Despite their matching green uniforms, Alaa, Hajar and Mariam each have their own specific role at El-Baiaho Agricultural Community Development Association pack house, located in the outskirts of Minya, Egypt. Alaa labels the dewy green grapes with a branded sticker. Hajar takes the grapes from the packaging line and makes sure they are ready for sale. And Mariam weighs the grapes before packaging.
“We wish to work. This job allows us to get our own money for private [education] lessons and we are also able to help our families,” said Hajar.
Alaa, Hajar, and Mariam are just three of the young women hired by El Baiaho to support their post-harvest operations which involves sorting, packaging and storing a variety of crops, including grapes, pomegranate, tomato, and garlic for export. All three women are still attending school during the day, after which they make the journey to work. During their holiday breaks, these women spend even longer hours to increase their income.
In early June, Alaa, Hajar, and Mariam temporarily hung up their green jackets along with their fellow female employees at El Baiaho to participate in a training focused on nutrition for women in the agro-processing workforce. Across Egypt, undernutrition and stunting rates for children remain high, which results in economic costs that hinder the development of the nation.
To address this issue, USAID’s Feed the Future Egypt, Food Security and Agribusiness Support (FAS) project organized a three-day training aimed at building awareness on nutritional requirements for teenage girls and to promote the importance of investing their income in their own and their future children’s health and nutrition. The training was led by Dr. Amal Hassanein Abouelmajed, Agri-Nutrition team leader on the FAS project who has a postgraduate diploma in hospital dietetics and has extensive experience working in food and nutrition on projects across Egypt and has attended trainings internationally.
The hands-on training instilled participants with knowledge on the types of food that are critical for improving health and child development, such as identifying foods rich in iron, vitamins and proteins. The young women also received training in good hygienic practices, such as the importance of hand washing as well as practical methods to prevent food poisoning. “I learned a lot that I did not know before. I learned about how to organize food in the fridge to keep it fresh,” said Hajar.
“I learned about the food pyramid which helped me to know what types of food and how much to eat to stay healthy,” said Alaa.
The training did not stop at the doors of El Baiaho. All three young women spoke of sharing the knowledge and tools they had acquired through the training with their families back home. “The day I got the training, I went home and practiced what I learned with my family. I opened up the fridge and showed them what we should now do,” said Mariam.
This training was just one piece of what the FAS project aims to achieve to improve the nutritional status particularly of women and children. Over the coming two years, the FAS project plans to provide training to 300 community nutrition mobilizers, who in turn will conduct outreach on nutrition to 3,000 households. In addition to expanding nutrition trainings to women in the agro-processing workforce to additional companies, the FAS team is also in the early stages of sending out SMS text messages that focus on key nutrition topics through the digital extension service platform (DESP). Using this method, more women will be exposed to the essential knowledge on the link between nutrition and leading healthy, productive lives.
“This type of training is so good for us because when we grow up and have our own children, we will know better how to keep our family healthy,” said Hajar.
A turquoise blue pickup truck pulls into Al Obour Market, carrying crate on crate of ripe mangoes stacked in the truck bed. It’s the crack of dawn and the energy at Al Obour, one of the largest fruit and vegetable markets in Cairo, Egypt, begins to shift from the stillness that takes hold for only a few hours overnight to bustling activity at the first sight of light as farmers and buyers congregate to make deals on grapes, watermelon, tomatoes, or any other produce. Simultaneously, a group of nine farmers open the door of their white van and step on to the sidewalk of the market, sleep still at the corner of their eyes.
These farmers made the 14-hour drive from Aswan with the support of the Feed the Future Egypt Food Security and Agribusiness Support (FAS) project, which aims to increase the incomes and improve food security for at least 14,000 Upper Egyptian smallholder farmers, to connect with buyers that could potentially offer higher prices than the local market in Aswan. This day did not occur in isolation but was instead the product of months of training and preparation for these farmers.
