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In this issue: Conservation agriculture DOES work, and pays, too!

Nourish Zambia is produced by the Coordination Office of the Zambia FtF R&D Program based at IITA’s Southern Africa Hub in Lusaka. For inquiries, please email Naomi Kamanga ( or Jeffrey T Oliver (

Spotlight on SIMLEZA and CA


n this special issue of Nourish Zambia, we highlight the success stories of selected farmerbeneficiaries participating in the “Sustainable Intensification of Maize and Legume Systems in the Eastern Province of Zambia (SIMLEZA)”, one of the six component projects of the Zambia Feed-the-Future Research and Development Program. We especially focus on the experiences of these farmers in implementing conservation agriculture (CA) technologies being espoused by SIMLEZA. The stories featured here are based on actual interviews of the farmers conducted by the Communication Unit of the Program’s IITA-led Coordination Office. In the coming issues, we will be bringing you more success cases of farmers in the five other FTF R&D projects. In the meantime, do enjoy this edition of Nourish Zambia.

Photo by JTOliver, IITA.

Damiano Tembo Ucar Baloieso Chirwa Tisatenji Muzumara Richard Banda Peter Jerich Nyerenda

Conservation agriculture DOES work, and pays, too!

Amidst an evolving agricultural landscape in Africa, SIMLEZA provides Zambian farmers with sustainable and practical farming options to maximize their productivity while maintaining – and even enhancing – the natural resource base


onservation Agriculture (CA) – also called “agricultural environmental management” – is defined by the Food and Agriculture (FAO) of the United Nations as “a concept for resource-saving agricultural crop production that strives to achieve acceptable profits together with high and sustained production levels while concurrently conserving the environment”. In the light of a booming world population, CA has become critical over the years as more food needs to be produced annually to meet ever-growing demands. This scenario is especially pronounced in Africa where stagnant productivity, shrinking resources, expanding population, environmental degradation, and a changing climate threaten the livelihoods and food security of millions of agriculture-based households. The FAO has determined that CA has three key principles that conservationists and producers believe can be done to conserve what we use for a longer period of time. These key CA principles

are: (1) practicing minimum mechanical soil disturbance, which is essential to maintaining minerals within the soil, stopping erosion, and preventing water loss from occurring within the soil; (2) managing the top soil to create a permanent organic soil cover can allow for growth of organisms within the soil structure; and (3) practice of crop rotation with more than two species. Under the IITA and CIMMYT co-implemented SIMLEZA Project under the Zambia Feed-the-Future Research and Development Program, the implementation of CA technologies that integrate these three principles is a key intervention. For just the past 2 years, the project has already seen positive outcomes on the practices and lives of its farmerbeneficiaries in its target communities in the Eastern Province of Zambia. What follows are stories of selected successful farmers participating in SIMLEZA who have exhibited outstanding achievements in the practice of CA.

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Nourish Zambia, Issue No. 4 (January - April 2014)

Damiano Tembo Kafwumbwe Camp, Katete District


r Damiano Tembo said that he first heard about SIMLEZA during the community sensitization meetings conducted by staff from the Ministry of Agriculture. “Although I have heard of CA before from my fellow farmers under the Conservation Farming Unit (CFU), I have never tried my hand in it,” added the 45-year old farmer. “After the sensitization activities, the SIMLEZA project staff and agricultural extension officers conducted training CA technologies, particularly in the use of dibble sticks, in which I also participated,” he added. “This further ignited my interest in CA especially when they explained the benefits that I could derive from practicing CA compared to the traditional farming methods, which I also saw in my fellow farmers’ fields who are participating in CFU.”

