JESUIT SOCIAL CENTRE ATTAINING FOOD SECURITY THROUGH ECOLOGICAL FARMING
For over 25 years, Kasisi Agriculture Training College (KATC) has been promoting Sustainable Organic Agriculture (SOA) among small scale farmers. This had been motivated by the significant benefits of SOA which include climate change mitigation and adaptation, food and nutrition security, income security, and its ability to foster sustainable use and management of natural resources and the environment. KATC is one of the pioneers of ecological farming in Zambia.
In line with the organisational vision: A flourishing rural structure embracing sustainable organic agriculture and characterised by steadily improving livelihoods (i.e., food security, improved housing, improved agricultural tools, improved access to markets and income security), KATC has helped over 10,000 small scale farmers through SOA to increase yield and production. This has led to improved food, nutrition and income security hence positively affect food availability, quantity, and quality.
3.0 FOOD SECURITY
In order to realise its vision, KATC has implemented a number of livelihood developmental project in more than 100 villages of Zambia. These project are aimed at improving livelihoods through SOA. Some of the recorded and documented efforts include: increased production (there are a number of cases where a small scale farmer could produce 4 bags by 50kg of maize and increased to 14 bags), have normal number of meals in a day (In almost all project baselines conducted, most families could have 1 or 2 meals in a day but at project end they could have 3 to 4 meals in a day), improved soil fertility (since most soils in the Kasisi area are sandy, the soils are poor and low in organic matter, SOA has produced evidence in improving soil structures through building organic matter in the soil).
Some of the strategies which KATC has done in order to improve food security in rural areas include:
- Training of small scale farmers: All the success of increased production and yield are a result of training. Annually, KATC trains an average of 850 small scale farmers. These farmers include both youths and female headed house-holds. These trainings aim at increasing knowledge and develop skills in SOA by farmers. It is the same acquired knowledge and skill use to increase production and yield.
- Promotion of local open pollinated variety seeds: most farmers tend to spend so much on hybrid seed and external inputs hence making the cost of production exorbitantly high. Most farmers implementing SOA reduce the cost of production by about 30% hence increasing profits.
A female farmer showcasing local and open pollinated variety seeds at a seed fare
- Marketing of farmers’ products: KATC established an organic farmer association which markets the produce for organic farmers within Chongwe and Rufunsa Districts. Marketing is done for both rain fed crops and vegetable to formal markets. This strategy has enabled farmers to sell to a stable market and at a better price than the informal market. Good marketing encourages farmers to grow more.
A male farmer marketing some organic value added products at a district show
- Promoting crop diversification: Most farmers were producing Maize and very few if any other crops. KATC through SOA changed the mentality of most farmers and there is now a variety of crops and these include: cow peas, pigeon peas, sunflower, groundnuts, cassava, pop corns, mbambara nuts, soya beans, millet, sorghum, beans, gouda, pumpkin, water melon, sweet potatoes and green gram.
A male farmer showcasing the different crops and vegetables that he grows
- KATC discourages farmers to use herbicides: Crop diversification had also decreased because of high usage of herbicides which only allowed maize to grow in the applied field.
- Encouragement of livestock integration in farmers’ farms: Food security is also met through rearing of different animals such as goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, guinea fowls, rabbits, doves, sheep, quails, and cattle. This serves for both food security and also as a source of manure.
An example of livestock integration setup at a farmer’s farm
- Introduction of the Center Pivot Irrigation Scheme: Most of the small scale farmers near Kasisi area face a challenge of water for irrigation. The water table is very low and shallow wells do not last the dry winter season hence making it difficult to have home gardens. KATC is currently sharing part of an irrigated field with 100 small scale farmers producing organic vegetable for their own income. KATC provides compost, vegetable seeds, markets, extension services, Center pivot facility, and transport. KATC allocated a 12.5ha piece of land under the CPI facility to the 100 farmers, each farmer owns a 40 by 30 meter plot. This has contributed to food security in most villages as farmers sell organic vegetables and use the money to buy different food staffs which they cannot grow, access good health facilities, send their children to school, and invest in many areas
4.0 ECOLOGICAL PLACTICES AND TECHNOLOGY
SOA is governed by three broad principles namely: soil fertility management, soil and water conservation and natural pest and disease management.
The management of Soil fertility in SOA is based on the underlying principle of on-farm nutrient recycling as opposed to the heavy reliance on external inputs. Practices for the management of soil fertility include: the use of animal manure(s), compost, compost/manure extracts, compost/manure teas, green manures, fertilizer trees, biofertilizers and cultural practices such as crop rotation, intercropping, mulching, residue retention, , etc.
Soil and water conservation in SOA is based on the understanding that natural resources should not be exploited just to satisfy the immediate needs but need to be taken care of to maintain productivity in the long term.
There are three broad groups of practices for soil and water conservation namely; minimum soil disturbance, maximum soil cover and crop diversification and rotation. Additionally, there are other measures that are promoted to prevent wind and water erosion. Some of these practices are hedgerows, contour techniques and terraces.
A balanced agricultural ecosystem characterized by high diversity is key for the management of pests and diseases. A number of cultural practices which include; balanced crop nutrition, crop rotation, intercropping and crop diversification are effective in the management of pests and diseases. There are also other deliberate pest management practices such as biological pest management, push pull, hedgerows and botanical pesticides.
In conclusion, the prevalence of food insecurity among rural communities in Zambia has stubbornly remained high despite the many years of embracing the so-called modern farming systems characterized by heavy reliance on chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds. A survey conducted in 2015 for instance shows that 46% of rural households in Zambia had inadequate food provisions during the period between May 2014 and April 2015. Malnutrition has also remained rampant nationwide as seen in the number of stunted children. The Central Statistics Office (CSO) reports that approximately 48.3% and 42.3% of children in rural and urban areas, respectively are stunted. Low agricultural productivity and monocultures are some of the causes for the food insecurity and poor nutrition. KATC has proven that SOA, through the improvement in productivity and crop and enterprise diversity, has the potential to alleviate these problems.