Zambia: From fishing to farming with hybrid seed (by Brian Moonga for Farm Radio Weekly in Zambia)

| March 21, 2011

Download this story

Peter Malambo abandoned his fishing business five years ago. He now earns his living as a farmer. He grows hybrid maize. He says, “For most areas of [the] Southern province, the Gankata is a popular traditional maize variety, but with the coming of extension officers, I have come to appreciate the hybrids such as 513 which is an early maturity maize seed.”

Mr. Malambo hails from a rural community in Mazabuka district, in southern Zambia. He switched to farming after receiving information from a local non-governmental organization. Kayeema Horti-agro Care Services works with rural farmers in Mazabuka and the surrounding areas. They offered Mr. Malambo some hybrid seed and agricultural inputs at no cost, as startup capital.

Mr. Malambo used to travel long distances to reach fishing camps along the Kafue River. He faced other difficulties, such as seasonal fishing bans and the high cost of transporting fish to the market.  For these reasons, Mr. Malambo quit fishing for farming. He thinks that farming is a much better source of income. He remembers that, “Initially, it was hard to work with the local breed because its maturity time was indefinite and it’s also prone to disease and can be seriously affected by drought.”

Mr. Malambo makes a good living now. He grows groundnuts and paprika as well as hybrid maize. He explains, “With my new source of income through farming, I have better opportunities. I process the maize and sell it in the neighbourhood. Maize has high turnover because it is Zambia’s staple food and it has high demand.”

Like Mr. Malambo, many small-scale farmers in Zambia are interested in using certified hybrid varieties, rather than traditional or farmers’ seed varieties. Many types of seeds have become available recently. This is a result of a recent policy on agricultural research by the Zambian government, and the growth in hybrid seed companies.

Mr. Malambo has learned what to look for when choosing which seed to plant. He says, “I usually go for hybrid seed, especially for maize because it comes with a guaranteed germination of up to 80 per cent and the yield is very good and one can chose whether early or late maturity. Last season I planted the late maturity variety 709 from Seed Co and my yield was very good with full cob maturity.”

When selecting seed, Mr. Malambo considers factors such as disease resistance and the ability of seed to withstand the droughts which are common in southern Zambia. He explains, “When it comes to seed selection, I am a hybrid man. Usually I use all my seed, because if one intended to use it in the coming season, the seed would have degenerated and is prone to disease and pests.”

But not all farmers have adopted hybrid seeds. Mrs. Melody Buumba is a farmer who grows traditional varieties of maize and beans. She says, “I have heard about hybrid maize seed but I have stuck to Gankata because people here like it. My ancestors relied on this traditional seed, some of which I dry on the rooftop and store for the next season.”

Mrs. Buumba says that even though the hybrid maize gives you more cobs, it is not as tasty as Gankata. She adds, “I may start planting hybrid varieties when I start dreaming of becoming a commercial farmer.”

Mrs. Buumba has heard a lot about genetically modified seeds, hybrid seeds and the modern seed technologies that are emerging in Zambia. She fears the extinction of traditional seeds and warns other farmers to exercise due care when choosing which type of seed to plant: “I think one must be careful because the improved seed[s] are also contributing to the disappearance of our traditional varieties. My fear is that this whole generation of ancestral seed will disappear.”