Mr Tembo, who is also an active community volunteer, has 5 plots which serves to compare the different CA technologies and practices such as the use of dibble sticks and rippers, herbicides, basins, and hybrid seeds. In his first plot planted to maize, he practices what he termed as “old” – or conventional – way of farming. In his second plot, which is also planted to maize, he used dibble sticks in planting and established ‘basins’ for water retention. In his third plot, he also practiced the use of dibble stick and intercropping maize with cowpea. In the fourth and fifth plots, Mr Tembo used dibble stick while rotating maize and cowpea. In all the CA plots, he applied herbicide to manage weeds. He further explained that for the fourth and fifth plots, he rotated maize and cowpea interchangeably. “During the first year of planting under CA, I planted cowpea in my fourth plot and maize in my fifth. The following year (2013-2014 season), I reversed the crops – maize to replace cowpea in my fourth plot and cowpea to replace the maize in the fifth plot. Next year, I will reverse the crops again.” Asked what he has observed as immediate benefits of CA over traditional farming, Mr Tembo replied, “I definitely saw that my CA plots yielded much more than my traditional plot (first plot). For example, during my first harvest under SIMLEZA, I only harvested two 50-kg bags of maize from my conventional plot, compared to about four 50kg-bags from each of my CA plots.” He expounded: “From the previous season, I got 40 50kg-bags/ha of maize from my conventional plot. Comparatively, I got about 80 50kg-bags/ha of maize from each of my CA plots. That’s double my usual harvest!” he exclaimed. “Since I also practice the use of herbicides in my CA plots as espoused by SIMLEZA, I spend less time and labor weeding my plots. This has enabled me to pursue other income-generating activities,” he further explained. Mr Tembo sprays his CA plots with herbicide at the start of the planting season to control the growth of weeds. He said that the time he saved from manual weeding he now devotes to other crops in his field that required additional manual (Top) Damiano Tembo talking about his latest crop of maize under SIMLEZA, which he expects to be even better than last season’s harvest. (Bottom) Mr Tembo with his wife in front of the house which he was able to build from the proceeds of his last year’s harvest under SIMLEZA.



Nourish Zambia, Issue No. 4 (January - April 2014)

labor such as cotton, sunflower, and groundnuts. “Basically, with CA, I now get more income for the same time and labor spent,” he happily added. “I also observed that in my CA plots, the grass grow better. For me, this is an indicator of healthier soil. SIMLEZA staff explained to us before that with CA, soil nutrients are better retained. I can confidently say that this is true since I get much better yields from my CA plots with crop rotation compared to the conventional monocropped plot,” he described. “Additionally, I also saw that in the CA plots where I have ‘basins’, the soil stays wet longer than in my conventional plot. This, to me, is evidence of better soil moisture retention under CA, which is beneficial to my crops.” So what did he do with the extra income from CA? “From the extra earnings I got from last season, I bought fertilizer from the cooperative that I used for the current season. I also used some of the money to pay for my children’s school fees, purchase some livestock such as cattle and goats, buy food and other household items, and to build an extension to my house. My family is very happy!” Asked if he has shared his knowledge and experience of CA with other farmers in his community, Mr Tembo replied, “Of course. Actually, during the 2012-2013 season, I taught about 40 farmers on CA and the use of hybrid seeds, which is another practice being encouraged by SIMLEZA. And I plan to continue sharing my knowledge and blessing to others,” he concluded.

Ucar Baloieso Chirwa Vuu Camp, Lundazi District


car Baloieso Chirwa, 40, a SIMLEZA beneficiary, is a “special” farmer because he has been cited by Pioneer Seeds as “Outstanding CA Farmer” in 2013. He was given the award because of his outstanding achievements implementing CA management techniques, including the use of hybrid seeds that Pioneer produces. At the same time, as a farmer-leader, his success in CA encouraged his members and other farmers in his community to follow suit, making him a model CA farmer. With his award, Mr Chirwa received a motorycle and an all-expenses paid trip to the USA for an exposure and learning visit to commercial farms

(Top) Ucar Chirwa monitoring his maize field while riding the motorbike that Pioneer Seeds gave him as prize for being “Outstanding CA Farmer” in 2013. (Bottom) Mr Chirwa with his growing family in front of his house recently refurbished through the extra earnings from last season’s harvest of his SIMLEZA maize fields.

there, all sponsored by Pioneer Seeds. “I am truly grateful to Pioneer [Seeds] for this award and prizes, but I am also especially thankful to SIMLEZA for the training and support in CA,” he said. “I am going to use the motorbike to monitor the CA fields of the members of my group, who are all SIMLEZA beneficiaries, as well as to spread the word about CA to as many farmers as possible,” he added. Mr Chirwa heads a 56-member farmer group in Vuu. “I started using hybrid seeds in 2012. I first heard about their potential benefits from farmer field schools as well as from agricultural extension officers who were sensitizing communities about hybrid seeds as part of the total CA package,” Mr



Nourish Zambia, Issue No. 4, Special SIMLEZA edition (January - April 2014)

