Notes to broadcasters
Conservation agriculture is an approach to farming which involves using specific practices to maintain the soil and other natural resources, while improving yield and food security. It includes practices such as mulching with crop and plant residues, rotating crops, and minimally tilling the soil – and avoiding or minimizing other practices which disturb the soil surface. In western Kenya, conservation agriculture includes using organic or green manure from locally available plants such as Tithonia.
In western Kenya, difficult climatic conditions and poor farming practices have contributed to the loss of soil and vegetation cover. This reduces soil fertility and leads farmers to depend too much on the rains because soils are not as able to retain water. Without moisture in the soil, crops which are susceptible to dry conditions and may wilt and be totally lost. But this can be corrected by introducing farming practices like conservation agriculture which, over a period of months and years, improve soil structure and increase yield.
In Kenya, about 80 % of farmers are small-scale and prepare their land by hand. After slashing crop residues, some farmers burn the residues to lessen their work, and then hand-dig their fields. Families who can afford to sometimes contract farm labourers to plough with oxen after slashing. The farmers then use a hoe to dig planting holes, and later weed with a hoe. According to conservation agriculture, these practices disturb the soil and damage its ability to hold nutrients and water for better plant health.
This script presents the story of a widow who was isolated from other members of her community until she joined a farmers’ group. The group members started by growing their staple crop, maize, and were then introduced to conservation agriculture. After the widow was introduced to sustainable farming practices through the group, she diversified her farming and her livelihood and changed her life for the better.
You might choose to present this script as part of your regular farming program, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.
You could also use this script as research material or as inspiration for creating your own programming on conservation agriculture or similar topics in your country.
Talk to farmers and experts who are practising conservation agriculture or knowledge about this type of farming. You might ask them:
What are the local farming problems that conservation agriculture could address?
Have farmers been successful with conservation agriculture?
What are the barriers to adopting minimum tillage to disturb the soil as little as possible and other conservation agriculture practices, and how can these be addressed?
Estimated running time for the script: 20minutes, with intro and outro music
Jenipher Awino, a farmerSIGNATURE TUNE
Ms. Awino became a widow fifteen years ago and almost gave up on life after falling into total poverty. But she eventually broke through her social isolation to join other community members in a farming group that embraced conservation agriculture and changed her life. Take a walk with me to her field as she unfolds her life story.Sig tune then fade out. motorcycle coming to a stop Then sound of a digging hoe.
(CALLING)May the day break.
I prepared the land by slashing the weeds a little, then turned over the earth in the planting bed with a hoe to make it soft and even. After this, I dug planting holes and later on hand-weeded the farm with a hoe. But I never had a good return with these practices even though I put all my energy into it.
My late husband was doing casual jobs repairing and maintaining cars. But we were not able to provide adequately for our young family. When he died 15 years ago, my first child was only 10 years old. I continued to farm the same way after the death of my husband because I was not exposed to any different practices, apart from what I had known for years.
But this didn’t work. Then I was introduced by a friend to a community group called Tego Yie (Editor’s note: a Luo phrase meaning strengthening faith) in a village in Ugunja sub-county. This was the beginning of my transformation. It was five years ago when I joined the community group. The group had a vision to change livelihoods through farming.
We were trained by the Ministry for a season, which was three and a half months. There was a demonstration area with four different plots. One plot was maize intercropped with green gram, another was maize intercropped with beans, another with dolichos lab-lab, and another with cowpeas.
During the training, we left the land undisturbed by only uprooting weeds, and not digging up the soil. Sometimes we used a hoe to just scratch the weeds off the soil. But we didn’t break the soil surface, so the soil remained fertile and retained its capacity to hold water. Also, the crop roots were not exposed, which makes them vulnerable to winds. We spaced the crops so that the maize would form a canopy that didn’t allow weeds sunlight or space to grow.
As a group, we recorded data from planting to harvesting. One week after planting, we all checked the number of maize leaves per plant, the height of the plant and the length of each leaf. We did this again in week two, week three, week four, and continued until the maize tassled.
The maize was mature and ready for harvest after 105 days. I loved every bit of what we were doing and this was my eye-opener.
At harvest time, I was all smiles. From the same one acre where I had never got more than one 90-kilo sack, I harvested 12 90-kilo bags.
This was the beginning of my successful journey. It was the first time in my life I had sold my farm produce in the market and still had some left for my family. This was my motivation and I vowed never to return to the abject poverty that had affected my personality in the village.
I also joined different farming enterprises. The Kenya Agricultural Research Organization and an NGO called Rural Energy and Food Security Organization taught us to grow bananas by using planting materials that had been cultured in a sterile environment in nurseries through what is called tissue culture. This involved a one-year farmer field school.
Also, I received a dairy goat from Heifer International, and I sell the milk. I also have a new venture processing orange-fleshed sweet potato and selling crisps and chips to a nearby primary school. I make flour for porridge, using orange-fleshed sweet potato, soybeans, and sorghum to make the flour.
Because there’s minimum tillage in conservation agriculture, the soil is not eroded, and this increases its capacity to hold water.
But conservation agriculture is only easy for those who patiently do their farm work; results do not come overnight. In conservation agriculture, it’s important to cover the soil at all times. So I mulch the farm, using maize stalks or Tithonia, which also adds nitrogen to the soil. I use only composted farmyard manure for fertilizer.
And I have earned people’s respect in the community, which motivates me to keep working not just hard but smart. Through the knowledge and skills I have gained, people visit me from within the community and from other countries. I am even called a professor, despite my primary level of education.
With the money I make from farming, I bought him a motorcycle to use for a transport business. Through his hard work, he has been able to buy two more motorcycles and has a fully-furnished gym. His businesses are doing well and he built his own house after having a very poor one for a long time.
And, listener, you can do it too! Jenipher started small and listened to her big dreams.
Today, we walked together through Jenipher’s farm and heard the story of a woman who is growing maize intercropped with beans and doing zero tillage, and also has banana orchards and sells eggs.
You can start using the same practices: zero tillage, using correct spacing, correct weeding and correct time of weeding, right harvesting methods, and not interfering with the soil – all for better yields and improved livelihoods.
Bye bye until we meet again on our next farmer program. This is your presenter, (presenter’s name).Fade in signature tune then out
Contributed by: Rachel Adipo, program officer, Adaptive Research and Information Technology Program, Ugunja Community Resource Centre.
Reviewed by:Getrude Kambauwa, Chief Land Resources Conservation Officer, Land Resources Conservation Department Headquarters, Malawi Ministry Of Agriculture, Water and Irrigation Development; Wycliff Kumwenda, Farm Services Manager, National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi; Peter Kuria, Programme officer for African Conservation Tillage Network, Kenya.
Interview with Jenipher Awino, farmer and village-based agricultural advisor, October 16, 2014.
This script was written with the support of Irish Aid.