Good agricultural practices increasing household income in rural communities in Zambia
Expanding access to quality agricultural advice while introducing sustainable production and post-harvest practices
Zambia’s rural farmers, particularly women, have limited access to agricultural services and modern technologies needed to increase production and incomes. In Mutenguleni agricultural camp of Chipata District, where a group of farmers have been trained on good agricultural practices under the Scaling up Nutrition Phase 2 programme (SUN II), the situation was no different before they were trained. They lacked improved seed varieties that deliver higher yields, have greater nutritional value, and have a higher tolerance to drought, floods, and disease. Through the programme they have been introduced to conservation farming methods such as use of improved seed and promotion of diverse crop production for improved and increased food production, dietary diversification and food enrichment that improve diet quality, combat nutrient deficiencies, and boost overall nutrition to reduce stunting.
“It was disheartening to pull very lean resources together to buy seeds and plant, but yield very little because of poor quality seed.Imagine putting everything you’ve got into farming inputs and after the harvest season there is still hunger in your home. That was our reality before this programme came."
Poor knowledge of improved production practices led many area farmers to maintain unsustainable traditional practices that degraded the soil in their fields, further limiting the productive potential of their land. They would utilize ever-larger pieces of land, with the hope that a bigger field will equal bigger yields – and more income after selling their produce.
“It was painful to buy fertilizer because of the large areas that needed to be covered. We had no knowledge of sustainable farming practices then, so the farming methods we were using would ruin our own natural resources. It’s no wonder we eventually stopped getting much of it,” says lead farmer Dominic Tembo.
Through joint programming supported by FAO under SUN II, officers at Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries are working to expand access to quality agricultural advice, while introducing more sustainable production and post-harvest practices to improve the quality, quantity, and safety of foods for 1,000 days households. These are households with adolescent girls, pregnant women, breastfeeding women, women and caregivers having children under 2 years of age, and women of reproductive age.
Sustainable production practices, including conservation agriculture, offer rural households the chance to sustain and improve yields through protection and optimal use of natural resources. This means both using less space for fields and utilizing crop rotation practices. During training, agricultural officers encourage the farmers to grow diverse and nutrient-dense crops such as cowpeas, mixed bean, and vitamin-A enriched maize.
“We are very happy with the results we are seeing so far after reducing the size of our fields and changing crops from the maize we have always grown to the beans that is doing so well. These new practices we have learned have helped us reduce labour significantly and the soil is adapting very well to the crop rotation.”
The farmers have also been trained on low-cost storage technologies and the preservation and consumption of nutritious foods. Simple improvements on traditional storage practices are helping them reduce post-harvest losses due to mould or insects and – rather than resort to immediate sale – they can now store crops for household consumption or sale when profitability is higher. Combined with the food preservation skills they have gathered; they are able to dry seasonable vegetables and fruit and sell them long after the season has ended.
“We are always happy to see the excitement on the faces of out-of-towners when the see our dried vegetables that are out of season countrywide. Our secret is simply steaming them, adding a little salt, and drying them out in the sun,” say Mrs Mwanza. “It’s also how we keep our babies looking so healthy. We pound the dried vegetables or fruits and add to their maize-meal porridge to add more nutritional value.”
SUN Phase II will strengthen access to input and output markets, as well as financial services, to support stronger yields and increased incomes. Working in collaboration, FAO and WFP have supported over 400 demonstration sites that have been set up as community centres of excellence to showcase appropriate utilization of post-harvest technology, provide on-the-spot training to small-scale farmers, and provide complementary agricultural support through the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. Over 13,000 farmers have been oriented in the adoption of innovative, food production technologies to promote production and consumption of diverse, nutrient-rich vegetables, and crops across Zambia
SUN II is a four-year initiative led by the United Nations in 17 districts in support of the Government of Zambia’s First 1,000 Most Critical Days Programme Phase II. It is supported by the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany through the KfW Development Bank, the Republic of Ireland, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and UK aid from the British people.