As one of the largest markets in Cairo, the buyers at Al Obour Market will not purchase just any mangoes. Instead, they seek out quality mango, perfectly ripe and free of bruising. The farmers in Aswan originally struggled with post-harvest losses and producing high-quality mangoes that could earn higher prices. Part of the problem came from lack of access to inputs, whereas others revolved around harvesting techniques, such as when farmers shook the trees until the mangoes fell to the ground. In order to address these issues, the FAS harvest and post-harvest team conducted on-farm training to 49 mango farmers in Aswan. The four-day training introduced participating farmers to new harvesting techniques in order to retain the quality and reduce damages of the mangoes during harvest. For example, the FAS team designed a new tool that enabled farmers to pick the mangoes directly from the tree, keeping the fruit fresh and free from bruising. Attending mango farmers also learned about the importance of sorting and packing the mango fruits in carton boxes, which helps retain the high-quality of the fruit, resulting in higher prices for farmers.
But the training didn’t just stop once the mangoes were properly picked and packed. The FAS project also aims to improve farmers and producer organizations’ marketing of agricultural crops, ultimately allowing farmers to reap higher profits. The Aswan mango farmers previously sold to middlemen before the fruit had matured for a low price in order to get fast cash to pay off agricultural expenses. The FAS marketing team conducted extensive training with farmers in marketing and negotiation to give farmers the knowledge and confidence to connect directly with buyers. The project also encouraged farmers to come together and sell with other farmers in order to gain bargaining power.
Usama Abdel Rahman, a FAS Marketing Officer from Aswan, played a key role in training farmers in the negotiation skills that would be utilized in Al Obour Market. “The trainings were very interactive. We would use scripts and role play to give farmers firsthand experience in negotiation,” he said.
So, when the day came for the farmers to meet with the buyers, they were well prepared. Farmers represented nine agriculture associations in Aswan and brought along with them a 1.5 ton sample of their mangoes. As a group, the farmers walked around the market and sat down more than a few times with buyers to talk logistics and numbers. Ultimately, all nine of the farmers made their sale to Haj Adly Abdel Gabbar of Al Itehad Company. Whereas these farmers on average sell their mangoes for LE 6 per kilo in Aswan market, this trader facilitated selling the mangoes at LE 11.5 per kilo, nearly doubling the price. Haj Abdel Gabbar was clear that the farmers aren’t the only ones that benefit, as he received 10% commission for facilitating such a purchase.
“I am also happy because I get to deal with the farmers directly and these mangoes here are very good quality. This will result in increasing the profit margin for farmers which will improve their economic status which reflects positively on the economic development of the country,” he said.
This day stood as a testament of the tangible knowledge and skills these farmers have acquired through the FAS project and their ability to utilize these skills to connect with new markets and sell their produce at higher prices. Although a small step, these farmers left Al Obour market making it known that Aswan has the potential to become a reliable source of quality mango.
Newcastle disease: an obstacle in the development of the Nigerien poultry value chain
Newcastle disease is a highly contagious viral disease negatively affecting poultry in the West African region where 40-70% of unvaccinated rural poultry are killed by the disease. The risk and impact of the virus, which spreads easily throughout flocks, can vary in severity from strain to strain and is also dependent on environmental conditions (such as immunity and the animal’s overall health). Outbreaks can occur at any time of the year, but happen with greater frequency during the cold season. Vaccination is the only prevention method for this disease and there is currently an effective, affordable vaccine (50 CFAF / subject) that is heat-stable and easy use for the smallholder farmers (administered by eye drop) that is produced in Niger. The vaccine is called I-2 vaccine (produced with strain I-2 virus) and is critical in the effort to promote animal health in Niger and the Sahelian region.
Mobilization of REGIS –AG and its partners in promoting animal health
To significantly reduce the mortality rate of poultry in Niger, the NGO « Poulailler du Développement » provided the I-2 vaccine and sought the support of REGIS -AG project to organize a broad awareness campaign, in order to inform poultry farmers on the control of Newcastle disease, encourage producers to allow auxiliary veterinarian networks (SVPP) administer the I-2 vaccine. This operation was conducted in November 2015 in the Tillaberi region with support from REGIS–AG and REGIS -ER and continues to stimulate much enthusiasm in rural areas.
723,704 subjects were vaccinated in the Tillaberi campaign, including chickens, guinea fowl, pigeons, and ducks.
