Zambia: conservation farming prevents hunger

Ruth Miyanza's corn crop is proof that conservation farming works

Ruth Miyanza’s corn crop is proof that conservation farming works.

A little yellow bird flits in the fig tree, the gardener is pulling weeds around the profusely blooming poinsettia bush – Eva’s garden is a welcome retreat from the last busy days in Kitwe, Zambia. I arrived Tuesday night to a veritable tropical downpour, after more than a month of drought during the rainy season. This rain probably saved many a late corn crop, whilst putting those almost mature at the risk of fungus.

And that’s the story of my week too. I’ve seen wonderful things and hard things. Thursday I went out to the farm of friends, which we had a small hand in helping. Ruth and Adrian Miyanza moved out to a farm in the bush after retirement, in their early sixties. They are professionals – she a teacher, he an engineer. They own a nice house in town, which they rented out to help develop the farm. Friends and family declared them out of their minds. Who wouldn’t! They lived in a board shack for more than a year, with hardly more than room for their double bed and some shelves for clothing; a tin roof keeping the downpours of two rainy seasons off their heads. Adrian said to me, “You could fear that a snake would crawl into the bed with you.” I saw the shack, when I visited a year ago, after they had just moved into their not-quite-yet-finished new brick house. I would be tempted to agree with their friends, if I hadn’t seen how happy they were.
My friend Mate drove me out. As we passed corn fields he commented on how poorly they were this year, due to the erratic rains. Ruth and Adrian crop using the conservation farming method, one that builds up the soil and improves yields. Robert and I had continually recommended this practice when consulting with small farmers in previous years. Precisely in drought periods it is supposed to be far superior to conventional methods. I was not disappointed. Ruth took me around their fields (they are small scale farmers, four fields that together make one hectare). The corn cobs were beautiful, as in a bumper year. I will recommend this method with more confidence than ever. The Miyanzas had accomplished much in the last year, adding a goat and sheep herd, increasing their chicken flock, and adding other crops, especially vegetables in the dry season as they now had the capability to water.
It was so good to see the progress this couple made. (I should add that Ruth and Adrian have farming blood and have been farming on the side for years). I just wish more farmers would embrace the technology, which is so simple. More are, but not enough. There’s still too much hunger out in the villages.
The hard: next time. I’ve gotten myself involved with a project involving prostitutes. Now, that’s a whole other ‘ball game’ altogether!

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