Conservation farming, with crop rotation and sound agricultural practice have helped farmers under First Quantum Minerals’ community support projects to avoid the scourge of Armyworms, the company’s Trident Foundation believes.
More than 3,700 farmers are trained and supported by the conservation farming projects surrounding the company’s Sentinel and Kansanshi mines in North-Western Province. They took delivery of seed and fertiliser inputs early in the season and are now hopeful of a bumper crop.
First Quantum Minerals (FQM) support and training in conservation farming has helped avert attacks from the Armyworms that have destroyed over 90,000 hectares of Zambia’s maize crop elsewhere in the country, said Trident Foundation agriculture field supervisor Christopher Chenga. Conservation farming continues to offer a path from subsistence to self-sufficiency, he added.
The black-striped caterpillars can appear between December and May, as armies of the pest as dense as 1,100 per square metre march through fields, destroying entire crops. Armyworms and other pests have already attacked at least half of the country’s ten provinces, according to the Zambia National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU).
FQM has trained farmers on best farming practices that have boosted their yields by 340 per cent.
“Based on our short history of four years, the average yield is going up steadily. There will be a bumper harvest in Kalumbila because for some reason, we have been spared by the Armyworms and our effort I think will pay a good result,” said Chenga.
The foundations are helping farmers use readily available resources to their maximum potential without wasting physical inputs such as seed and fertiliser, and labour. “But more importantly we do not waste time, energy, daylight hours, because we diligently weed our fields and plant on time.”
“Most people are overjoyed with our programmes because right now food security is ensured; because through conservation farming we have increase yields. On average, farmers produce six 50kg bags using conventional or traditional farming, but with conservation farming, we have seen an increase of 340 percent. From six bags, we are producing 42 bags,” added Chenga.
Under the project, farmers are able to grow vegetables and also harvest honey, as well as enjoy access to affordable farming inputs and maize market linkages.
“In the last five years, we have concentrated on improving livelihoods for the people in terms of agriculture, as well as providing easy access to the best farming practices for the locals in the towns we are doing our mining,” added Trident Foundation community relations coordinator Alex Mapapayi.
Trident Foundation manager Garth Lappeman said: “FQM takes its corporate social responsibility very seriously. We put in place targeted livelihood interventions where every household has the opportunity to join our conservation farming programme. This means they have access to subsidised inputs and training as well as ongoing monitoring and support.”
Lappeman said the mining firm has also been promoting the crop rotation to improve soil fertility.
The success of conservation farming has led proponents to suggest further dimensions to the program. In 2015 a plan to help farmers around the mines raise poultry prompted the building of several chicken runs (at a cost of about $50,000 apiece), each to be managed cooperatively by a group of 50 community members.