One beneficiary, Mrs Aissa Harouna Konne of Beri, testifies to the women’s enthusiasm saying, “This is the first time that such an activity is held in our village. Poultry farming is practiced by almost all households in the village. It is the only source of income of the households, especially of women. This is a very important source of income. It represents one of the few opportunities of savings, investment and protection against risk. However, for a long time every year we have to restock because of the diseases, particularly ‘ zounkou , koitou , kekoga ‘ ( traditional name for the Newcastle disease) . I still remember 5 years ago, these diseases were not frequent; family poultry farm size was twice the size of farms that we have these recent years. The campaign of vaccination against the disease is a very valuable initiative. “
The Tillaberri vaccination campaign against the Newcastle disease was extremely successful and partners both in the public and private sector are working to replicate similar activities in Maradi and Zinder. REGIS-AG and partners REGIS-ER and VSF will work together to facilitate and scale up this beneficial activity to its other operational areas.
It is also called “Newcastle disease “,” avian pneumoencephalitis “or “Ranikhet disease.” It is also known under the generic name of “fowl plague”.
 This support has focused on the management of vaccinators and the elements responsible for the supervision and the awareness and visibility of the campaign (knitwear for vaccinators and educational messages via radio.)
The Centro de Formacao Agro-Pecuaria de Siloe is an agricultural training center located in Ihamizua, about 10 miles from Beira, Mozambique. The center has a strong focus on social and environmental responsibility and trains youth in vegetable production, entrepreneurship, and small livestock and poultry production. Each year, 25 youth graduate from the center’s training on environmentally minded horticulture practices, including organic cultivation methods, integrated pest management and basic composting. In addition to youth education, the center produces food for a local orphanage for about 100 children, and sells the surplus vegetables and chickens for revenue to help sustain the organization.
Despite its success, Centro de Formacao Agro-Pecuaria de Siloe continued to look for ways to increase its social and environmental impact in the community. USAID’s Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Program, implemented by CNFA in Southern Africa, visited the center to explore ways the F2F program could strengthen one of the center’s key natural resources – the soil. CNFA fielded Ms. Matilde D’Urzo, a soil fertility expert who had previously volunteered with CNFA in Mozambique, to train the center on cost-effective and sustainable strategies to improve soil quality. Ms. D’Urzo provided the center with trainings on how to prepare compost and organic fertilizers, how to apply mulch to vegetable beds and how to increase production through the intensification and diversification of crops (soil management).
Esnath Tshuma, 45, lives in Tjompani village with her 13 year-old nephew, Tandana. Esnath is a strong-willed woman who has worked hard throughout the years, but her life irrevocably changed after sustaining a severe injury three years ago. In November of 2012, Esnath was repairing a fence in her field, when she turned and lodged her foot in the fence. She fell, twisting her leg and fracturing a bone in the process. The injury resulted in paralysis of her leg and impaired mobility of her right hand. She is now limited to walking with crutches, as well as a using a plastic yard chair in lieu of a proper wheelchair to maneuver around her compound.
Her husband travelled to South Africa to look for work in August 2015, but has not been able to find a steady source of income. She receives a bit of money from her brother who works in Bulawayo, but since her injury, she has been relying on the kindness of her neighbors and the sale of her own personal items, like used blankets and dresses, to make ends meet.
“After my injury in 2012, I felt like I couldn’t do anything and was spending a lot of time sitting around idle,” said Esnath. She explained that due to her disability, she was no longer able to perform most of her daily activities like fetching water, collecting firewood, and farming. Cooking over an open fire on the ground was a particularly uncomfortable task, but she was unwilling to give up this role.
Esnath was thrilled when in early 2014, her sister-in-law, Tshihomanana Tshuma, offered to build her a clay stove that would allow her to sit while cooking. Tshihomanana participated in an Amalima training to learn how to build an environmentally friendly, fuel-efficient ‘eco-stove.’ After learning how to work with the clay, she realized that she could easily build a platform for Esnath’s eco-stove to allow for cooking while seated. The results were perfect; not only is Esnath able to complete her daily chores with increased comfort, but due to the eco-stove’s fuel-efficiency, her young nephew saves time and energy searching for increasingly scarce firewood in the bush.
Tshihomanana learned about Amalima’s Community Health Clubs (CHC) through the eco-stove training, and asked Esnath to join her in participating. CHCs promote increased awareness of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices in communities through completion of a 20 module Participatory Health and Hygiene Education (PHHE) training. CHCs foster learning for change through promotion of practical improvements at the household level to change the behaviors of community members in favor of a more hygienic environment. In March 2014, 16 women and one man from Tjompani village established the Mukani CHC and began receiving lessons from Nosizo Dube, their neighbor and Community Based Facilitator (CBF).