Chirwa narrated. “Then SIMLEZA project staff came to convince farmers to participate in the project, which was also about CA, so I joined.” “I have a 5-hectare field planted to maize and soybean. Prior to 2012, when I was still using recycled seeds and practicing traditional farming methods, I was getting less than 30 50kg-bags of maize and about 9 50kg-bags of soybean per hectare. Back then, I was really struggling to make ends meet as farming was my only means of livelihood,” he related. “When I started using hybrid seeds and complementing it with CA technologies introduced by SIMLEZA such as using cattle-drawn ripper for dry planting [before the rains] and herbicides for weed control, I got astounding yields. During the past two seasons, I got an average of 120 50kg-bags of maize and about 35 50kg-bags of soybean (at 85% germination) per hectare. That’s nearly four times my harvest using recycled seeds and conventional farming,” he proudly recounted. “I spend about ZMK 172 (about US$28) per 10kg-bag of hybrid maize seed, which is enough to plant one hectare. For soybean, I spend about ZMK 295 (about US$48.35) for every 25kg-bag of hybrid seed, enough for one hectare,” he said. “I sell most of my maize harvest to the FRA. The rest is sold in the market and to individual buyers,” he revealed. “I have used my extra earnings to open a bank account with ZANACO, pay for school fees and related items for my four children, and to buy farm inputs such as hybrid seeds and fertilizer. For example last year, I bought two 10kg-bags of maize and soybean seeds as well as eight bags of fertilizer. When I sell my harvest this season, I plan to renovate and expand my house as my children are also getting bigger,” he said smiling. “However, I also keep some of my harvest for home consumption, to make sure that we have enough food for the whole year. I set aside about 30 50kg-bags of maize, which is more than enough to feed my family until the next harvest,” he told. Apart from personally benefitting from CA, he said that he has also helped other members of his community by providing on-farm jobs. “From the extra income from the previous harvest, I was able to employ other farmers during land preparation, second weeding, fertilizer application, and harvesting. I pay them in either cash or in kind in the form of maize or soybean grains. To this end, I set aside about 50 50kg-bags of both maize and soybean for labor payment,” he added.



Asked if he is keen on continuing to practice the use of hybrid seeds and practicing CA even after SIMLEZA ends, he emphatically replied, “Of course! After experiencing first-hand the benefits of CA there is no question about that. And I will keep on preaching the CA ‘gospel’ whenever and wherever I can.”

“Mama” Tisatenji Muzumara Vuu Camp, Lundazi District


t 56, Mrs Tisatenji Muzumara is a soft-spoken lady affectionately called “Mama” by Vuu residents. With 3 children and 3 grandchildren, she says that she has been a farmer for as long as she can remember. “I have had my hands in the soil since I was a young child, and I am proud to say that I have successfully raised my children and even grandchildren through farming,” she recounted. ‘Mama’ Muzumara owns a 9-hectare farm on which she grows maize (6 ha), groundnuts (2 ha), and bananas and sunflower (1 ha). She tends the farm with her children. “Farming back when I was young was very different. The soil was still very fertile so we were able to grow our crops without any problems and we had plentiful harvest. As years went by, farming just became harder and harder because the soil became exhausted,” she said. “Presently, using local seeds and following traditional planting methods, we only get about 12 50kg-bags of maize and 10 50kg-bags of unshelled groundnuts,” she added.

“Mama” Tisatenji Muzumara tending to her recently planted maize-groundnut intercrop field under SIMLEZA CA trials...

Nourish Zambia, Issue No. 4, Special SIMLEZA edition (January - April 2014)

(Left) ... and here showing off her maize dry-planted using animal-drawn ripper in late-November last year before the rains came. (Right) One of Mrs Muzumara’s grandchildren showing some of the groundnuts and maize harvested last season from her SIMLEZA fields and stored in one of her silos at her homestead. She said she kept more than enough maize and soybean, after she sold off most of her crop, for her household’s food needs until she harvests again this year.

In 2012, agricultural extension officers conducted sensitization about using hybrid seeds in Lundazi. Her interest aroused, Mrs Muzumara opted to try using hybrid seeds. At around the same time, SIMLEZA volunteers were also in the community to get farmers to join the project, which she also did. “I told myself that I had nothing to lose by trying these new technologies since there was no profit coming from using local seeds and conventional farming.” Mrs Muzumara proudly recounted her surprise with her farm’s yields during the 2012-2013 harvest – the first season she used hybrid seeds and followed CA. “I was really amazed by the harvests of my maize and groundnuts. Using hybrid seed and CA practices, I was able to get 45 50kg-bags of maize per hectare, while for groundnuts I got 60 50kg-bags (unshelled) per hectare,” she recalled. “That’s almost quadruple my traditional maize harvest and six times my normal groundnut yields. It was simply amazing! I told myself afterwards that I am never going back to using recycled local seeds and will continue to practice CA,” she exclaimed. “Although I sold most of the harvest from last year, I kept enough for our food needs. For maize, I kept 117 50kg-bags, enough to feed my extended family for a year plus some extra for labor payments.” Mama was referring to payments to farmers which she has employed to help out in field preparation and for weeding during the 2013-2014 season.

