KATC and organic farming in Zambia

Livelihood support: KATC and organic farming in Zambia

By Craig Hincks

This article is the second in a blog series appearing on the igNation website in November 2017. The series aims to raise awareness about livelihood support, which is the focus of CJI’s 2017 Giving Tuesday campaign called Tell Ten.

Aggai Nzonzo farms 16 limas (4 hectares) not far from Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC) in Zambia. He has an amazing farm. Everything looks fertile and healthy, despite the blazing hot sun on the day we visit and the lack of rain they’ve had for weeks – even though it’s supposed to be the rainy season.

Aggai Nzonzo with his healthy maize crop. (Photo: C. Hincks/CJI)

Aggai Nzonzo with his healthy maize crop.
(Photo: C. Hincks/CJI)

On the way to Mr. Nzonzo’s farm, we passed numerous other farms with fields of wilting maize. Austin Chilala, the lead extension worker at KATC, tells me that they’ll need rain very soon if they hope to get anything this year – because they’re not growing their crops organically. The contrast between those fields and Mr. Nzonzo’s is stark, like night and day. Austin is taking me to Mr. Nzonzo’s farm to see what farmers can achieve with a little support.

The evidence is there when we arrive. I see numerous bags of locally acquired chicken manure lying at the beginning of crop rows, ready to be spread. There is mulch everywhere. Musangu trees have been strategically planted for erosion control and for their nitrogen fixing properties. They are native to Africa and capable of doubling maize yields. Also important for nitrogen fixing are the velvet beans and cowpeas that Mr. Nzonzo grows. Velvet beans also have medicinal value and cowpeas are excellent for intercropping and for tolerating dry conditions and sandy soil, which is prevalent here. Five limas of the farm are also left for natural bush growth.

Mr. Nzonzo's first crop of avocados. (Photo: C. Hincks/CJI)

Mr. Nzonzo’s first crop of avocados. (Photo: C. Hincks/CJI)

Mr. Nzonzo grows mostly maize and groundnuts for market. The income enables him to provide very well for his family, including his children’s higher education. He also has his own well. It’s equipped with a hand pump right now, but he has plans to install a solar pump so that he can irrigate his latest passion – a large grove of avocado trees. For about six years now he has been carefully nurturing and watering his new avocado trees by hand. He shows me the fruit of his patience: the first crop of avocados. Mr. Nzonzo knows what one avocado sells for in Lusaka, the nearby capital of Zambia. He also knows how many trees he has and how many fruit each tree will bear on average. He’s done the math and sees his avocado venture as a major new source of income. Smiling, he tells me that he will be even richer than Bill Gates!

KATC has helped hundreds of farmers like Aggai Nzonzo. In fact it’s easy to argue that those helped actually number many thousands, through the multiplier effect. This is because some of the people trained at KATC are themselves agricultural instructors or leading farmers from other NGOs, from the University of Zambia, from the Ministry of Agriculture, and from other countries in Africa. Then there is also the example and word of mouth from farmers in the area who have taken courses or workshops at KATC.

Br. Paul Desmarais, the director of KATC (and a Canadian Jesuit), emphasizes the importance of livelihood support when it comes to organic farming. Unlike what some people may think, says Br. Paul, organic farming is not without significant challenges, even for experienced farmers: “Successful organic farming requires practical experience, an understanding of science and a keen eye to observe what is happening in nature.” That’s why KATC devotes a whole unit to research. The results of this research are then passed on to KATC’s partners and to its other two units: the production unit, which helps to fund its operations, and the training unit, which assists farmers like Mr. Nzonzo. KATC’s work is so highly regarded that in 2014 it was awarded the Equator Prize for Sustainable Land Management in sub-Saharan Africa by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Hervent Silwindi in her home garden. (Photo: KATC)

Hervent Silwindi in her home garden. (Photo: KATC)

Recently, 100 farmers completed a very successful three-year training program at KATC, which was largely funded by Global Affairs Canada (formerly CIDA) and by CJI. About 60% of the farmers in the program were women and at least two farming cooperatives were established as a result. The difference the training made for the livelihoods of individual farmers was dramatic.

Hervent Silwindi was one of the 100 farmers. With 7 dependents, Ms. Silwindi used to practise rain-dependent mono-cropping and she rated her family’s diet as “poor.” Having completed the organic farming program, she now grows maize, 9 kinds of vegetables and has animals for food and draught. Her annual income is 4 times higher than it was at the beginning of the program: her children go to school; she has built a new house; and she has bought a water pump, solar panels and various household goods.

This is what a farmer can achieve with livelihood support!

This article first appeared on the igNation website on 8 November 2017. It is reproduced here by permission. Craig Hincks is the Communications Coordinator at Canadian Jesuits International.