“After joining the CHC, I realized that I could stand up for myself and do something with my life,” noted Esnath. The lessons highlighted vital steps to improving hygiene that Esnath was capable of completing at home, such as sweeping, washing hands at critical times, using a 2-cup water system, rubbish disposal and cleaning dishes. Perhaps more importantly, belonging to the club gave her a special comradery with her group members. The members proved to be more than just a social outlet; recognizing her needs, the group pitched in to build Esnath a tippy-tap hand washing station, a private bathing area, and a rubbish pit at her homestead.
After completing the PHHE sessions, all 17 Mukani CHC members graduated at a community-wide ceremony. After this milestone, the members recognized a positive momentum with their initiative and made the decision to continue working together as a Village Savings and Lending (VS&L) group. To make this transition, they received training on VS&L methodology from Amalima, including group formation, constitution development, group fund development, loans and loan appraisal, and record keeping.
Mukani group held its first VS&L meeting in August 2015. Their objective is to save for short-term needs such as food, kitchen utensils and school fees, as well as to pool financial resources for larger, higher-impact income generating activities. The group’s long-term goal is to establish a poultry business with their savings. At each meeting, hosted by a different member on rotation, members make a $10 contribution. Each month $10 is set aside for group savings and investment in their poultry business, which they hope to establish later this year. The remaining cash is used to provide the hosting member with kitchen utensils and a goat valued at approximately $35. The balance is then shared out evenly among members for their household use. The group has $70 saved to date.
Esnath already has plans to grow her small livestock herd with the goat she received from hosting the December 2015 meeting. She is also looking forward to being involved in the poultry income generating activity to become economically self-sufficient; the group considered her accessibility when selecting where the chicken coop will be located.
After receiving her eco-stove and joining the Mukani club, Esnath recognized her ability to lead a full life. The training Esnath received from Amalima is invaluable, yet the support and friendship from her group members has been as vital to her livelihood. She is grateful for the opportunity to join the CHC. “It has given me a sense of purpose,” she says.
As the arid climate of the Matebeleland region in Zimbabwe is not particularly suitable for crop production, a majority of rural Zimbabweans in this area rely on livestock production for their livelihoods. These farmers face many challenges, namely access to water and resources to protect and maintain livestock health. Traditionally, small holder farmers in Zimbabwe have depended on skilled veterinary services and NGO personnel for livestock health services such as dehorning, castration, vaccination, dosing and other treatments. Yet, veterinary extension officers are burdened with a zone of coverage that is too expansive to meet the needs of most farmers and animals in their regions. To purchase vaccines or visit the nearest Department of Veterinary Services Doctor, small holder farmers must often travel long distances and pay debilitating amounts of money. To address the gap in services, the Amalima program is training Lead Farmers and Paravets (auxiliary animal health workers) to provide much needed veterinary services to local communities and to increase knowledge about effective livestock management practices in three major areas: disease prevention; supplementary feeding, and improved breeding.
Mr. Putshe Sibanda of Mzila Village is a farmer, husband, father of seven, and Village Savings and Loan (VS&L) group member, but he has now added one more commitment to his already busy schedule: community Paravet. As an owner of 13 cattle, 34 goats and many chickens, Sibanda sought to improve the health of his livestock by participating in Amalima Lead Farmer livestock training.
Sibanda was determined to put what he learned into practice. Armed with his new understanding of improved livestock management practices, he reached out to farmers in his community to train others about animal health. As an Amalima Lead Farmer, Sibanda committed to reaching 10 farmers through a cascading training model– but he easily reached 30 individuals in a matter of weeks. He saw that there was a demand for livestock management training in his community with participants young and old, male and female, wanting to improve their livelihoods by investing in their livestock.
After the success of his initial trainings, Sibanda elected to participate in additional Amalima and Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) training in September 2014 to become a Paravet. These trainings cover both theory and hands-on application of various practices such as disease prevention, identification, and treatment, nutrition (supplementary feeding, pen fattening and feed harvesting), breed improvement, dehorning, and the calving process. Since participating in this training and assuming his new role as a Paravet, Sibanda has worked with over 100 households to treat more than 500 goats, 300 kids, 300 cattle and 1,000 chickens. He treats issues ranging from popped and pulpy kidneys and blocked udders to diarrhea and birthing complications.
