Zambia: Farmers use special equipment to save time and labour in conservation agriculture

March 26, 2018
A translation for this article is available in French

For the past three years, Lashiwe Zulu has been practicing conservation agriculture with simple methods and tools. She used the chaka hand hoe to dig planting basins. But now, the single mother of two no longer uses the hand hoe. She says it’s too labour-intensive and time-consuming.

Mrs. Zulu explains, “The chaka hoe is very heavy. It is impossible to dig all planting basins [in my field].”

Mrs. Zulu lives in Chinjara farming block in Chipata, Zambia. She has a five-acre piece of land near Msekera Agricultural Research Station. Because she lives near the research station, she is frequently involved in their activities. That is how she learned about conservation agriculture.

Alphonse Kahalawe is the senior agricultural officer at the research station. Through a FAO-supported program called Conservation Agriculture Scaling-Up, or CASU, the research station is encouraging farmers to switch from hand hoes to other farming tools. Mr. Kahalawe says this will enable farmers in the area to grow more food.

He explains: “This involves using methods that can further increase yields to levels where there is a surplus for sale. To do this, small-scale farmers need to increase the size of their fields and graduate to using ox draft power.”

Through CASU, Mrs. Zulu and other small-scale farmers each received a pair of oxen and a special plough with a ripper attachment that works like a chaka hoe. This equipment is easier to use, and helps farmers save time making planting basins.

Mbarose Tembo is Mrs. Zulu’s neighbour. She says, “I [used to think] that conservation farming could not be good because there is just too much work.”

Mrs. Tembo says that, at first, she preferred to continue using traditional ways of planting on ridges. But when she saw how Mrs. Zulu’s yields improved, she decided to start conservation agriculture. Now she only makes planting basins.

Mrs. Tembo explains: “I am now convinced that conservation farming is good for poor small-scale farmers like me. I also want to start the way my friend started; maybe later I can graduate to using ox draft power.”

Mr. Kahalawe says that, because conservation agriculture requires a lot of work in the first year, farmers should start on a small area. He adds: “One of the biggest advantages of conservation farming is that you can spread work throughout the year. In this way, you can plan properly about when to do every piece of work.”

He says: “I always advise new farmers to start with just one lima [quarter-acre] the first year. But take my word: the yield is higher than what farmers get from the rest of the field.”

According to Mr. Kahalawe, conservation agriculture is only labour-intensive during the first year. He explains: “After that, you will not need to dig new basins but only scoop out the old ones to get them ready for the next crop. Because of this, you will have more time to increase the size of your field. If you continue in this way, you can have a big area under conservation farming in four years.”

his work was created with the support of Canadian Foodgrains Bank as part of the project, “Conservation Agriculture for building resilience, a climate smart agriculture approach.” This work is funded by the Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca.