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Suggestions for Tikondane: For food security in the villages
The Tikondane project is located near Katete in Zambia. It has been going now for about 12 years and I visited it for several weeks in late 2010. The following were my suggestions for how the Tikondane project could work more effectively in the neighbouring villages to deal with food security.
There is no doubt that the Tikondane project has had some worthwhile impact in the neighbouring villages. For example, in relation to children’s education, health education, water distribution through wells and boreholes and the installantion of pit toilets.
Despite these improvements, there has been very little done to remove food insecurity. This is a very serious problem in the villages. The people that I interviewed all agree that not enough maize is being grown to feed families for the whole year. When people spoke about their diet in detail, it also became clear that there is a serious insufficiency of protein throughout the year, and a deficiency of vitamin A and vitamin C. These conditions are not unusual in Zambia, or in Africa more generally. The new emphasis on permaculture in Tiko has led to some improvements in the farming being done at the centre. There are also some useful outreach projects – especially the vegetable gardens in villages. But overall, there needs to be some new thinking to really come to grips with food insecurity.
What needs to be done
The basic technology to be implemented is reasonably well understood by people at the Tiko centre and by a few people in the villages and is as follows. I will summarize here. For further details on this, ask Joseph, or Peter, or Rafael Piri or Phil Piri from Mtaya.
Conservation farming part one. This basically means digging a pit to plant the maize and filling it with a mix of soil and manure or soil and compost with a teaspoon of lime. Each of these planting stations is planted with four seeds. There is no hilling of the rows of maize and the field as a whole is not hoed or ploughed.
Conservation farming part two. Push the dry stalks over and leave the stubble on the field after harvest. Do not allow it to be burned and do not allow goats or cows to eat it. This is very hard to do, without planting a living hedge around the field to stop animals getting to it. Until this technology has been tried and proved to work over five years, there is no hope of getting a whole village of livestock owners to restrain their livestock. In the mean time, fencing is necessary.
Conservation farming part three. Since there is little chance of keeping goats and cattle off the field in winter, another technique to protect the soil organisms and save moisture in the soil is to mulch the field with material brought from outside. This is also a good idea even if you are keeping the maize stalks. For example mulch with cut leafy branches from trees or with grass straw. This can be quite thick (5 cm) and placed round the growing maize stalks (outside of a 5 cm radius) and covering the whole of the field.
Fencing the field from goats and cattle or herding cattle and tying up goats. A live fence of Jatropha seems like the only practical and cheap method at the moment, short of village agreements on livestock. A live fence could take a few years to establish so the conservation agriculture system should be started now without the fencing. But you will not get really good results (like 4 tonnes per hectare) until you keep all the cattle and goats out and keep the maize stalks and other mulch on the fields after harvest.
Put in contour bunds with vetiver grass planted on the bund. These contour bunds should be dug at 15 metre spacings on all sloping fields. Use an A frame to mark the contour. I made one while I was at Tiko and Peter can demonstrate how to use it. Rafael also has one and knows how they are constructed. There is a picture of how to use it in my powerpoints on Technologies (on your computer). The swale or depression should be about a metre wide with a half metre depth and the bund should be about a metre wide and half a metre high.
Intercrop with legumes. Msangu (Feidherbia albida), planted at 10 metre centres throughout the field will take at least 5 years to work and will clearly work much better if the dropped leaves are able to stay on the ground (no burning or livestock). Joseph knows how to plant these trees in the fields, he is doing this on his own farm. He has the seeds and can start producing seedlings. Mucuna can be planted three weeks before the maize and with one plant between each maize planting station. Rafael is trying this. There are also Mucuna plants in front of the school building and Joseph knows where to get seeds. Sesbania at one metre spacings and cut at about a metre high. Joseph knows how to do this and the seeds are at Tiko centre. Glyricidia planted in rows between the maize and pruned as a kind of low hedge. Phil Piri from Mtaya knows how to do this and can provide some seeds to get started. You also have the seeds and some seedlings at Tiko. Each of these methods should be tried in different fields and results compared over a five year period.
Plant a greater diversity of carbohydrate and vegetable protein crops – more beans (not just cow peas), peanuts where they are not being planted already as a companion plant, sunflowers, rice, sorghum. These are all field crops which could be tried in the fields that are now being used to plant maize or in the swampy areas around the villages. In fenced vegetable gardens – cassava, sweet potato, nut trees (macadamias, pecans, cashews), bananas and plantains, fruit trees for vitamins (citrus, guava, papaya, mulberries, mangoes). You need crops that can take the dry conditions better than maize (all of the above field crops) and crops that are going to provide more vegetable protein than people are getting at present – the sunflowers, peanuts, nut trees and bean crops. Fruit trees are also important.