Sibanda says he draws his motivation for this work from the potential financial empowerment that livestock production can provide for small holder farmers. Sibanda, as with all Amalima-trained Paravets, does not charge a fee for his services. Even after the countless hours of work he has volunteered, he remains focused on a larger goal for his community: “I want my neighbors to also succeed with their livestock and not suffer,” he says. Sibanda believes in a two-pronged approach to improving animal health and livestock production: training community members on livestock management skills and increasing access to localized veterinary services and vaccines. He sees these inputs as key to increasing livestock herds and, in turn, improving the livelihoods and food security of whole communities.
“Since I started training with Amalima, my goats and cattle are no longer dying,” he said. “I had lots of issues with deaths during and after pregnancy. My survival rate for calves was previously one out of five (20%). As my neighbors began to see that I knew how to care for and vaccinate my animals, they also began to seek my assistance and buy vaccines. They are now aware that it is best to vaccinate for disease prevention, and not for a cure.”
Members of surrounding communities now consult him on a regular basis. Through his training and home-visits, he helps other farmers establish good habits for livestock management. Often, when making a home-visit, he will invite one of his trainees to accompany him to gain valuable hands-on experience. Two of his trainees have started helping other farmers in their communities with livestock issues, further spreading improved animal husbandry practices in the process.
In light of the poor rainfall this season, Sibanda also encouraged farmers to re-plant small-grains and beans in mid-late January. If the crops do not produce food for humans, the stalks and leaves can be used as fodder for animals in upcoming months. In addition, he trains farmers to dig a large storage hole, line it with plastic, and keep grasses and other forage in this cool, dry space to keep feed fresh.
Sibanda’s role as community paravet exceeds that of a trainer and veterinary service provider; he is mobilizing entire communities to practice sustainable livestock management practices. In Mzila village, he has established a communal vaccination and medication supply system. Participating farmers purchase a vial of medication that is suitable to local animals, and Sibanda coordinates with the group to make sure that an appropriate variety is acquired. He also instructs each household on proper storage of the medicine in a cool, dry space. The purchased medication is then part of a communal supply available to all contributors if their animal(s) fall ill, with Sibanda responsible for applying the treatment. Inventory is calculated periodically to determine how and by whom supplies were used, and how they should be replenished. Through this investment, the community is controlling and preventing the spread of disease.
Sibanda is also a dedicated member of the Kancane Kancane VS&L group, which formed after receiving Amalima training in early 2015. He is the only male member and explains his interest in participating because “animals don’t tell us when they are going to be ill, and having savings ensures access to funds for purchasing the appropriate treatment. I want to start teaching and promoting VS&L to men, particularly to encourage saving for vaccines.”
As a Paravet and community mobilizer, Mr. Sibanda is leading the way with his sights planted firmly on a future where resilient communities are earning their livelihoods by practicing smart, livestock management.
This story, written by Allison DiVincenzo and Katie Murray, first appeared in USAID’s bimonthly publication, FrontLines.
Richard Ndebele wears many hats. Farmer. Grandfather. Laborer. Mentor. And now, by working with USAID, trailblazer.
Ndebele, 65, lives in Impu village, a rural, semiarid stretch of southwestern Zimbabwe currently facing a historic drought as a result of El Niño. In many ways, Impu village is no different from the rest of the country, where 2.8 million people are estimated to be food insecure this year. However, this area is characterized by low rainfall even in a good year, not to mention particularly high levels of poverty and stunting levels over 24 percent.
USAID, through its five-year, $43 million Amalima activity, is working in Impu village and the surrounding rural areas to strengthen communities’ resilience to shocks, such as drought, by enhancing nutrition and food security, improving livelihoods and helping communities plan and prepare for disasters. Amalima is the Zimbabwean Ndebele language word for a custom where people work together to help themselves through productive activities like preparing land for farming or repairing a dam.
Confident, respected and forward-thinking, Ndebele, a grandfather to five, has taken an active role in many aspects of Amalima. As a member of the Impu village Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Committee, Ndebele received training from the activity to identify and define disasters common in the community and to develop an action plan to respond. And in a gender reversal for this patriarchic society, he is a “lead father,” leading peer-to-peer support groups that help mothers learn how to better feed and care for their children.
