Farmers restore soil fertility to boost yields (by Johanna Absalom, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Namibia)

| September 17, 2012

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Naango Simeon is a millet and sorghum farmer from Oniimwandi village in northern Namibia. She muses that: “It’s every farmer’s dream to reap good returns.”

Ms. Simeon has seen her share of good harvests. But in recent years, her yields had been declining. Ms. Simeon determined that the cause of her problem was soil infertility. And by improving her soil, she’s restoring her dream of good returns.

Applying manure has been vital to her efforts. She explains: “We apply manure before every cultivating season to enhance and restore soil value. In the past, we only had to use manure every two or three years.”

Poor soil fertility is a common problem among Namibian farmers. A recent study on soil erosion revealed that, in many regions, 10 to 20 centimetres of topsoil have been lost.

Like many Namibian farmers, Ms. Simeon is using both indigenous methods and new methods to improve soil fertility. Using manure restores nutrients to the soil while preventing erosion.

Rotational grazing and using high quality seeds are other steps that small-scale farmers are taking to combat soil problems.

Ms. Simeon explains how she selects the right seeds: “We … set aside good quality grains and source new seeds that can withstand harsh conditions.” At harvest time, she saves some seeds for the next growing season.

Brian Mbazuvara is a livestock farmer from Okatjivango village in eastern Namibia. He explains why he had to take steps to address soil fertility: “The soil has lost its value. Certainly, if the land is bad, the value and quality of cattle and livestock [are] severely affected. This has burdened me as a farmer.”

Rotational grazing was the answer to his problem. Mr. Mbazuvara rotates his livestock so that they graze in one area for a year while the vegetation in another area recovers. He says this has made a significant difference. “If we do not control grazing patterns, the vegetation and grass will dwindle. We will be forced to buy feed for the cattle repeatedly, which is costly.” Thanks to rotational grazing, he no longer has this concern.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism encourages farmers to fight soil degradation. The government designed a program, called the Sustainable Land Management framework, to sensitize and unite farmers on the issue.

Under the framework, coordinators provide farmers with information on program activities, including a radio education program broadcast by Namibia Broadcasting Corporation. Tresia Amakali is one of the coordinators. She says that, through the program, farmers identify the key issues affecting them and take steps to combat land degradation.

The government also supports farmers by providing subsidized seeds and chemical fertilizers through regional offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry. A report on the last growing season notes an increased demand for these subsidized inputs.

By practicing new agricultural techniques and receiving a boost from government assistance, Namibian farmers hope to return to the days of good yields. Mr. Mbazuvara says: “As farmers, we are prepared to work together in restoring soil fertility and reducing the impacts of land degradation in order to achieve agricultural prosperity.”