Making the most of what you’ve got

David Muwaya practices preparing a permanent planting hole. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

David Muwaya practices preparing a permanent planting hole. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

“Poverty is not what you have; it is what you make of what you have.”

Robert and I joined about 25 others – Zambian farmers, teachers, community development workers – last week at Masaiti Farm Training Center learning the practical truth of this saying.

Foundations for Farming (FfF) is a concept developed in Zimbabwe. FfF seeks to help the small scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa grow enough food to feed their families and support them adequately, using conservation farming methods.

Every farmer can make good compost using what he/she has - grass, leaves, forest soil. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Every farmer can make good compost using what he/she has - grass, leaves, forest soil. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Commercial farmers produce 6-10 tonnes per hectare of maize. Most small scale farmers produce 2 tonnes (40 bags) per hectare, on only 1/2 hectare or less. An average sized African family annually needs 30 bags of maize as food. Too many don’t produce that.

FfF aims to teach farmers to grow 6 tonnes per hectare. At even 1/2 hectare, that’s enough to feed a family and sell 30 bags. All they need is a hoe and seed. How do they do it?

FfF teaches a message, not just a method. They believe a change of heart and attitude is necessary for lasting change. Too often the poor see themselves as victims; not as responsible individuals capable of changing their future. God is for the church, irrelevant for the rest of life. We were taught instead that doing a good job as farmers is part of true worship.

Boet Pretorius, an instructor from Zimbabwe, shows what you can harvest using good farming methods. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Boet Pretorius, an instructor from Zimbabwe, shows what you can harvest using good farming methods. (Photo by Marianne Stamm)

Four principles form the base of the training – on time, at standard, no wastage, with joy. Practically that means preparing the land, planting, weeding, etc on time; proper depth and spacing, right amounts of inputs, quality inputs; no ploughing of the land (waste of energy and resource), no burning of the trash; when you do things right you can work with joy.

On farm demonstrations with opportunity to practice ourselves rounded the lessons. We visited a farmer who is successfully applying these methods and reaping a bountiful harvest. One former student came to lecture on vegetable growing and showed pictures of her crop – telling of how she learned to grow the same amount of maize on two hectares as she had on ten before.

We learned to make compost properly – a valuable fertilizer capable of producing equal to commercial fertilizers. Every farmer in this country has the ingredients for compost in his backyard. Every farmer has something!

The training confirmed much of our experience – not just as farmers training farmers, but as development workers. Often Aid gives to those who have nothing – encouraging those who have, to have nothing too. People are kept in perpetual poverty, because it is convenient. In time it becomes a pattern. The principles of FfF have changed that for many. People are taking back their destinies. That’s exciting stuff to witness.

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