In his role identifying potential disasters, Ndebele, along with other members of the DRR Committee, identified their top priority: the rehabilitation of a dilapidated old dip tank, which was subsequently reconstructed under the supervision of USAID technical experts. Functioning like a large flea bath for cattle, a quick swim through the dip tank protects cattle against disease-carrying ticks. Ndebele worked with 103 other members of the community to repair the dip tank, receiving $30 a month in exchange for his labor.
“The wages really came as a relief, as I managed to buy food for my family,” said Ndebele, who also bought a goat with his earnings, a potential income-generator for his family.
Now over 1,800 cattle belonging to 200 households can use the dip tank, preventing disease and death caused by ticks and protecting livelihoods in a place where economic stability is tenuous. Ndebele is now part of a committee that will manage use of the dip tank, ensuring it will never again fall into disrepair.
This is one of 32 facilities built or rebuilt through the project. “Not only do these construction projects build resilience against future droughts, but with compensation for the laborers, they meet the immediate needs of people in a very vulnerable situation,” said USAID/Zimbabwe Mission Director Stephanie Funk. “USAID’s Amalima activity has put much-needed cash in the hands of nearly 4,000 workers.”
In his role as lead father, Ndebele is breaking down gender barriers by volunteering to facilitate a care group, which is usually run by a woman. In addition to promoting better nutrition for small children, these groups provide a forum for group discussion on the challenges women face in their communities. Amalima has more than 24,000 care group participants led by 1,700 lead mothers. Ndebele, however, is one of only three lead fathers.
He meets with the 10 members of his care group once a month on the dusty ground under a large, shady tree. There they share key health and nutrition messages. He also treks to each of their homes to provide individual mentorship, assess adoption of behaviors and speak with influential family members, such as grandmothers or husbands. Ndebele encourages husbands to provide support in household and childcare activities in an effort to improve the family’s nutrition and food security.
In rural Zimbabwe, women are responsible for household chores and childcare activities, as well as the most time- and labor-intensive agricultural tasks. Impu village and its neighboring communities adhere to a predominantly patriarchal culture that affords limited rights to women and where men are reluctant to take part in duties perceived as womanly.
When Ndebele first started as a lead father, he says, “Men used to laugh behind my back. But they stopped once they needed my help.” By teaching improved infant and young child feeding practices through his care group meetings, his peers now understand he is helping families raise strong, intelligent boys and girls that will better contribute to their household and community’s prosperity.
Ndebele strongly believes that health and nutrition are issues relevant to the entire community and should not be ignored by men. Still, it is the women who are encouraged by the lead father’s advice and wisdom.
Care group member Silvia Moyo learned about the important nutritional benefits of breastfeeding. With Ndebele’s encouragement, Moyo relayed that information to her husband and talked to him about the challenge of making time for breastfeeding when she has so many household duties.
Moyo and her husband together formed a solution that works for their family. “I am very determined to breastfeed my son so that he grows up intelligent and takes care of me when I’m old,” said Moyo. “I’m very happy with the support my husband will be giving me. We will help each other in the household and also use an eco-stove to save time.”
Ndebele’s pioneering role as a lead father is raising awareness of the benefits of male involvement in childcare activities and setting an example for young boys. “Men come to me and ask questions about nutrition, health and their children’s porridge,” he said.
Already the project is seeing positive results. According to preliminary data, the proportion of infants under 6 months who are exclusively breast fed is now 84 percent, up from 45 percent at the start of the activity.
Ndebele believes he and his village are at the forefront of improving their food and nutrition security, and building resilience to natural disasters. “It has built in us a sense of togetherness and helped us realize that, as a group, we can achieve many things,” he said.
The majority of farmers in the Matabeleland region of Zimbabwe rely on rains for their agricultural activities. When rains are poor or erratic, crops fail, harvests suffer and people don’t have enough food to eat. Tsholotsho district in Matabeleland North is no exception. This area is characterized by low, unpredictable rainfall during the farming season and year-round arid conditions. Farmers are often forced to rely on alternative coping strategies, including remittances, paid casual labor and craft-making, to make it through the lean season. However, cultivation methods based on low-till conservation agriculture (CA) promoted by the USAID-funded Amalima program are improving harvest yields in this dry environment and influencing many households in the process.
