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Script 71.5

Notes to broadcasters

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The aim of the following script is to promote the planting of fruit-bearing, leguminous and non-leguminous trees and shrubs in fallow fields as an alternative to slash-and-burn. Although slash-and-burn agriculture, or shifting cultivation, has been practised for centuries, many soil nutrients and organic matter are lost during burning. These days, fallow periods are shorter, so soil has less time to regenerate. Farmers need to find new ways to replenish their land.

A non-leguminous shrub from the sunflower family called Tithonia diversifolia that grows wild throughout Africa has proven to provide nitrogen and phosphorous to depleted soils. This shrub produces a bright yellow flower and also acts as a natural pesticide. It can be used for fodder for cattle, goats, sheep, rabbits and guinea pigs. The use of cuttings and leaves of Tithonia diversifolia as green manure in an intensification fallow system is often referred to as a “daisy fallow.”

Tithonia diversifolia is known as “wild sunflower” or “Mexican sunflower,” but farmers may have other names for it in the local language. Before broadcasting this program, find out if Tithonia diversifolia grows wild in your area and whether it is used by farmers already. Invite farmers in your listening audience to share how they use Tithonia diversifolia on their farms. Include the local name(s) for this plant throughout the script.

Script

Characters:

Host

Aunt Bisa:
robust woman farmer in her early fifties
Hanna:
woman farmer in her late twenties

SOUND EFFECTS: gentle music, moderate tempo. Continue under.

Host:
Our program today is about finding new ways to put nutrients back into the soil without slashing-and-burning. Although slash-and-burn agriculture has been practised for centuries, these days there’s not enough land and fallow periods have become shorter and shorter. Burning damages soil and eventually ruins it. So farmers need new ways to build soil.

FADE MUSIC.

SOUND EFFECTS: knocking and door opening.

Aunt Bisa:
Hanna, dear. It’s so nice to see you! How long has it been?

Hanna:
Too long, much too long. You look healthy, Aunt Bisa.

Aunt Bisa:
Yes. God has smiled on me lately. You’ve had a long journey. Come and sit down. We will have a cup of tea.

Hanna:
Thank you.

SOUND EFFECTS: liquid pouring into cups.

Hanna:
The village looks the same. I miss all the pretty painted houses!

Aunt Bisa:
Yes, but not many young people paint their houses with agricultural patterns any more; it’s mostly decoration now. But tell me, how are you and your family?

Hanna:
We are fine. The children are doing well in school, even though they do a lot of work in the fields.

Aunt Bisa:
And your husband?

Hanna:
Zuri’s very worried these days. The business of farming is troubling us. Our maize harvest this year was worse than last year. The soil is tired and Zuri says it’s time to switch fields and slash and burn again. I worry that the fallow field won’t be productive.

Aunt Bisa:
I’m sorry to hear you have troubles. But I think I know why you came to visit me today. Come outside. I want to show you something.

SOUND EFFECTS: door opening and footsteps in grass. Sounds of outdoors including birds and other field noises.

Aunt Bisa:
As you know, your cousin Kofi has been working the fields since your uncle died. Our cassava and maize yields have been better and better in the last few years.

Hanna:
Look at all the wild sunflowers! It reminds me of my dream.

Aunt Bisa:
Your dream?

Hanna:
Yes. I dreamed that I painted my house like everyone in the old village, but with bright yellow flowers. I woke up feeling homesick and decided to come and see you.

Aunt Bisa:
Maybe your dream was not such a dream after all. You see, we’re growing these wild sunflowers in our fallow field.

Hanna:
Aren’t they just a weed?

Aunt Bisa:
Some people call them weeds. They grow wild in many parts of Africa. But let me tell you, five years ago we were desperate. Our harvests were poor and the soil was terrible, just like yours. Too much acid in the soil after slashing and burning.

Hanna:
So what did you do?

Aunt Bisa:
Kofi noticed that crops grew better in the parts of the field where he had ploughed the leaves and branches of wild sunflowers that grew along the edges. We decided to experiment. The next growing season, Kofi ploughed cuttings and leaves into a large part of the field. And do you know what happened?

Hanna:
You had a better yield from that part of the field?

Aunt Bisa:
Yes! No more slash and burn for us. In fact, Kofi talked to an agricultural expert about a better way to treat soil. Instead of allowing grass to grow then burning it, we fallow with trees and shrubs including this wild sunflower. These woody plants put nutrients back in the soil. If you come close, you’ll see that we’re growing more than one kind of shrub.

Hanna:
Isn’t that a lot of work?

Aunt Bisa:
It was at first, but we’ve been rewarded in many ways. Even though we can’t grow crops in the field for a few years, the shrubs give us green manure for the field we are farming now. And our goats eat the wild sunflower leaves. Another tree produces fruit. You should tell Zuri about fallowing with trees and shrubs.

Hanna:
I don’t know if he would go to all that trouble. Besides, we don’t have any seeds.

Aunt Bisa:
Now, don’t you worry about that. The sunflower may grow wild near your home. You could take cuttings from the shrubs. We have many wild sunflowers too, so I’ll give you a bundle of good cuttings to take with you. Just remember to plant them on an angle in the soil. I can give you some seeds as well, but the shrubs grow more quickly from cuttings.

SOUND EFFECTS: upbeat music. Fade under Host.

Host:
A couple of years later, Aunt Bisa receives a letter from her niece, Hanna …

Hanna
[voice over, joyous]: Dear Aunt Bisa,
I hope you are well. I can’t believe it has been so long since I visited you. We have been so busy! Thank you for giving us the wild sunflower cuttings. Zuri was doubtful at first, but I also found some sunflowers growing wild. I offered to work extra hard to plant and weed our field. I asked him what could be worse than ash that ruins our soil? An extension worker also suggested we plant some bush mangos [Irvingia gabonensis]. We used the wild sunflowers as green manure before planting our maize crop and our yield improved a lot!

To show my gratitude and spread the message, I painted our house with a pattern of yellow sunflowers, just like I did in the dream I told you about. The children helped me and learned about an old tradition, too. Even Zuri likes it. I feel connected to my home village and the wisdom of sharing farming ideas.

May you continue to prosper and be blessed with good harvests and good health.

Love, Hanna.

SOUND EFFECTS: gentle music, moderate tempo. Continue under.

Host:
We’ve been talking about ways to put nutrients back into the soil without slashing and burning. If you’ve had success planting trees and shrubs as fallow in your fields, please get in touch with us here at Radio ____________, and share your story with other listeners. Thanks for tuning in today. I’m your host _________________.

– END –

Acknowledgements

  • Contributed by Belinda Bruce, Vancouver, Canada.
  • Reviewed by Dr. Helen Hambly Odame, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph, and Dr. Peter van Straaten, Land Resource Science, University of Guelph, Canada.

Information Sources

Note: The booklet, Using the wild sunflower, tithonia, in Kenya for soil fertility and crop yield improvement, provides additional information about the use of Tithonia diversifolia as a green manure, including traditional uses, how to plant the seeds or grow from cuttings, and the benefits for crops. Please contact the Farm Radio Network office if you would like to receive a copy. (Published by the International Centre for Research in Agroforesty.)