Sorghum has been regarded as a ‘poor man’s crop’ in much of Africa. In southern Zambia, however, that situation is changing. Here, farmers, crop breeders, extension officers and people working in the food and feed industries have formed an ‘innovation platform’ – working together to support commercial sorghum production. New, high yielding and drought tolerant varieties of sorghum are generating good profits for farmers, many of whom are now supplying the Zambian brewing industry. And with sorghum having strong health benefits, its future contribution to Zambia’s economy – and to the livelihoods of small-scale farmers – looks assured. This report from Lusitu, southern Zambia, is on the changing face of sorghum production.
published: October 2013
In parts of Malawi, the agricultural extension services and district authorities are supporting reforestation efforts by rural communities, by supplying polythene tubes and advice for the cultivation of tree saplings. In the village of Nkhukwa, about 10 km from Lilongwe, the villagers are attempting a massive reforestation effort, to restore their eroded soils and replenish their lost water supplies. Villager Wonderful Chalera also urges people to grow crops such as groundnuts, as an alternative to tobacco, which requires large amounts of wood for curing or building drying barns.
published: August 2013
In Malawi, soya bean has a growing market as an ingredient in livestock feed. In Mchinji district, farmers who once grew tobacco are now turning to soya, with support from the Clinton Development Initiative and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. To maximise their harvests, the farmers are treating their seeds before planting with an inoculant. This boosts the capacity of the soya plant roots to absorb nitrogen from air pockets in the soil. The nitrogen acts as a source of fertiliser, both for the soya and for later crops, helping the farmers achieve good profits in the market. George Kalungwe speaks to farmers and their advisers about how the seed treatment works and the benefits it has brought.
published: October 2012
Conservation Agriculture, which has been adopted by thousands of farmers in Zimbabwe as a means to increase their crop production and protect their land from erosion, involves three main principles. Crops are planted with minimum disturbance of the soil, often in planting basins; the soil is covered with crop wastes, cover crops or other organic matter; and crops such as cereals and legumes are grown in rotation. Busani Bafana speaks to Martin Moyo of ICRISAT, a research institute that has been a key player in developing conservation agriculture in Zimbabwe, including the use of fertiliser ‘micro-dosing’, and also to Albert Ncube, a conservation agriculture trainer based in the north west of the country. He finds out more about the technique, the benefits it is giving farmers and the challenges they face in implementing it.
published: October 2012
In Katoba, to the east of the Zambian capital Lusaka, felling of trees for charcoal making provides the only available source of income for many households. To address the problem, the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre is supporting the adoption of bee keeping as an alternative source of income. Donald Zulu explains the double benefits of bee keeping, both for income generation and environmental protection. We also hear from Japhet Seulu of Community Markets for Conservation, about a pricing system for crop production which is helping to reduce slash-and-burn agriculture, another major cause of deforestation in the area. And lead farmer, Peter Chabola, explains why he prefers keeping bees to making charcoal, as a means to raise his family.
published: August 2012
In Sinjela, to the east of the Zambian capital Lusaka, felling of trees for charcoal making has left the land bare and farmers in the area are struggling to cope with reduced rainfall. But some, like Moses Moonga, have begun to adopt agroforestry on their farms, planting a variety of trees and shrubs that offer multiple benefits, both to the farmers and to the environment. Moses explains to Friday Phiri about the trees he has planted and the benefits they give, while extension officer Austin Chilala from the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre, explains how agroforestry trees can improve soil fertility and provide an extra source of food, as well as poles for building.
published: June 2012
In Malawi, climate change has been marked by less reliable rainfall patterns, higher temperatures and more extreme events like floods and droughts. The Malawi Lake Basin Programme is helping farmers to cope by use of sustainable land management practices, which help to retain more water in the soil, as well as by encouraging farmers to plant drought-resistant crops. Meanwhile, the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services is working to provide up-to-date weather forecasts that give farmers the information they need. But further investment is needed in high tech climate monitoring equipment, and the country also needs more young scientists to train in the skills of a weather forecaster.
published: May 2012
In Malawi’s northern district of Karonga, cattle farmers have struggled to get a good price for their animals. But in 2007, work began to construct a modern abattoir in the district, with funding from the EU’s Farm Income Diversification Programme. Livestock farmers formed a committee to run the abattoir and staff from the local community were recruited, trained and employed. The abattoir follows rigorous standards and pays a fair price for animals. Local consumers are also benefitting from high quality, clean meat, available on a daily basis. Excello Zidana visits the abattoir to learn about the difference it has made to livestock farmers and their customers.
published: March 2012
Nitrogen is an important element in creating protein, the building block for our bodies. Plants also depend on nitrogen in order to grow well. However in Africa, nitrogen concentration in farmland soils is often low and few farmers can afford to buy chemical fertiliser to address the problem. Legume plants, such as beans, soya and groundnuts, have a natural capacity to extract nitrogen from the air and convert it into a solid form that they and other plants can benefit from. So planting a legume as part of a farm’s crop rotation boosts soil fertility and reduces the need to use chemical fertiliser. Gloria Kasongo of the N2Africa project, which aims to increase planting of legumes in African farms, explains more to Excello Zidana.
published: February 2012
Millions of rural women in Africa earn small amounts of extra income for their families through petty trading. However, when it comes to technical and vocational training to run small businesses, women are often sidelined in favour of men. In Malawi, a technical training organisation, TEVETA, is offering women the chance to learn more advanced skills, including those typically associated with men, such as welding and fabrication. And the organisation has been working with a local female MP, who is passionate about improving the access of women and girls to training and microfinance. Excello Zidana reports, speaking to the MP herself and a TEVETA centre manager.
published: December 2011
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