The Zambian Ministry of Agriculture—with support from the BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes Zambia Integrated Forest Landscape Project (ZIFLP)—set up the school because the agriculture sector is extremely vulnerable to climate change and the country is already experiencing climate-induced hazards, most notably an increase in the frequency and severity of drought. The ZIFLP has established 239 farmer field schools with more than 10,700 farmers trained to date.”
Revitalizing the soil to take the pressure off forests
Zambia’s Eastern Province has high levels of poverty among its population of 1.9 million, the majority of whom depend on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods. Here, the farmers typically work their small plots using traditional methods of slash and burn agriculture. With this system, known as chitemene, farmers clear woodlots for planting. In a few years when the soil loses fertility, the farmers move to another area.
In the past, when farmers grew a variety of crops like cassava, maize, sorghum and millet, these rotating chitemene fields had enough time to lay fallow and replenish before farmers planted in the same area again. Today, as farmers switch from more traditional crop rotations to monoculture (often maize to be sold as a cash crop), soil is depleted of its nutrients more quickly, thus speeding up the continued expansion of planting areas and putting more pressure on surrounding forests and biodiversity.
Using the techniques learned from the field school, farmers are learning how they can remain on the same plot longer and increase their yields with a lower impact to the local ecosystems. The program is also teaching new practices such as rainwater harvesting and using drought resistant crop varieties.
Farmers are also learning how to increase yields and more sustainably manage their fields through methods like minimum tillage, crop rotation and the use of legumes to fix nitrogen in the soil. These practices all help keep plots fertile for longer, which means farmers don’t have to expand growing areas as quickly to make room for new plots, thereby helping to prevent forests being cut down for agricultural use.
ZIFLP supports these farmer field schools because they specifically target the adoption of climate-smart techniques by smallholders, increasing the productivity and climate benefits they receive from these techniques. In addition to boosting food security, the program promotes a holistic approach to climate-smart agriculture and forest protection at the local level, two challenges that aren’t always addressed together.
“As part of this program, it’s understood that we will take what we have learned about farming with a changing climate and apply it to our own fields,” says Joseph. “We’re expected to teach other farmers about these more sustainable approaches, which means that we will expand these practices that support more productive agriculture and forest conservation to an even wider circle of people.”
The demonstration plots are already producing impressive results in terms of yields. When farmers use the conventional agricultural methods, they sometimes struggle to harvest enough to feed themselves. Climate-smart agriculture allows the farmers to produce enough for consumption and also generate a surplus to sell.
“We expect to harvest a significantly bigger amount of produce from these demonstration plots than under the old methods,” says Joseph.
Joseph is also noticing more positive results at home. “I am producing more crops in my own fields with this type of farming—which will generate more income for my family,” he says. “I look forward to teaching even more people about these methods.”
“The impact on these farmers and their communities in terms of building their resilience to climate change, while significantly expanding their yields and impact, all the while improving the sustainability of production has been positive,” says the Ministry of Agriculture’s Acting Provincial Agricultural Coordinator Bernard Chungu. “This shows what can be done with appropriate consideration of training farmers in new climate-smart agriculture techniques.”