Have you heard of sustainable farming? Many farmers and extension workers are talking about it. It could be the solution to some of your farming problems — problems that can make it difficult for you to harvest a good crop every season. Some of these problems are soil erosion, disappearing forests, and lack of water.
Sustainable farming is also called long-term farming or farming for the future. It means taking care of the land. In return the land will take care of you by producing food for many years. When you practice long-term farming you consider the needs of your children, their children, and their children who will be born many years from now.
But sustainable farming is also farming for today. It helps you to cope with an unexpected event such as a drought, or too much rain, an outbreak of pests, or changing food prices. Even if one of these things happens you will still be able to harvest enough food to get a good income and feed your family.MUSIC OR SOUND EFFECTS
Now I’m going to talk about practices that are part of long-term farming. As I describe them, think about whether or not they are part of your farming system. They will help you determine if you are taking care of the land and farming for your family’s future.
An important part of farming for the future is keeping the soil covered. When soil is covered it won’t wash or blow away easily, and it absorbs more water. You can keep soil covered with living plants or by spreading dead weeds, grasses, and leftover crops between rows of crops on the soil surface. The soil should be covered as much of the time as possible.
It is also useful to add manure, compost or leftover plant parts to your soil. In other words, you should put back into the soil what you take out. If you continue to remove nutrients without replacing them, there will not be enough nutrients for your next crops. Some farmers put compost in the same spot where they have just harvested vegetables. In that way nutrients are replaced immediately. Other farmers return one load of animal manure to fertilize the soil for every three loads of grass they harvest.
So this is another thing to think about. Are you replacing soil nutrients and organic matter?MUSIC OR SOUND EFFECTS
Now consider variety on your farm.
Variety helps to provide a secure income. For example, it is good practice to plant a variety of crops. If possible, keep some livestock too. In other words, make sure that you have more than one way to make a living. If you are dependent on just one crop to sell you could be in trouble if something unexpected happens. You will be better off if you have a number of different crops to grow and sell. Then if you have bad weather you may experience damage to one or two crops.
But the other crops may survive and yield well.MUSIC OR SOUND EFFECTS
The next thing to think about is your use of pesticides. Chemical pesticides are often expensive and dangerous to your health. And there are safer, less expensive ways of controlling pests.
- You can reduce the amount of pesticides you use if you learn to identify pests and observe them in the field. Learn which ones do the most damage and when they are a problem. Spray only when and where it is absolutely necessary. Remember that healthy plants won’t require so much pesticide.
- Make your own, less harmful pesticides. You can use materials available locally such as plant leaves and seeds, soap, and wood ashes.
If you have reduced pesticide use on your farm this is a very good thing. You are already farming for the future. If you still use pesticides, try to reduce the amount. Make sure that you follow all instructions and safety rules when you do spray.MUSIC OR SOUND EFFECTS
Two more words to remember when you are farming for the future are “conservation ” and “recycling”
Try not to waste anything. Before you buy a new product, look around to see if there is something already available that you could use instead. You can save money this way. If you rely more on yourself and the resources you already have, you will be better off.
There are many ways you can rely more on yourself. For example instead of buying new seeds every season, save seeds that you can plant next season.
Trees should also be a part of your farm. Remember that the trees you now use and enjoy were planted by people who worked the land before you. Now you use them for fuel, animal feed and shade. You can give the same gift to future generations by planting trees and replacing the ones you cut down.
And finally, ask yourself if you are satisfied with the way you are farming. Are your methods efficient? Or wasteful? Are you protecting the land? Will your children and grandchildren always have enough to eat?
If you are already doing these things you are off to a good start. It may take some time before you see results. Remember that long term farming is a step-by-step process and you will always be learning.
This script was written by Jennifer Pittet, Managing Editor, Developing Countries Farm Radio Network, Toronto, Canada. It was reviewed by Dr. Stuart Hill, Foundation Chair of Social Ecology, University of Western Sydney, Australia
- “Sustainable agriculture” in Sunrise: a newsletter for the small-scale farmer, Volume 2, No. 5, May 1997. Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, P.O. Box 30652, Lusaka, Zambia.
- Production without destruction,Helen L. Vukasin et al., 1995. Natural Farming Network, P.O. Box CY 301 Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe.
- “Indicators of sustainable farming“, in Uganda Environews,Volume 4, No. 2, June 1997, page 104. Africa 2000 Network, UNDP, P.O. Box 7184, Kampala, Uganda.
- “Organic agriculture has a place in Africa”, by John W. Njoroge, in Ecology and Farming, No. 15, May 1997. International Federation of Organic Movements (IFOAM), Okozentrum Imsbach, 306636 Tholey-Theley, Germany.