Notes to broadcasters
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In recent years, the threats posed by climate change, environmental degradation and food insecurity in Africa have become obvious to all. But rural families need practical solutions to the challenges of poor soils, poor rain and poor yields.
Conservation farming gives small-scale farmers an opportunity to achieve better livelihoods in the face of all these challenges. It consists of very simple methods of farming that include reduced disturbance of the soil during land preparation, no burning of crop residues after harvest, crop rotation, and reliance whenever possible on organic sources like compost and livestock manure for crop nutrients instead of chemical fertilizer.
In Zambia, many small-scale farmers still use traditional methods to cultivate their fields. They dig up a field and then make mounds or ridges on which to plant their crops. But because of drought, crop performance is always poor and yields are often very low. Many households run out of food between November and February or March the following year when they are able to harvest their new crops.
Conservation farming has made a great difference for resource-poor but viable small-scale farmers. Now many households have enough food throughout the year and sometimes even have a surplus for sale.
This program was produced in 2011 on Breeze FM in Chipata, eastern Zambia, but has been re-broadcast several times by demand of small-scale farmers. Agatha Ngoma is an example of the majority of rural women suffering under cultural customs that seem to enslave wives to their husbands. Her husband regarded her like an unpaid worker and a child-making machine. As a result, her family was large and poor. There are many women in situations like this in many rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa.
However, Agatha was ambitious. She participated in every development program that came to her area. As a result, she eventually got involved in conservation farming. Very soon, her life changed for the better. There was enough food at home and she was able to send her children to school without any support from her uncaring husband. As a matter of fact, she started to give him money for his daily bottle of the highly toxic kachasu, an illegal local brew. This contributed to his death in 2012. Although Agatha was strongly affected, the death of her husband seemed to give her renewed energy and she embraced conservation farming with vigour and passion.
This script is about how Agatha changed her life with conservation farming. You could use it as inspiration to research and write a script on conservation farming or a different farming practice which might be of benefit in your area. Or you might choose to dramatize this script on your station, 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.
The original full program, complete with intro, outro, sound effects and other breaks had a duration of thirty minutes. However, the script could be produced in two parts. It may be advisable to produce the interview with the extension agent as the first part of the program. If you do this, please remember to notify your listener that in the next program you will be talking to a farmer who is successfully practising what they have just heard.
VAINESS ZULU: Extension agent
AGATHA NGOMA : Small-scale farmer
KAWAMBA PHIRI: Village headman
Signature tune up and out under
As usual, the aim of this program is to show you that farming is not just scratching the ground aimlessly with a blunt hoe! If you follow proper methods, farming can feed your family well and improve your income!Bridge (rural instrumental short piece, e.g. drumming for about 30 seconds)
It has become common for many small-scale farmers to get poor yields season after season. Many blame this on poor rains and poor soils. However, today I shall take you to a rural area in Mshawa’s chiefdom, thirty kilometres out of Chipata, in eastern Zambia. I want you to meet Agatha Ngoma, an outstanding female farmer who is getting very good yields in spite of poor soils and poor rain. She adopted a method of farming called conservation farming. She started by using the Chaka hoe. But now she uses an ox-drawn ripper.
I know that some of you are wondering what a Chaka hoe and a ripper are! However, do not worry because on our way to meet this successful woman, we shall stop to talk to the agricultural extension agent for that area. She is the one who told me about this farmer, and she will explain what these tools are.
Now, we have no time to waste because we are going very far. So please put on your riding helmet and let’s go!
It is the main crop marketing season and we meet many ox-carts along the way going to the market. Most are carrying bags of maize, while others are carrying bags of groundnuts and soybeans. These are some of the most popular crops among small-scale farmers here.
We have come to the home of the extension agent. Her name is Vainess Zulu. She is a charming young woman in her mid-twenties. She could very easily have chosen to do another type of job in town. But she said she loves living and working among the rural people to help them improve their lives.
Her government house is very small and uses solar power instead of electricity. She uses a pit latrine behind her small house and gets her water from the communal borehole nearby.
Today she is supposed to visit farmers on her motorbike. This is what she does most of the time. However, I asked her to wait so that she can explain to us about the Chaka hoe, the ripper and conservation farming in general.
As I told you on the phone, I have a meeting with a group of farmers who are ready to sell their crops. I want to advise them not to sell all their crops but leave enough aside for their families until the next harvest.
Anyway, you are most welcome. I still have a few minutes before the meeting. What do you want me to tell you?
My farmers work in plots that are fifty by fifty meters square. We call such a plot a lima. This means “to cultivate” in the local language. About seventy basins can fit into one straight row at 70 centimetres from the centre of one basin to the centre of the next. The rows must be 90 centimetres apart and about fifty-five rows can be made in one lima.
After the first year, a farmer only needs to slash down the old field of trash. Conservation farming discourages burning of trash and crop residues. Instead, these must be slashed and laid between the rows of basins. They act as mulch that will conserve moisture and protect the soil from the direct heat of the sun. Eventually, the trash and crop residues rot down and become humus. Planting is always done in the same planting basins, year after year. With the hardpan broken, this is usually easy work, which again suits women. As for cultivating large areas, that is why I have introduced my farmers to the ripper.
When the oxen pull the plough, the tine just rips a straight deep line into the ground. By adjusting the plough, you can ensure that the rip-line is deep enough to break the hardpan. Like the rows of basins, the furrows must also be 90 centimetres apart. This is where the farmer applies the manure or fertilizer and plants the seed following the correct measurements and timing.
Please pass my best regards to Agatha. It’s only about ten kilometres from here, near the crop market depot.
