Mr. Tilo Chimuka, a retired teacher from the Mazabuka district, is not only earning a good living for himself and his family through conservation farming practices, he is also instrumental in helping the Agriculture Department in training other farmers to care for their land.
Tilo farms on 10 ha in the Southern Province’s Naluama Chiefdom where he plants soya, maize, ground nuts, cowpeas and sunflower. He rotates the grains and legumes to facilitate nitrogen fixing in his soil.
This year he planted four ha of maize and two ha of soya with a lima (quarter ha) each for ground nuts, sunflower and cow peas. Tilo saves on fertilizer by using compost and leaving as much biomass in his fields as possible.
While it is not possible to keep communal livestock out of the traditional land he farms, he supplements the biomass from plant rests with leaves and twigs from Gliricidia sepium trees he has planted in rows in his fields.
This is a legumous tree with high nitrogen content that is easy to manage and does well under severe cutting back of the branches, stems and twigs during the maize cropping phase. The cuttings are then spread along the maize rows to provide biomass ground cover and become compost.
He has also planted faidherbia albida trees in 10m x 10m spacing in his fields. These trees provide what is known as the “albidia-effect” which is characterised by better growth of crops under the canopy of the tree than in the open field.
The tree’s canopy creates an island of soil with better fertility and organic matter. The trees also fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil.
The trees also fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil.
Tilo says this has seen him harvest as much as five tons of maize (100 x50kg bags) per hectare without any irrigation. Mr. Oliver Chingombe, the Agriculture Department’s extension officer for this area, says many farmers struggle to get a harvest of two tons per ha (40 x 50kg bags).
FLOODS AND DISEASE
While the area gets good rains (800mm to 1000mm per anum) the rain season is short and sometimes fields get flooded causing severe crop losses. This happened to some of Tilo’s soya fields this year. His usual harvest of about 80 x 50kg bags per ha was reduced to between 40 and 50 bags. That is four tons pe ha, half the usual yield due to flood damage.
To make matters worse, Tilo lost most of his cattle to corridor disease last year and he does not have oxen to rip his fields. He resorted to more traditional methods creating small planting basins, or holes with a chaka hoe.
Known as pot holing, this planting method is highly efficient, because the farmer applies the necessary compost and manure in the planting hole with the seeds without any wastage. It also causes minimal disturbance to the land and existing cover.
Planting four seeds per hole, he spaces the holes in rows of 90cm wide and 70cm between holes. When he plants a ripline, Tilo sows five seeds per pace, which also gives him about 20 to 30 cm between plants in a line that is ripped to a depth of 15 – 20 cm.
After the first good rains, Tilo plants his fields.