The concept of conservation agriculture (CA) is proving to be a success among the Hurungwe farming communities, with farmers reporting high yields from little inputs used on small pieces of land.
By Christopher Mahove
The European Union, through the Food and Agricultural Organisation, provided more than nine million euro to support CA activities across the country aimed at empowering smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods.
The project involves training of extension staff and farmers who would in turn train other farmers, who are then provided with inputs such as seed and fertiliser using the lead-farmer approach.
A tour by the European Union and its partners recently revealed more and more farmers were now embracing the concept, considering the erratic rains the country has been receiving in the last few years.
One such farmer who benefitted from CA is 52-year-old Kenneth Nyarenda, who has established a mini-demonstration site at his plot where he works with 10 farmers whom he trains at the main demonstration site.
Nyarenda was selected by the community at ward level because of his track record in farming and was confirmed by the Department of Agriculture and Extension Services as the government department that is mandated with working with farmers at grassroots level.
Nyarenda said he had learnt that conservation agriculture was a sure way to get high yields from a very small piece of land using less inputs, adding that a one- hectare plot would yield up to six tonnes of maize.
“A couple of years ago before conservation agriculture, we used conventional tillage methods where we would use a plough for tilling the land and we wasted a lot of fertiliser, because we would just drill fertiliser throughout the row, now with the introduction of CA, we just open basins, which is one of the CA principles for minimum tillage, applying fertiliser only at planting station instead of drilling everywhere without necessarily benefitting the crop,” he said.
He said with the use of mulching, crops maintained some degree of moisture which helped them in the event of dry spells.
Another farmer, Darlington Mutami, of ward 11 in the same area, said he had since abandoned his main maize field to concentrate on his small plot at his homestead as it was giving him enough to feed his family and surplus to sell.
“I have since stopped receiving inputs from the project and am now buying my own seed and fertiliser. I don’t use much fertiliser because I also use manure,” he said.
He added that the use of mulching meant he had no problems of weeding, but conceded the mulch was scarce in the area, forcing them to use it on smaller portions than they would have wanted.
“Under normal conditions mulch is supposed to come from the previous crop, but because of the communal set up, we have livestock also coming in and taking up some of the mulch,” he said.
A crops officer, Felix Nzvirume, said the idea of basins was also important in achieving the required plant populations and also in the making of manure.
“One of the factors which contribute to low yields in Zimbabwe is the plant population.”
“With the basins, you can achieve a high plant population because you can put three seeds into one basin and then when the seeds emerge, you can later remove one to remain with two, so they can achieve the right population. So the issue of precision is important as it achieves high yields,” he said.
He said the basins also harvested some amount of water, thereby prolonging the life of the plants.