Establish many more trees to provide mulch for compost and cropping fields and livestock fodder to be protected to grow to maturity. Quick legumes for wood, mulch and fodder – for example Senna, Albizia, Acacacia, Leucaena, Sesbania, Glyricidia, Robinia, Flamboyans. Villagers also need mature Moringas for vitamin A in the dry season. Another good food tree is Carob. Bamboo is also necessary for the construction of animal houses, granaries and the like. To establish these tree crops you either need to protect each individual tree or create woodlots with legume trees, bamboo and moringas. Even the centre is not protecting its Moringa collection from donkeys at present. It seems more sensible to have one ladder for collecting branches from Moringas than to coppice them to a level where goats and donkeys will eat them and kill them! The fodder is necessary to feed the animals to make the manure to make the compost to grow the maize to feed the animals and people! The mulch is necessary to make the compost and protect the maize crop from the sun to grow the maize to feed the people and the animals. All parts of the system depend on these trees and they depend on being protected from animals.
Chicken coops and collection of poultry manure to make compost. Radically increase animal protein. Goats, pigs, rabbits, pigeons as well. None of these animals should be for sale. Village households need to be eating three or four meals of animal protein every week, not one chicken every three weeks or one goat twice a year! They should be collecting and eating one egg each per day. None of this is impossible with proper protection of little chickens from predators and proper coops and laying boxes. They need to multiply the animals and EAT them. The other thing to realize about this is that there is no chance of employing conservation agriculture to get a good yield of maize unless you have enough animal manure to make the compost to put in the planting stations.
These technologies are all well known by various people at the centre, by some villagers and by Peter, the permaculture adviser. Joseph knows how to do this stuff and is doing some of it on his own farm. But he is the only member of staff doing this. Peter is also available to instruct on this and can do the practical stuff.
Rafael in Mtaya and Phil Piri, the Mtaya headman are also doing some of this on their own land but have made no effort, or had little success, in spreading these ideas to any other farmers in the villages. One old lady that I interviewed had a farm 200 metres from Phil’s field of glyricidia intercropped with maize but had never seen it or had it explained to her. She is the mother of Rafael and her family is very short of food, but Rafael has not explained these technologies to her or to her grown up daughter – there are no mucuna plants in their fields of maize. He is helping them by buying maize seeds but he cannot afford to give them the fertiliser he is using on his own fields. The economic situation of these leading men means that it makes more sense for them to be buying hybrid maize and fertiliser and selling their excess maize to buy inputs in the following year. They are trying out these conservation farming technologies as a kind of experiment on some of their fields. Yet it is the really poor people who need the technologies that these leading men are experimenting with. It makes economic sense for these poor families because they never have the cash to buy the inputs at planting time. These leading men are good resources for staff to see examples of what they should be doing, but they cannot be relied upon to be spreading this technology in the villages.
A social technology to make this happen
What is really missing is a social technology to implement this. There are two options which should be tried together. This is really important. The kind of food projects you are running in the villages now (the vegetable gardens, the pig and poultry projects) will never make the necessary impacts on food security. You need something completely different.
Start with the heads of departments at Tiko (kitchen, weaving, garden, education, HIV etc) and make it a condition of employment that they nominate someone from their family to come to training and develop a system like this on their farm. The only help that Tiko should provide is seed or planting materials. Insist that within one year, all parts of this system are in place and started, to the satisfaction of an inspection team (to continue this inspection every year). After three years, implement this system for all staff. None of these staff demonstration farms should make use of expensive materials that villagers cannot afford (like artificial fertilisers, hybrid seeds, bought pesticides, concrete and brick houses for animals, iron roofs, security fencing mesh around fields and so on). Everything should be done with live fences and by keeping animals tied up or in runs. Adult indigenous chickens can run free around the house but they should be located in a coop at night. Buildings for animals should be constructed with wood, thatch and bamboo. The only fencing wire that should be used would be chicken wire to create runs to protect little chickens from predators or to keep rabbits.
In each village, arrange a meeting of people interested in improving their productivity without buying artificial fertilisers and get a club started. Each club should nominate a representative who lives in the village and whose role is to work with Tiko to assist the villagers to implement this system on the farms of the club members. The representative can be paid an allowance for their time (once they have signed up 20 households) but it should be small. This is not a wage and is not intended to be so. Do not worry if these clubs start with only five members, or if they are composed exclusively of women. If possible, the ideal situation is to get the head man to support this project but he should not be one of the members of the club – his economic situation is radically different to that of most villagers and he cannot be relied upon to make things work for them. Make it clear that this is not about making money and selling agricultural products – and that money and inputs (other than plants to get started) will not be provided by Tiko. Work with the people who are willing to work given these conditions and do not worry about the rest. They will come around after they have seen that all this can make a huge difference but not before.