Damiano Malambo was skeptical about conservation agriculture—until El Nino hit southern Zambia and left millions of people without food.
He recalls: “The acid test was real in 2015 when the rainfall pattern was very bad. My skepticism turned into real optimism when the two hectares I cultivated under conservation farming redeemed me from a near disaster when the five hectares under conventional farming completely failed.”
Conservation agriculture is a farming approach that uses minimum tillage, vegetative crop cover, and crop rotation to keep the soil fertile. Conservation agriculture can help mitigate the effects of climate change, and help farmers adapt to new climate conditions. Prolonged droughts and flash floods have become common in Zambia.
In the past two seasons, Mr. Malambo has doubled his cattle herd from 30 to 60, and increased annual legume production from about 150 to 350 50-kilogram bags. With his increased earnings, he bought two vehicles.
He is particularly happy to grow cash crops such as cowpeas and soybeans, which earn money and help him provide nutritious food for his family. Mr. Malambo points to his eight-year-old grandchild and adds, “See how healthy this boy is from soya porridge.”
Precious Nkandu Chitembwe is a communications officer with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. She says: “Conservation agriculture has proven to be more profitable than conventional agriculture. In seasons when other farmers have struggled, we have seen our CA farmers emerging with excellent results.”
Zambia ranked as one of the ten hungriest countries in the world on the 2017 Global Hunger Index. A recent survey shows that 40% of children are stunted.
The Zambian government is encouraging farmers to switch to conservation agriculture as part of its plan to improve nutrition. Crops such as soybean, cowpea, and other legumes can help families get enough nutritious food.
But not all farmers want to adopt all of the main principles of conservation agriculture at one time. The Indaba Agricultural Policy Research Institute conducted a study that shows adoption rates for conservation agriculture in Zambia are still very low.
The study found that fewer than one of 10 small-scale farming households adopted conservation agriculture in the 2013/14 season. The report notes that social factors, such as belief in witchcraft and prayer to enhance yields, had an important influence on decision-making.
Paul Nyambe is a principal agricultural officer with the Southern Province’s Ministry of Agriculture. He says farmers are adopting conservation agriculture practices, but not all of them and not all of the time.
Mr. Nyambe explains: “The package for conservation agriculture is huge. If you measure all components as a package, adoption is low, but if you looked at the issues of tillage or land preparation, you will find that the adoption rates are very high.”
This story was adapted from an article titled, “Conservation Agriculture: Zambia’s Double-edged Sword against Climate Change and Hunger,” published by Inter Press Service. To read the original article, please see: http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/conservation-agriculture-zambias-double-edged-sword-climate-change-hunger/ 
Photo: Minimum tillage ripping in Kasiya Camp. Credit Crissy Mupuchi / DAPP