Since he started to practice conservation farming 11 years ago, Mr. Sinoya Phiri of Kafue’s Shimabala region, has gone from a struggling maize farmer to a profitable businessman. He could afford to build a comfortable family home complete with electricity on his 3,5ha farm and he doesn’t struggle to pay school fees for his six children. Sinoya says farming is a business and if one is not making a profit, there is no point in doing it. “I’d be better off getting a job in the city then.” Jasper Raats spoke to him.
There is, however, no need for him to look for another job. Even in last year’s drought he managed to harvest 200 x 25kg bags of maize per ha. That is ten tons per ha on less than 400mm of rain!
He maintains an average yield of four tons per ha of soya and four tons per ha of sugar beans. Sinoya rotates his maize plantings with groundnuts or sugar beans to put carbon and nutrients back into the soil.
On all his fields he has also planted Musangu (Faidherbia albida) trees (an Acacia) in 10m x 10m grids. These, he says, fix lime and nitrogen and help to break up the soil compaction.
Because he cultivates and plants by hand, the trees are not in the way and the crops underneath flourish as the trees drop their leaves in the rainy season, letting all the necessary sunlight through.
“Us Africans cut too many trees to make charcoal. We need to plant more trees to prevent desertification and what better tree to plant than something that benefits our crops?” he remarks.
‘Us Africans cut too many trees to make charcoal’
Sinoya uses the cooler months of June, July and August to prepare his fields for the coming rains. With a Chaka hoe, a short heavy hoe designed to dig into hard soil, he digs what he calls a basin for each new plant. This hole is then halfway filled with manure which he collects from his piggery and chicken coups throughout the year.
The manure is collected daily, heaped and stored under a tree with a tarpaulin covering it to prevent the sun from burning away all the nutrients. Each hole then gets another layer of soil leaving a slight indentation for the seed. Once this is done, Sinoya waits for the first heavy rains before he starts planting. He has no labourers, his wife and his children work the fields with him.
Once the rain starts, seeds are deposited into the shallow holes where new roots only have a short distance to go before it finds the rich manure. Maize and sugarbean seeds get a top dressing of soil and fertilizer. The fertilizer is supplied through the Agriculture Department’s FISP programme.
He buys his seeds from local trading stores or co-ops depending on who offers the best prices at the time.
Sinoya and his family harvests their crops by hand, and what they don’t use for themselves and their livestock, they sell in the nearby Kafue. His piggery comprises fifteen sows from which he sells about 150 weaner pigs to the company Master Pork and to other local farmers.
From his chicken coops he sells about 650 live chickens every seven weeks. “The nice thing about the poultry operation is that I have no transport costs. People come buy the live chickens at the farm gate.”
He also keeps turkeys which he markets towards the end of November for people who celebrate the American Thanksgiving in Zambia. In Lusaka he gets K250 per bird at this time of year.
Sinoya roasts his soybeans and blends it into a mix of maize and other grains as a feed concentrate for his animals. “By feeding my produce to my livestock, I multiply my income from those grains by about three times,” he says.
‘By feeding my produce to my livestock, I multiply my income from those grains by about three times’
His sound business principles and record yields have earned him the title of the the African Conservation Agriculture Network’s Most Improved Farmer under Conservation Agriculture in 2015.
He is a follower of Zambia’s Grassroots Trust, an organisation that educates people in the sustainable utilization of natural resources and low input, regenerative technologies. Sinoya himself mentors about 100 farmers in the Kafue area.
“I really believe in conservation agriculture, the wealth I manage to build on just 3,5ha is testimony to its potential,” he says.
He hopes to one day expand and buy more land, but in the meantime he continues to set annual goals through which he grows his business vertically on the land he has.
You can click here to watch a video of Simon on his farm.