Cecilia Ncube, 66 years old, is a smallholder farmer in Zenzeleni village of Tsholotsho. She is a widower and lives with her three daughters and five small grandchildren. Several of her children are in South Africa and send back remittances on a monthly basis, which, combined with income from basket-making, is how Cecelia survives. Concerned about her family’s precarious livelihood and food security situation, she decided to participate in the Amalima program’s CA training. “I am so excited that I am taking part in this conservation farming intervention. Before the Amalima program arrived, I would use draught power to till most of my land. I would have to wait for other villagers to finish ploughing their fields before they would let me borrow their oxen. I realized that every time I was ploughing too late, well after the planting rains had gone, and more importantly, this method made the soils quickly dry off,” says Cecilia.
Amalima builds on existing communal initiatives in order to improve household food security and nutrition status through initiatives like conservation agriculture and livestock trainings, improving access to agricultural inputs and strengthening community resilience to economic and climatic shocks. The Amalima program draws its name from the Ndebele word for the social contract by which families come together to help each other engage in productive activities such as land cultivation, livestock tending, and asset building.
Conservation agriculture (CA) is a set of soil management practices that minimize the disruption of the soil’s structure, composition and natural biodiversity. CA has proven potential to increase crop yields, while improving the long-term sustainability of farming. As part of land preparation, farmers dig planting basins rather than plowing the whole field and lay manure fertilizer in the basins before planting. This method of field preparation minimizes soil disturbance, consequently reducing erosion and increasingmoisture retention when the rains fall. Specific spacing guidelines also promote maximum yields. Amalima CA training covers land preparation methods, fertilizer application, planting, pest management and post-harvest handling.
“At first I thought this process was too labor intensive and I didn’t see how I would be able to till a reasonable piece of land. But our mentors, Amalima field staff and AGRITEX [GoZ Agricultural Extension] Officers encouraged us to work in groups of ten so that we could assist each other with land preparation. Working this way, we were then able to work on one plot a day,” she explained. Cecelia is now part of a conservation farming group made up of 10 women in her village who also participated in the Amalima training. Soils around Zenzeleni village are sandy and the group had to collect cow dung around the nearest watering borehole to place in their planting basins to enhance soil fertility and reduce the loss of soil nutrients from water run-off. According to Cecelia’s group’s constitution, members provide assistance preparing 0.5 hectare of each members’ field using CA techniques. As a result of this cooperation, Cecelia managed to complete the millet planting on her plot before the first rains in the 2014/2015 season and was excited to compare the results of her CA and conventional plots.
In January 2015, Cecelia explained, “With good rains this year, I am expecting to harvest 300kgs of millet on this 50m by 50m (0.3 ha) piece of land. On the same piece of land I used to get around 150kgs of millet using conventional farming.” A few months later, the sorghum in her CA plot was a lush green in comparison to the crops in her conventional plot. Cecilia lamented that if she had known that the millet in the CA plot would do so much better than in the conventional farming plot, she would have dug CA planting basins throughout her fields herself.
The 2014/2015 season did not bring good rains – rainfall was 40 percent below normal in Tsholotsho – but Cecelia’s small CA plot yielded 200kgs of millet despite the drought, which is more than double the yield of neighbors who used conventional methods on the same sized land. On her 1.7 ha conventional farming plot, Cecelia yielded 650kgs, which is only 3.5 times the yield on an area of land almost six-times larger. Six months since her harvest, Cecelia still has 100kg of millet available for her family’s consumption.
After witnessing the increased yields from Cecelia and her fellow group members’ CA plots, many new farmers from Zenzeleni village eagerly participated in CA training in July and August, and formed several new CA farmer groups for the upcoming growing season. Cecilia’s CA farming group plans to expand their area of cultivation in the future using draught power and mechanized CA to prepare planting basins.
Cecelia is using CA techniques on her entire 2 hectare plot this year, explaining, “Since adopting CA, my yield was better even during a poor and erratic rainy season. CA is the best technology that I urge all community farmers to adopt. It has come as a revelation in addressing the challenge of food security both at household and community level especially for us households without any means of earning an income to feed the family.” As of early October, Cecelia had already prepared 75 percent of her plot using CA techniques.