My three worlds merge again

At a crop production meeting of the regional Swiss farm cooperative they discussed the use of an African plant as a green manure species. When I did some research on this plant (guizotia) I learned that CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) is a partner to a research project in Africa to develop this plant for better utilization.

Guizotia is grown in Ethiopia and other African countries for its edible oil and seed. European farmers find the plant has a good fit as part of a seed mix for green manure, with its strong root system and quick growth. Most cereal crops in this part of the world (Switzerland) are winter crops – seeded in the fall and harvested in summer. Often a fast growing crop such as a legume or mustard is seeded after the cereals and then plowed under to enhance the soil before the next cash crop is planted.

Zambian commercial farmers sometimes grow a green manure crop to improve the fragile tropical soil. We saw fields of a crop that looked very much like the pictures of guizotia we were shown. I’ll have to check into that when we get to Zambia.

I was one of four women among about 65 men at the crop production meeting. A young woman caught my eye and I got a chance to speak briefly with her. Gabi Uelinger, who has a degree in biology, rents the farm from her parents. She and her father are well known for their work in preserving the biodiversity of native plant and small animal life as part of the mandate of the Swiss farmer.

A female farm manager is still an oddity in Switzerland, Gabi told me. That doesn’t mean Swiss farm women aren’t involved in farm decisions. But it seems the men are still the primary managers.

When Robert and I farmed in Switzerland I wouldn’t have thought to go to agricultural workshops either. It wasn’t until we grain farmed in Canada that I became an equal partner. And I was one of a handful of women at conferences and workshops there too.

Women are a strong presence at crop field days in Zambia. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Women are a strong presence at crop field days in Zambia. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

It’s interesting that at the farm workshops Robert and I conduct in Zambia, women are a strong presence. Among small scale farmers women often run the farm, probably because the men just aren’t there. But men prevail among the commercial farmers.

We were to leave for Africa this Thursday, January 28. I broke my arm skiing in the Black Forest last Friday so we’ve had to rebook our flights for February 18. I’m disappointed, but it can’t be helped.

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