Travelogue of Nienke

See first, then believe, then change

farmingThe challenge for my first peer to peer meeting with Zambian farmers was clear: “How to convince a Zambian farmer that the farming methods he has been using since he learned farming and that his father and his grandfather before him practiced might not be the most efficient for him?”

You can start by pointing to the fact that his last maize harvests have been disappointing compared to a decade or so ago. Then you might explain about how slashing and burning the soil severely damages it in the long run, as does ploughing, and that nutrients are being wasted by these practices. Also, you might elaborate on the effects of climate change: the extreme periods of drought and the erratic rains that have been plaguing the Southern African region. Then, you present the alternative by telling him that conservation farming is not only necessary to adapt to these circumstances but can also make their fields more productive as well. After this talk, all famers will nod and agree that new times require new methods. Still, they hesitate to change their ways and who would blame them?

When asking people to change their practice lays the task to make your case as strong as you can.farmers watching the field

This includes presenting the alternative as a reality that is within reach and has a large chance of success. It is for this reason I found myself sitting in a bus filled with 30 smallholder farmers this Thursday morning, on our way to see the results of this alternative. At Sons of Thunder, a mission post located on the way from Livingstone to Lusaka, all farmers practice Farming God’s Way (FGW), a conservation agriculture method that is able to produce high yields when one follows it under tight time-management and works hard. Alexander, key-farmer at Sons of Thunder and trainer in the FGW technique, welcomed us. In just 5 years he has grown from a small traditional farmer to a commercial conservation farmer who was able to raise his profits made by his farming to such a level to be able to buy his own vehicle.

We were introduced to the technique through several farmers who gave telling examples of their old crops versus new crops under the FGW technique: “I used to be able to fit 3 onions in one hand, now I have trouble holding just one in two.” But it was in the field when things really started to come alive. Like myself, farmers were clearly impressed by the height and health of Alexander’s maize during this time of year. Where the famers had been quiet during most of the morning, questions now started to come up. Some about the technique: “Why do you put this grass on the soil?” “To keep the moist inside and keep the sun outside.” “What if I don’t have the grass to put on the ground as a blanket protecting the plants?” Then you leave the weeds to dry and they can function as a blanket.” Some questions were of another nature: “What if the cattle from my neighbour comes in and eats my crops?” “Here we have a law in place that states that the owner of the cattle should pay for the damage done.” As a Muzungu (white person) I took a necessary trip into the shade after a while, but the group remained talking about the method for over an hour in the burning sun until we went back for lunch.

Even though the portions some of the farmers put on their lunch plates suggested they had come for the free meal, I was convinced that, even if it was just a little bit we had been able to paint a picture in their minds, which might cause them to change their practice. And I ate my Nshima, the local maize pap, with a smile on my face.discussion
trainers and farmers

Author: Nienke Raap 

 

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