Zimbabwe: Farmer uses anthills to improve his soils (by Nqobani Ndlovu, for Farm Radio Weekly)

| January 27, 2014

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With the rains approaching, Mthulisi Ndlovu leaves his homestead early in the morning to hunt down anthills and dig them up. Anthills may provide shelter for ants, but they are also essential to this small-scale farmer.

Mr. Ndlovu farms near Gwanda, about 120 kilometres southeast of Bulawayo. He uses a donkey cart to carry the anthill diggings back to his land.

When Mr. Ndlovu mixes the anthill soil into his topsoil during land preparation, it acts like fertilizer. He says, “We have sandy soils and I have realized that the anthill soils are the best form of manure, since they improve soil texture and clay content.”

A 10-kilogram bag of fertilizer costs about $20 US at farmers’ shops. Mr. Ndlovu says this is far too much for him to afford.

Anthill soil has become the only option for him, and for many other small-scale farmers who cannot afford to buy chemical fertilizers. It has been used as fertilizer and to boost the physical condition of the soil since farmers first began trying to improve their land.

Nobezwe Suthu is another small-scale farmer. He says that anthill soils provide excellent organic manure, especially for poor soils that do not hold water.

Mr. Suthu says, “They are good for soil fertility. They are the best form of manure, as they help retain soil moisture and texture.”

Berean Mukwende is the Deputy President of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union. He agrees that anthill soil has a beneficial effect on farmland. Mr. Mukwende says: “Anthills are for improving clay content and soil texture so that the nitrogen [and other] plant nutrients and micronutrients that are important to the growth of the plant [remain available in the soil].”

But he advises farmers to get a soil test before using anthill diggings. In order to improve yields, he says, farmers must ensure that adding anthill soils results in a proper balance of nutrients in the field.

He explains, “Not all anthills are good for farming. Some of them are alkaline and are very bad for farming. We advise farmers to have the anthill soils tested before use.”

Mr. Mukwende says the Union advises farmers to do soil tests on their fields before applying any kind of fertilizer. This can prevent wastage or misuse of expensive chemicals or home-produced manures.

Peter Dube is a local agricultural expert. He says that anthill soils have always provided great results when compared to chemical fertilizer.

He says that organic fertilizers such as anthill soils, manures and composts are better suited for agricultural soils because they improve its capacity to store nutrients for the current growing season and beyond. He adds, “Nothing beats organic fertilizers.”

Mr. Ndovlu is improving his fields by adding soil from the anthills dotted around the countryside near his farm. The extra effort of digging into the anthills and mixing the soil into his fields improves the health of his land, and saves him the expense of shop-bought fertilizers.