March 4, 2009

What a sight: several hundred farmers, mostly women, many with babies on their backs. They’ve come to learn to farm smarter. The headdresses are bright African scarves, except for my friend Lister, who wears a white ball cap from Hunters Motors of Athabasca, Alta.

The large crowd streams out to the plots. How are we going to see anything? (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The large crowd streams out to the plots. How are we going to see anything? (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The conservation farming field day drew a huge crowd. Would we get close enough to the agronomists explaining the plots to get anything out of this day?

I was pleasantly surprised. The multitude dispersed quickly into smaller groups around the farm. I tagged along at the end with two other women from our busload. We got the undivided attention of several field men. The two women took full advantage of it, asking many intelligent questions and taking notes on everything.

“Imagine!” they exclaimed. “All this time we have been wasting our time, our energy and our money.”

The women were referring to their traditional farming methods. Fields are plowed by hand or with oxen, planting is delayed because of the long preparation time and fertilizer often inefficiently used.

The women listen attentively to the agronomist explaining conservation farming methods. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The women listen attentively to the agronomist explaining conservation farming methods. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

They also exclaimed over the fact that three seeds were put in each planting hole. Traditionally only one might be planted in the same space. Better soil management, crop rotation with legumes, and fertilizer (manure with a top dressing of urea) allow for a denser crop.

I was especially excited at the opportunity to chat with the owner of the farm, Agnes Ndililwa. The whole day was organized by the Kapiri Seed Farmers Association, of which she is a member. She plants only 7.5 acres but does a good job of it. She has been using the conservation farming method for three years and has seen a significant increase in yield.

Agnes Ndililwa, the owner of the farm, poses with Grace (left) and Margaret (right), as she explains how she planted her corn. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Agnes Ndililwa, the owner of the farm, poses with Grace (left) and Margaret (right), as she explains how she planted her corn. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Ndililwa told me she expects to harvest 50 to 60 50-kilogram bags of corn for each 10 kg of seed instead of just 10 or 12. She loans a bag of seed to farmers to plant and asks them to return two bags at harvest. This year she expects to receive about 650 bags.

She also has her own community development project. Ten female goats were given to women. When those goats have given birth, the women are to return the mother goats and she will give them to other women.

The women in our group are talking of chartering a bus to visit the conservation farming research centre so they can learn more. They are also interested in getting someone to visit the Copperbelt area to train them in conservation farming methods.

I think it was a very successful day.

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