Natural agricultural farming
Natural Agriculture training takes place in September/October of each year. Farmers are trained practically and they partake in demonstration farm planting and simplified, colorful picture books translated into the local language are also used during training. By training farmers to use Natural Agricultural methods, dependency on expensive chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides is severed. In addition, farmers are empowered by rejuvenating indigenous and cultural knowledge of agriculture. The Natural Agriculture method includes teaching farmers about:
- Early Planting: Zambia’s rainy season takes place from mid-November to early April, but with the ever-changing weather patterns, rain begins towards the end of November and ends as early as late January. NADPZ teaches farmers to plant their crops promptly so that with the sporadic rain patterns, the crops would receive the better part of the rains.
- Mulching: NAPDZ teaches farmers to (mulch) cover their crops with dry leaves and grass, which captures the moisture in the soil. Coupled with early planting methods this helps maintain moisture in the soil so that the plants continue to grow and protect them from drought.
Mulching varies from soil to soil, crop to crop, and from one agro-ecological region to another. One major reason is its effectiveness for controlling erosion. Mulching forms a basis for conservation farming because it conserves water, prevents erosion, maintains organic matter content at a high level, and sustains economic productivity. In addition, retaining crop residues on the soil surface with conservation tillage reduces evapotranspiration, increases infiltration rates, and suppresses weed growth. The overall goal of mulching is to increase crop production while conserving resources (soil and water) and protecting the environment. The benefits of mulching are:
- seedbed preparation,
- weed control,
- evaporation suppression,
- water infiltration enhancement, and
- Erosion control. These benefits together result in increased and sustained crop yields.
Natural Agriculture focuses on mulching both after planting and after harvesting. Mulching after harvest is important because it reduces top soil erosion and the plants and stalks used for mulching after harvest are used as natural compost and turned over into the soil during planting, which increases the high nutrient levels in the soil.
- Other benefits of mulching and natural agriculture:
- The project implements a biodiversity cropping system, which is key to climate change adaptation.
- The use of indigenous seeds is an adaptation strategy as they contain the genetic makeup that enhances adaptability to local weather extremes.
- The use of Natural Agriculture methods does not compromise or undermine the strength and resilience of ecosystems, so they more easily adapt to climate extremes.
- Traditional knowledge is continually shaping new adaptation strategies at the local level to address new climate realities e.g. planting earlier or later in the season
- Seed Saving: By teaching seed harvesting methods farmers do not need to buy seed to grow the following season, making it cost effective for poor rural farmers. The indigenous seed is resilient and adaptable to changing weather patterns. The seed saving training is done in April/May. Farmers harvest the Natural Agriculture demonstration maize field. The trainer takes them through the seed collection and storage process.
Natural agriculture show
The purpose of this event is to bring together farmers and various community members so that they can share information and learn from one another. Prior to the creation of this event, neighboring farmers rarely exchanged their farming knowledge and worked in isolation.
The Natural Agriculture Show has become a three-day annual event involving the entire community. Local clubs and the community participate in a wide range of activities, such as football, netball, athletics, and cultural performances with song and dance. The main event is the display of Natural Agriculture produce, which creates an opportunity for the project members to educate the community about the benefits of Natural Agriculture farming.
The Natural Agriculture Show also includes the participation of traditional and local leaders. Every year the chief, headmen, the mayor and members of parliament attend the event as guests of honor. Councilors and government conservation officers are also actively involved in the event as judges for the selection of the best produce and community performances.
NADPZ aims to establish a Natural Agriculture Show in each and every project area. The Natural Agriculture Shows take place annually in August.