Me, gesturing at chicken poop.
This past week we held the Integration Workshop down in Kasama. This thing was kinda my baby and was quite the hoot.
Here in Zambia, Feed the Future funding is being cut in favor of other countries. Feed the Future has been a really great program here in Zambia, and has been the funding source for a wide variety of food security-related workshops. That’s especially valuable for us agriculture volunteers, as a lot of the funding for programs in Zambia is via things like PEPFAR which focuses on HIV/AIDS. So Feed the Future has been all about giving love to us agriculture volunteers so we can bring counterparts to learn about improved food techniques (anything from beekeeping to orange-fleshed sweet potatoes).
The upswing of Feed the Future funding getting cut is that staff asked around for ideas of what to spend the remaining money on. I have been getting into Integrated Agriculture recently, so I suggested an Integration Workshop. Integration and Integrated Agriculture is all about combining different farming systems to be more efficient and waste less. The big upswing for farmers is that it makes all sorts of different farming practices more sustainable and more profitable. In fact, my new mantra is that fish farming alone is pretty useless. The fish are cool I guess, but it will be hard to raise them well and so you won’t and it’ll be hard to make money because you’re spending money on inputs like fish feed. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit out there when it comes to integration, but a lot of people just don’t think of ideas so I thought a workshop that presented all these ideas would be really useful. So I made the suggestion and typed up a proposed schedule and they decided to go ahead and implement it. Neat!
Manure tea demonstration. Poop water smells like poop.
As part of scheduling for the workshop, staff asked me for suggestions for well-integrated farms we could go to. I suggest my host dad’s. He has a copy of an integration manual from 2002, and has been steadily applying ideas from it to his own farm. His fish ponds and gardens are pretty awesome right now, and one of the big advantages of taking people to his ponds is that he has only been at it for a year. A lot of times we take the counterparts to well-developed farms, and I think it is hard for the counterparts to think of where they want to be in 10 years, or they view it as a daunting amount of work. But by showing people what they could accomplish in just one year, I thought it might be inspiring for some folks.
At my site I was in charge of demonstrating some “natural alternatives.” These are generally home-made versions of fertilizers and pesticides that people buy in the shops. Fertilizer is one of the most expensive agricultural inputs, and if we can get people to use animal manure as fertilizer then we’ll save them a lot of money, and probably the environment as well. In the topmost picture I am gesturing underneath the chicken house, with the emphasis being that a raised house makes it easy to collect manure. A lot of people let their animals just go free-range, but that makes it impossible to collect manure. By keeping animals in a night shelter, you can use all that manure in your fields.
Besides just applying manure directly to fields, it is pretty easy to make manure tea. All you do is put some manure in a mealie meal sack that filters water through it easily, then put the sack in a bucket, and add water. You let the “tea” “steep” for about a week, then dilute it some, and you have some pretty effective fertilizer! For free! Besides that, I also showed them how to make some natural pesticides using chilis, and another method for making fertilizer with compost. Meanwhile, down at the ponds, my host dad was showing everyone his whole neat pond and garden setup. I like giving my host dad opportunities to show off because it really keeps him motivated to keep doing more.
Muka was excited for the workshop because we ate lunch there, and he got the scraps.
When we first rolled into my site I was actually a bit disappointed, because I was told we would be rushing a bit so we could go to yet another site, but it worked out pretty awesome. The next site we went to was perhaps the next level from my host dad’s farm. It was a farm owned by a cooperative of 24 people. They had a very large, well-integrated farm with two whole chicken houses (including an incubator), very large gardens, and several fish ponds. The exciting part with them is that they had just managed to purchase some equipment to make it easier to till and plant a large amount of land. That meant more profit for the same amount of labor. And the most inspiring aspect was that it took only three years to get to that level because everyone worked hard.
It was impossible to get the cooperative’s whole setup in one picture, but they had fruit trees, gardens, animals, and ponds.
Overall, I think the workshop is a success and I hope we can leave the tools behind for people to do something similar next year, with a different source of funding. It is really vital to get the farmers inspired by showing them concrete examples and giving them hands-on activities. And integration especially is a project that requires thinking about the inputs you have and the goals you want to achieve. Once you get people in the mindset to maximize their resources, their farms just really take off. I told my counterpart he has two more years to achieve what the cooperative did. I think he’ll pull it off.