Choosing improved seed has made a huge difference to Muunza Swanable, a developing commercial maize farmer near Choma in Zambia’s Southern Province. He spoke to JASPER RAATS.
Muunza Swanable farms 200ha of traditional land near the town of Choma. On the land, allocated to him by Chief Mapanza Simonzele, he plants up to 100ha of maize for grain. With an average 700mm of rain per anum the sandy loam soils currently yield 2,5 tons of maize/ha.
Muunza says the yields are not where he’d like them to be. But he is positive about improving yields through the implementation of a fertilisation programme, drawn up for him by the local Omnia consultant.
“Many of my soils, especially on the lands I rent, have been depleted over the years. Its going to take some time to build them up,” Muunza explains.
A WINNING FORMULA
He says yields and profits have improved dramatically since he switched to planting Pannar’s 25kg seed bags which have been tailored to the needs of medium-scale farmers. Pannar’s area representative for the Southern Province, Ernest Chikote, says the seedbags were designed with farmers like Muunza in mind.
“These guys are commercial, they produce surpluses, and they contribute to national food security. Many of them have not mechanised to the extent that they have tractors and calibrated planters. Our 25kg seedbags are packed to provide 50 000 plants per ha if planted correctly – that is one bag per ha,” Ernest explains.
This formula has been a winner for Muunza and made a convincing difference to his bottom line. “Previously I had to guess how much seed to plant per hectare; I often had to contend with low yields because of insufficient plant density.”
These days Muunza knows he can expect to harvest at least 50 X 50kg bags of maize per hectare. At last season’s price of ZMW95 per bag, he earned ZMW4 750/ha.
RE-INVESTING IS KEY TO GROWTH
The strategy of re-investing his profits means that Muunza has expanded by 8ha to 10ha every year for the last five years. He says he keeps his input costs down by using oxen to cultivate, rather than a tractor.
“I use the tractor only when I need to rip. For everything else, ploughing and harrowing, we use oxen.”
Seed is hand sown and the soil surface lightly harrowed three days after planting. This is to unsettle weeds that may be germinating and to break the crust (plough shield) so that the maize plants can push up through the soil.
“It’s a simple recipe,” he says, “but it works.”
Muunza’s three wives and a team of seasonal workers from the surrounding community harvest the crop by hand.
He sells his maize to local milling companies and to the Zambian government, and retains a small portion for household use. Muunza uses his own small mill for household milling and mills for his neighbours at ZMW4/2kg tin of maize.
As well as a tractor, he owns four 10 ton trucks, which he uses to cart produce to Choma, about 45km from his farm. At peak times he uses transport contractors for hauling maize.
RESILIENCE IN DIVERSITY
Muunza’s first wife, Gertrude, says there are no children older than seven on the farm.
“They are all at school,” she adds proudly. “Since we started planting Pannar seed and implemented their 25kg seedbag planting system, we can afford to send our children to school. We even own a vehicle and we no longer have to walk for miles to fetch water for our animals. We have a borehole.”
Gertrude keeps pigs, eight sows and seven boars, running them under a fairly loose management system. The sows produce at least one litter of piglets a year. After weaning Gertrude keeps them for a few months before selling them to a butcher in Choma.
Although he does not produce meat or milk commercially, Muunza farms cattle and his oxen have the reputation of being hard-working and reliable. His 100-head herd gives him a calf crop of 25 animals a year. He holds the heifers back and castrates the bulls at 28 months.
“I know there is room for improvement, in my cattle herd and in my maize fields,” says Muunza.
To make certain he keeps progressing he never misses a farmers’ day, and makes good use of every oportunity to talk to agricultural extension officers, agricultural product representatives and co-op personnel.