Benefits of conservation farming
Published On February 2, 2014 » 6907 Views» By Administrator Times » Features
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By JULIUS PHIRI –

Agriculture is the main source of income for the majority of rural households in Zambia.

While there have been some improvements in agricultural production diversification and cash cropping in the mid-1990s, small and medium-scale farmers still constitute the largest group in income poverty in the country.

About 84 percent of these farm households exist below the national poverty line and 72 per cent of farm households are in extreme poverty.

Currently small and medium scale farmers contribute about 60 per cent of agricultural output of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Endowed with a large land resource base of 42 million hectares, only 1.5 million hectares was being cultivated every year in the country.

The agricultural sector continues to be the backbone of the Zambian economy.

The sector also provides employment to 70 per cent of the labour force.

As such agriculture has continued to receive priority attention from Government through increased budget support aimed at increasing agriculture productivity to ensure food security, income generation, creation of employment opportunities and poverty reduction.

This was increasing the farmer production and productivity which had a potential to make an important contribution to agricultural output and general economic growth of the country.

About 80 per cent of Zambia’s population was dependent on agriculture with the majority being small-scale farmers.

The Zambian Government was currently providing farming inputs such as fertiliser and seeds through the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) to farmers.

However, the late distribution of agriculture inputs such as fertiliser and seed have impacted on the small and medium scale farmers.

Agricultural systems among farmers in Zambia are primarily dependent on rainfall. In adddition, most soils in Southern Africa are infertile and degraded.

It is evident that few small-scale farmers are able to afford fertiliser for maize.

The increasing population is pressurising on arable land while droughts and seasonal dry-spells are becoming more frequent and severe.

In the 1990s, for example, many parts of Zambia experienced severe drought that resulted in poor yields or low productivity.

During the same period, many farmers lost animals due to corridor disease, reducing both beef cattle for income as well as reducing animal draught power availability.

The Zambian Government has taken a deliberate policy to shift dependence on mining to agriculture and tourism.

The agriculture sector has enormous potential to earn the country export revenue especially that agricultural products have a huge market across the African continent.

Agriculture and Livestock Deputy Minister Luxon Kazabu said Zambia has unimaginable opportunities for food production to feed the entire sub-region.

Of late, conservation agriculture has been promoted by a number of organisations as part of enhancing food security in Zambia.

The Government is promoting the development of an efficient, competitive, and sustainable agricultural sector, which would enhance food security and increase small-scale farmers’ incomes.

Since 1996, policy makers have emphasised programmes promoting the development of farming technologies and practices including conservation farming technologies.

Currently, a project known as Sustainable Intensification of Maize Legume Systems for Eastern Zambia (SIMLEZA) African-Rising funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is being implemented in districts such as Katete, Chipata and Lundazi of Eastern Province.

The project is being run as a joint venture involving organisations such as International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Total Land Care (TLC) -Zambia, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Violet Banda of Katete’s Kafumbwe area said conservation agriculture was a blessing that has helped her increase food production.

“I cannot stop practising conservation agriculture, because I’m getting lots of benefits since I started,” she explained.

Recently, during a conducted tour of the fields, ZARI acting senior agriculture research officer, Mulundu Mwila said the major aim of the project was to empower farmers with knowledge on conservation farming methods.

Mr Mwila said conservation agriculture involves conserving natural resources such as soil and water resulting in improved and sustainable production.

“This will improve rural incomes and livelihoods through sustainable management of agro-ecosystem productivity and diversity while minimising adverse environmental impacts,” he said.

Worldwide, there are huge areas of maize, wheat, soyabeans, cotton, sunflower, rice, tobacco and many other crops that are grown under conservation agriculture.

It is undisputable that root crops such as potatoes and cassava are successfully produced under conservation agriculture.

CIMMYT Cropping Systems Agronomist Christian Thierfelder said conservation agriculture techniques can be adopted by various farmers.

Dr Thierfelder said conservation agriculture was mainly taking advantage of natural ecological processes, conserve moisture, enhance soil fertility and improve soil structure.

He said conservation farming reduces soil erosion and the occurrence of diseases and pests.

“These benefits are achieved through the application of key principles namely minimum soil disturbance, provision of soil cover and the use of crop mixing and rotations implemented using management techniques by a farmer,” he said.

He said most of the crops can be grown successfully under the conservation agriculture.

Dr Thierfelder, who was accompanied by CIMMYT agronomist Dr Walter Mupangwa, CIMMYT economist Munyaradzi Mutenje, TLC Zambia country manager Halimu Malumo, journalists as well as other officials, said conservation agriculture was the most sustainable system for the current environment

“A key strategy has been to establish demonstration and validation plots run by farmers in their fields, with backstopping from extension and Non-Government Organisations (NGO) partners,” he said.

However, he also emphasised the need by the farmers to do intercropping of maize with other legumes to record increased production.

Conservation agriculture was a set of principles that builds on systems agronomy research developed by CIMMYT and partners around the world, particularly on cropping methods that simultaneously boost productivity and reduce resource degradation in cropping systems that include maize or wheat.

These efforts aim at empowering farmers with conservation agriculture methods by CIMMYT with neighboring countries such as Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

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