Let’s proceed to Mrs. Ngoma to find out just how these tools work.
I am passing through very beautiful country. The land is rolling hills, with pockets of green vales where farmers have cultivated their vegetables. However, most of the rainfed crops have been harvested and the fields are barren and waiting to be prepared for the next season.
Ah, this must be where Vainess said I must turn to the right because there is this big weird tree. It is the only big tree around, as if it was deliberately left standing as a landmark. Tourists call this the elephant tree and, believe me, it is fit to be called an elephant of a tree!
It is quite an imposing sight with a very thick trunk that would probably need ten people holding outstretched hands to encircle it. But the most spectacular thing is that it has no leaves at all. Instead, it just has a splay of naked branches that make it look as if it has been turned upside down, with its roots up in the air. But it has big round grey fruits hanging from these naked branches and doves, blackbirds and other birds seem to enjoy the setup. All round, the land is flat with bush and dry grass.
This must be Agatha’s village, too, only a few metres from the turnoff. It is very big and clean. The huts are in two parallel rows on each side of the dust road. There is an nsaka in front of each hut or house. This is a special place that is usually found at every village homestead. It is a clear sign of hospitality and readiness to receive visitors. It normally consists of just a grass-thatched roof on poles, with stools or mud benches inside.
First on the left row of houses, I can see a little red-brick house with a neat roof of new corrugated iron sheets and a small veranda. It must be Agatha’s home. But, according to tradition, I must start by presenting myself to the village headman. His house must be that sprawling grass-thatched building on my right.
For obvious reasons, the nsaka in front of the headman’s house is much bigger than the others. There is an up-turned stool on one side and a rickety old bicycle leaning against one of the roof supports of the nsaka. I see a white-haired old man weaving a reed mat in front of it. He must be the headman.
May I help you?
I would love to walk around the village while the headman is gone. But I am sure that would be against tradition again. So I just have to content myself with roaming the village from my sitting position, using my eyes!
Chickens are all over the place scratching the ground for food. They are having a field day because there is a lot of spilt grain, especially near the granaries. The goats are also bleating from the edge of the village. Each one is tied to a shrub to restrain it from mischievous behaviour, and browsing. I can also hear pigs complaining in their pigsties where they are confined.
Clearly, there is enough food in this village!
Oh, here comes the headman. (Pause) No, this must be Agatha herself.
Please let’s sit down and tell me what you want to know.
When I first took up this type of farming, I planted one hectare of maize and got 120 bags weighing 50 kilograms each. I had never harvested so much maize before. It made me see that conservation farming is a very good way of farming, indeed. (Editor’s note: Agatha’s yields improved immediately, in the same season. But, depending on the climate, the soil and other conditions, it may take longer to get similar yields in other locations, in some cases up to four years.)
However, in the year 2001, Vainess came to introduce a project called the Programme Against Malnutrition. She wanted people who were ready to take up conservation farming. She said we would get free seed as an incentive.
After years of breaking my back with galauza, I was ready to try anything new. However, many people declined because it meant hard work at first. Vainess brought a strange hoe with a very long handle and told us that it was a Chaka hoe. She showed us how to dig planting basins one by one with this hoe. But it was heavier that the ordinary hoe. For that reason, many people failed to use it properly and continued with galauza.
However, I did not give up because I always want to try anything that promises to improve my farming. That year the rains were exceptionally poor and many crops wilted. Many people had very poor yields. But my crops thrived and my yields were wonderful. Vainess was very happy and said the poor rains were good for her project.
On the other hand, the young crops had a lot of food because the manure in the basins was not washed away by the rains the way fertilizer gets washed away from the galauza ridges. Their roots were also able to go deep and follow the moisture when there was drought. But my neighbours who had used galauza were in trouble. The ridges got dry when there was drought. Their crops wilted because their roots failed to penetrate the hardpan.
If you already have an ox of your own, the project gives you another so that you have a complete pair to pull the ripper. If you have no oxen at all, you need to buy one ox before the project can give you the other. You must also increase your area under conservation farming. When you are through preparing your own fields with the ripper, you must be willing to plough for other farmers around you who want to practice conservation farming.
This training is so thorough that even I managed. First, we train the ox to stay under the chain and yoke. Next, we take it for a walk to the fields to get it familiar with its future workplace. After that, we train it to pull a log and then an ox-cart. After that, we get it to pull the ripper.
You see, many women in the rural areas face big challenges in finding money for expensive inputs like fertilizer. However, conservation farming encourages practices that conserve soil fertility and promotes the use of compost, cattle manure and planting trees like musangu and Gliricidia sepium that improve the fertility of the soil.
Nevertheless, I must go and try this thing out right away!
But, of course, I shall be back with you next week, same day and same time. So look out for what I shall bring back from my experience with the oxen and the ripper!
Signature tune up, hold for five seconds, and then fade out
Contributed by: Filius Jere, Producer, farmer radio programs, Breeze FM, Chipata, Zambia
Reviewed by: John Fitzsimons, Associate Professor, Rural Planning and Development, University of Guelph, Canada
1. Agatha Ngoma, Small-scale farmer, Kasakula Village, Chief Chanje, Chipata, eastern Zambia
2. Vainess Zulu, Agricultural Extension Agent, Chiefs Chanje, Mkanda and Mshawa.
3. Mary Mumba, Executive Director, Chipangali Women’s Development Association, Chipata, Zambia, May 27, 2013
4. Gillies (Panos Southern Africa), Research Into Use – Z Program, c/o Pelum, Lusaka, Zambia, April 3, 2010
5. Musonda/Banda, Conservation Farming Unit, Zambia National Farmers Union, Chipata, Zambia, March 19, 2012