Small-scale farmers in Zambia’s North Western Province, a Cinderella region that has emerged as the nation’s copper mining hub, have increased their maize harvest to up to an average of more than 2 ½ tonnes per hectare, sharply contrasting with an average of just more than a tonne in earlier years.
The improvement owes a great deal to developments such as the multimillion dollar conservation farming initiative by First Quantum Minerals (FQM), the largest mining investor in Zambia. More than 2500 farmers in the province adopted conservation farming methods in the past season thanks to this development.
“Small-scale farmers in the province are now producing up to 2.6 metric tonnes of maize per hectare, a sharp contrast to the 1.2 metric tonnes before our intervention,” said Garth Lappeman, who leads the mining company’s foundation responsible for driving the conservation farming programme. “Our prediction is that the farmers will increase their yields to up to seven metric tonnes per hectare, and those aspiring to step up to a commercial level may reach 14 metric tonnes per hectare,” he added.
Inspired by the pioneering work of Zimbabwean farmer Brian Oldreive, FQM’s conservation farming initiative teaches the locals simple principles of making agriculture more sustainable in a land where farmers simply exhaust the soil in one area and move on to another. Key aspects include minimal tillage by just creating furrows deep enough to hold seeds and minimal application of fertilizer.
The mining company invests more than US500,000 annually into the programme. The aim is to build a community that attains food security and engages in alternative and sustainable livelihoods that generate income in stead of depending on employment in the mine.
“We have training facilities in and around our areas of mining operations at Kansanshi Mine in and Sentinel Mine at Kalumbila, 130 kilometres west of Solwezi. These include demonstration plots, classrooms and storage facilities,” said Lappeman.