Conserving soils and water
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CTA. 2003. Conserving soils and water. Rural Radio Resource Pack 03/04. Wageningen, The Netherlands: CTA.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/57437
A co-ordinator for Zambia?s Programme Against Malnutrition explains methods of conservation farming which can help to conserve both soil moisture and nutrients in areas experiencing dry spells.
Cue: Faced with unreliable rainfall and rising temperatures, farmers may feel powerless; their productivity seems to depend on forces beyond their control. But while the battle to maintain food production may be getting harder, it is not true that farmers have no power. Protecting and improving the quality of their soil, for instance, can have a major impact on crop yields, and can even help to compensate for low rainfall. In Zambia, the Programme Against Malnutrition(PAM) is currently advising farmers to practice what is called ?Conservation farming? as a way of protecting their fields from erosion and building soil fertility and water-holding capacity. This was just one of several strategies that Chris Kakunta learned about when he spoke to Hurrington Kanema, PAM?s Central Province co-ordinator. Hurrington begins by explaining some of the other ways that the organisation is helping farmers to cope with the changing climate. IN: ?One of the things that? OUT: ?made use of by the plants.? DUR?N 4?28? BACK ANNOUNCEMENT: Hurrington Kanema of Zambia?s Programme Against Malnutrition. Transcript Kanema One of the things that we are doing is that we are promoting crop diversification. We believe that with a wide range of crops being grown, farmers are able to cope with these dry spells, because then they plant a range of crops which are tolerant to different levels of moisture limitations. For example, we are trying to help farmers to plant a cereal crop, but also within those cereal crops, we try to encourage them to plant the short season varieties, say of maize or sorghum, which mature in a short period, so that even when we have a dry spell, farmers will have some food at the end of the season. Secondly we are trying to promote root and tuber crops. One of the crops we have been working on is cassava. In these areas where we are, in Central Province for example, cassava has not been a traditional crop, but now it has become necessary, because cassava is more drought tolerant, and once you plant it you are assured that you are going to have your food over a long period of time. In addition to that one of the other strategies we have embarked on is conservation farming. Farmers need to use methods which will help them grow crops even when there is very little moisture. Kakunta And what methods are we talking about here? Kanema Some of the conservation methods we are using here, are the basins, as we can see these holes around here, so that moisture will be captured in these basins for a longer period. Kakunta There are two types of holes I can see here. There are these smaller ones, and these bigger ones. Why are they so different? Kanema What we call the basins are just dug-out small holes which they use for planting. And then there are what we call the ripped lines, the lines which are ripped with oxen. So farmers with work oxen, we encourage them to use the ripper: it?s faster, they can also cultivate a bigger area. You know when you dig these small holes with a hand hoe, it?s quite hard, there?s a lot of work involved. But with work oxen you are able to open up the furrows very early and be able to plant in these furrows. Kakunta You mentioned that these holes are actually able to conserve some moisture. How exactly is that done? Kanema What we do is when we open up these holes, they are about 15cm deep, we then put in some manure, and they are covered and we leave just about 5cm or so. So that when the rains come the farmers can plant, and water is captured in these holes. Because it has been dug, this area is very soft, so when it rains, the little water which falls goes straight into these holes, and it is stored in the soil, and it is made available to the seed which we are going to plant. So this moisture is not wasted, it does not just run off. So the idea of conservation is we are conserving not just the moisture, but also the nutrients. Kakunta So in other words you are actually conserving the soils as well as helping the farmers cope with the changes in the weather? Kanema That?s true. Because you see, the idea of conservation is that we are not ploughing the whole area; the farmer is just digging this place where he needs to put his seed. The rest of the land remains intact; the stubble or whatever is left in the field to add to the nutrients of the soil. So you are improving your soil. And in the long term you are also improving the structure of the soil so that it captures more moisture; the nutrients are there in the soil, that is why it is conservation farming. And in addition to that you improve the long term well-being of the farmer. They are able to get a better crop than when they are all the time ploughing. Most of the time you will see when they plough, when there is so much rain, the rain just washes away your soil, so there is a lot of erosion taking place because of that. But with an area like this, where they have not ploughed, they have just made holes where they plant, there is no run-off, very little run-off. The little water running off goes into these basins, and it is made use of by the plants. End of track.