.
Commenting on the same, a Gliricidia farmer Esther Mwale from Chief Mwasemphangwe in Eastern Province said the initiative is a good source of fertiliser as it also improves the soil.
Ms Mwanza said using Gliricidia which releases fertiliser naturally has helped her save money (for buying fertiliser) and increase productivity.
The Gliricidia is used in many tropical and sub-tropical countries for fencing, fodder, coffee shade, firewood, green manure and rat poison. Gliricidia, which can be a potent fertiliser can be intercropped with maize.
Gliricidia is also used for its medicinal and insect repellent properties. Farmers in Latin America often wash their livestock with a paste made of crushed Gliricidia leaves to ward off torsalos. In the Philippines, the extract obtained from its leaves is used to remove external parasites.
According to World Agroforestry Centre, Gliricidia is becoming an important part of farming practices in Africa.
Because it fixes nitrogen in the soil, it boosts crop yields significantly without the expense of chemical fertilisers. In addition, it tolerates being cut back to crop height year after year. The trees go into a dormant state when they are cut back, so the root system is not competing straight away for the nutrients, and the crop is free to become established. The trees only really start to come out of the dormant phase when the crop is already tall.
ESTHER MSETEKA, Lusaka