Asked what specific SIMLEZA CA technologies she applies in her farm, she enumerated the use of dibble stick and animal-drawn ripper, as well as the use of herbicides for weed control and basins and mulching to promote soil moisture retention. “With ripping, especially during dry planting, maize is able to better withstand long periods without rain. It also gives good planting density,” she explained. “With herbicides, control of weeds is made much easier and saves a lot on labor costs, in effect giving me more income. I also noticed that my plants are more vigorous this second year of using hybrid seeds and following CA, which indicates that the soil on my farm is improving because of the CA practices. I am quite sure that I will have a bigger harvest this year than last year’s,” Mrs Muzumara predicted. So, what has she done with the extra income? “Oh, I have budgeted to have my dilapidated house fixed up. And of course, I contributed towards paying the school fees of my grandchildren. I also plan to go into business, of buying and selling clothes. I actually just came back from Namibia where I bought some cloth to start off my business,” she said with a smile. What does she think, for her, has been the most notable benefit of CA aside from the better yields and income? Mrs Muzumara simply replied, “I now have ample time to rest and enjoy my grandchildren. I am not getting any younger, you know.” Amen to that!



Nourish Zambia, Issue No. 4, Special SIMLEZA edition (January - April 2014)

Richard Banda Joya Camp, Lundazi District


hen we asked Mr Richard Banda, 33, about his family, he said, “I have 6 children, eldest is 11 and the youngest at 2.” Given his age, we commented on how prolific he was and how young he probably was when he got married and started having kids. “Oh, no,” he said, “you have me figured wrong – I actually have two wives,” he added laughing. “I have two families, which is why it is important for me to get as much out of farming as I can, which is why I went into CA,” he explained. “I joined SIMLEZA in 2011 after being told about the project by Francis, a SIMLEZA volunteer. He told me that SIMLEZA is a research project that compares conventional farming with CA. I already knew about CA previously as I am already a participant of CFU for quite some time. I saw that the CA technologies that SIMLEZA was promoting were very similar to CFU’s; however, SIMLEZA introduced new ones such as crop rotation and fertilizer application techniques,” he added. “Francis probably also chose me to join because I head a farmer’s group with 30 members, and

Richard Banda in his maize-soybean intercropped field under SIMLEZA. Mr Banda swears by the effectiveness and advantages of using herbicides to control the growth and spread of weeds in his farm.



Mr Banda in his ripper-prepared maize field, which he has also treated with herbicide as recommended by the SIMLEZA project.

I could easily encourage my members to join as well,” he supposed. “I was already using hybrid seeds from Pioneer back then and was getting good yields, but I thought that maybe applying these new CA technologies along with using hybrid seeds will give me even better results,” he continued. Mr Banda first established SIMLEZA trials on 3 demo plots planted to maize measuring 10m x 50m each during the 2011-2012 season. From those plots, he harvested a total of 17 50kg-bags of maize. “Not bad for a first try, I told myself,” said Mr Banda. Encouraged by the results of the demo plots, he decided to scale up the SIMLEZA trials to cover 2 out of the 3 hectares that he has for the 2012-2013 cropping season. “I was pleasantly surprised at the results of my SIMLEZA plots when I harvested in 2013. Compared to my CFU plots which gave me 80 50kg-bags per hectare, my SIMLEZA trials yielded about 120 50kg-bags per hectare,” he narrated. “It was the first time that I actually got those yields.” “I used the extra money that I got after selling my maize harvest to buy a motorbike, two heads of cattle for ripping, buy household items, and pay for my children’s school fees – for both families,” he said smiling.

