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[SANET-MG] organic farmer who values freedom
http://www.i-sis.org.uk/OrganicFreedom.phpISIS Press Release 04/11/05
Organic Farmer Who Values His Freedom
Moses & Mary Mulenga work hard on their organic farm and is richly
rewarded in ways other than simply financial
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
Moses and Mary Mulenga were bursting with pride and enthusiasm as they
showed us around their farm, medium-scale by Zambian standards. They
have a total of 14.9 ha, 9.5 of which are cultivated and the rest left
as woods for keeping bees.
On a makeshift table were 14 bags of seeds all cultivated on the farm;
as green manure crops, ground cover between crops, or food crops.
“We used to do 17 crops,” said Moses.
Moses explained that they have a basic two-year rotation between green
manure crops and food crops, using ground cover crops “to improve
fallow” in between. But they also rotate between plots; so I gathered
that for any single plot, the rotation period is 12 years.
Green manure crops consist of four varieties of velvet beans - white,
black, black summerset, and green – sunhemp, and black sunhemp. Why so
many? Simply “to maintain the varieties”, Moses said. The different
varieties have different uses for controlling insect pests (“Brother
Paul's organic cotton and vegetable farm”, this issue) or for improving
soil. Green velvet beans, for example, are good for acid soils. The
ground cover crops are Sesbania sesban and Tephrosia , and the food
crops are cowpeas, soybeans, red sorghum, a local open-pollinated white
maize variety, pigeon peas and groundnuts.
Moses said he never grows hybrid maize because they give poorer yields
than the indigenous white maize variety. He has increased the yield of
white maize from 2 tonnes per ha when he was using conventional farming
methods to 3 tonnes per ha when the farm became fully organic.
Moses has not been a farmer for long. He used to work for Zambian
Airways in ground transport. But one day in 1995, he and his fellow
workers went to work only to find the gates firmly shut; the airline had
gone out of business.
So he decided to become a farmer instead, something he had always wanted
to do, as his father was also a farmer.
He started to farm conventionally and “almost gave up”, because he had
great difficulty making ends meet.
At that point, Brother Paul of the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre
invited Moses to come and see what they were doing at the Centre. After
a week's training on sustainable agriculture in Kasisi in 1996, Moses
started to reduce pesticides and fertilizers, substituting for organic
inputs until he stopped applying agrochemicals completely in 1998 and
became fully organic.
“The most important thing for me is the freedom I now have,” said Moses,
“I don't have to depend on loans, I can grow whatever crops I like, save
and replant my own seeds.” The farm provides all the needs of his
household, for him, his wife, and their five teenage sons aged thirteen
to nineteen. All the sons are attending school , which is quite an
achievement, as Zambia does not have free education, and few farmers can
afford to send their children to school. Apart from all the food they
eat, the family makes about 12 million Kwachas (US$3 000) a year selling
Moses and Mary took us first to see their compost heaps. There were
several rectangular mounds of the ground, some covered over with a
polythene sheet. “To make a compost heap, you must prepare the ground
beneath the compost by poking holes in it to improve aeration, then you
find some small branches or twigs of trees, such as pigeon peas,
Sesbasnia sesban , which rot easily, and lay it on the ground,” Moses
explained, “then you layer it with dry material such as dry grass,
velvet beans, etc followed by green materials, and then manure, and keep
on piling up the layers until it is no higher than you can reach to
water the whole pile.”
“Now, you see this long stick poking out from the pile?” He said as he
pointed to a long straight branch sticking out from the top of one side,
which looks as if it is buried diagonally deep into the pile. “This is
how you know if the compost is working properly. You take it out and
feel the end of the stick; if it is warm, the compost is working
properly.” He asked Mary to demonstrate, which she did, elegantly and
with obvious pleasure in showing off.
Next, they took us around the fields, some of which have been harvested,
and lots of crop residues have been left on the ridges “to improve the
soil and retain moisture”, Moses explained. I asked if the ridges were
permanent, and he said yes. So they have adopted some practices from
conservation farming as well as being organic; which goes to show how
farmers are learning from one another, and innovating all the time.
We went finally into the woods, which consisted of relatively small
trees and shrubs, obvious re-growths from a previously cleared area.
Across a wire fence was barren land with a few isolated trees left
“We had to put up this fence,” said Moses, “Before we did that, people
would come in and clear away our trees, as they are still doing with the
land out there.” They chop down the trees for no other reason than to
Soon, we came upon a rectangular wooden box about 1.5 metre x 0.5 m x
0.3 m mounted on bricks in a small clearing among the trees.
“This is a small hive with about 35 000 bees,” Moses revealed. “It is
harvested two times a year, in June and again in October, each harvest
giving about 35 litres of honey, or 70 litres per year. We leave some
for the bees of course, so they can feed their babies.”
There are five hives in the woods, three giving 100 litres a year.
Selling the honey from one hive is sufficient to pay school fees for one
child for a whole year.
As we were walking back after the brief tour, I asked Mary if she and
her husband enjoy farming. “Oh yes, we like it very much.” she said
“How many hours do your work a day?”
“We work for eight hours in the morning, and five in the afternoon,” she
“Every day of the year?”
“Everyday in the months of November and February,” she answered.
“Do you have any help at all?”
“No, except from the boys during the holidays.”
That too, is characteristic of organic farmers. They work quite hard, at
least partly because they love farming so much.
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