April 8

Lisa explains how to prepare the soil for planting using the special chako hoe. Beside us a team of oxen rips the soil in readiness for planting corn. Along with 23 other farmers from the Kitwe area, I am at Golden Valley Agricultural Research Trust to learn all I can about conservation farming for small-scale farmers.

Lisa demonstrates a planter that seeds fertilizer and seed at the same time. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Lisa demonstrates a planter that seeds fertilizer and seed at the same time. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

The group gathered around Lisa and Victor is fully attentive. Many are taking notes. Others break in to ask questions or get clarification. Everyone is eager to get the most out of these precious hours.

We travelled four hours by bus to come here. The money for transport was dear for most. Some had to be sponsored. No one is disappointed.

“Oh, I tell you, knowledge is power,” exclaims Vivienne. She is so excited to have this opportunity.

Staff members at the trust are well organized and do an impressive job of demonstrating conservation farming methods. Then they show us the results in the field. Everyone has a handbook, but seeing is better than reading.

The aisle of the bus going home is crowded with tree seedlings: Musangu, Moringa, Neem and others I don’t recognize. Almost everyone has bottles of Musangu seeds with them. I joke that the copper belt is going to be covered in Musangu trees. “Nothing could make me happier,” Eva says.

Musangu, also called the fertilizer tree, has the unique property of shedding its leaves just as the planting season begins, so it doesn’t compete with growing crops. When mature, the tree provides enough nutrients under its wide canopy to grow a good crop of maize.

A young musangu tree growing among the corn. One day it will shed enough leaves to fertilize a large area under its canopy. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

A young musangu tree growing among the corn. One day it will shed enough leaves to fertilize a large area under its canopy. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

“If we do not use it (the musangu tree) we will never be rich”, Victor tells the group.

It takes 14 years until the tree is really productive, but as Murray Sanderson told me, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today.”

*   *  *

Robert just came home from the building site. Two hammers and his Leatherman’s multi-tool that our youngest son bought him for Christmas have been missing for a couple of days now. Tonight he told his workers that tomorrow is payday, but there will be no pay until those tools show up again. We learned that method from another farmer. He doesn’t have problems with tools missing anymore. It is a sad fact of life here that theft is rampant. Robert is disappointed. He didn’t think his guys would do something like that.

One of the older workers said that maybe they have to consult the witch doctor to see who the thief is.

Conservation farming uses a special ripper when using oxen to prepare the soil for planting. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Conservation farming uses a special ripper when using oxen to prepare the soil for planting. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

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