Nourish Zambia, Issue No. 4, Special SIMLEZA edition (January - April 2014)

“Also from last year’s harvest, I left 20 bags for home consumption, the rest I sold to FRA at ZMK 65 (about US$ 10.70) per 50kg-bag. That netted me around ZMK 19,500 (about US$ 3,200) from the 3 hectares that I have,” Mr Banda computed, “and for a smallholder farmer like me, that’s a lot,” he added. Asked what SIMLEZA technologies he liked best, Mr Banda pointed out the use of fertilizers and herbicides, “but especially using herbicides because it makes weeding easier.” He further explained that he uses herbicides twice: the first during pre-germination using non-selective herbicide, and the second after germination using selective herbicide. “I do not hire outside labor anymore to weed my fields because the herbicides does that for me, and far more efficiently,” he said. “With CA, it’s just me and my two wives who work the fields to weed.” “I also like using ripper than dibble stick because it is easier,” he added. “I used to borrow, for a fee, cattle to rip my fields. But I do not do that now since I was able to buy my own cattle from the extra earnings from my SIMLEZA fields.” “This year (2013-2014) I have place the entire 3 hectares of my farm under SIMLEZA CA technologies. And based on my previous years’ experience and what I am seeing now, I am very sure that this year’s harvest will be much, much better,” Mr Banda concluded.

Peter Jerich Nyerenda Katayen Village, Joya Camp, Lundazi District


hen Mr Peter Jerich Nyerenda, 43, first joined the SIMLEZA Project in 2011 he already knew CA very well; very well in fact that he has been a CFU Coordinator for some time before SIMLEZA came to Joya. He actually has two farms devoted to CA: one which is 5 hectares under CFU, and another 3 hectares under SIMLEZA. Under the SIMLEZA trials he grows hybrid soybean, hybrid maize and cotton.

(Top) Peter Nyerenda tending to one of his SIMLEZA maize field trials. (Bottom) And seemingly “lost” in the lush vegetation of another SIMLEZA maize field.

We asked Mr Nyerenda what he thinks are the differences between CA under CFU and SIMLEZA, if any. “Well, nothing much really, as the two projects have very similar approaches to CA. However, I noticed that under SIMLEZA, it is recommended that fertilizer is applied before the seeds germinate to maximize growth. On the other hand, CFU recommends applying fertilizer after germination. I think, technically, this is the only difference,” he replied. Relating his experience with his SIMLEZA trials, he recounted: “During the 2012-2013 cropping season, my hybrid maize produced 100 50-kg bags per hectare, which is very good. However, my soybean crop failed because of the lack of



Nourish Zambia, Issue No. 4, Special SIMLEZA edition (January - April 2014)

Mr Nyerenda with his SIMLEZA trial plots comparing the different treatments and technologies.

rain, although I still got about 3 50-kg bags of grain for the one hectare that I planted them in. I also got 10 kgs as seed, which I used for this season” “Under SIMLEZA, I especially like the use of ripper and herbicides. The former is very good for early planting before the rains come (dry planting), while the latter is excellent for weed control without exerting too much manual work,” he added. He added that the extra income he got from his SIMLEZA fields he used to hire other farmers to remove whatever weeds are left in his farm. “I was not able to do that before (hiring people to weed) because labor is expensive considering the size of the area to be worked on and the amount of weed to be removed.” “I use the extra time that I save from manual weeding to plant other crops such as sunflower and groundnuts, which give me extra income as well,” he said.

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“I also used my extra earnings to buy medicines for my cattle as well as to pay for the school fees of four of my five children,” he added. “This year (2013-2014), in my SIMLEZA fields, I planted 45 kg of hybrid maize seed from Pioneer and another 45 kg of soybean seed. For the soybean, I got 5 kg of seed from the project and the rest (40 kg) I bought from the market. For the rate of seeding, I use two 10kg-packets for every hectare planted. From these, I expect to get 200 50kg-bags of hybrid maize and 10 50kg-bags of soybean per hectare,” Mr Nyerenda explained. “To benefit others, I have trained my fellow farmers on CA based on the knowledge and actual experiences I gained from both CFU and SIMLEZA. To date, I have trained 15 farmers as well as two teachers from my village’s primary school,” he related. On suggestions to improve the project, he enumerated: “Based on my experience with SIMLEZA, I recommend that the project provide additional herbicides to participating farmers, equipment and animals for ripping, medication for bulls, and sprayers. If the project could make provisions for these, I think SIMLEZA will be even more successful,” he emphasized.

This newsletter is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID.) The contents of this newsletter are the sole responsibility of the Zambia FtF R&D Program and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Nourish Zambia Special SIMLEZA edition (Issue 4, April 2014)  

Nourish Zambia, Issue No. 4 (April 2014), focusing on success stories of farmers practicing conservation agriculture (CA) under the SIMLEZA...

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