BioCarbon Partners (BCP) is pleased to announce the launch of its Conservation Farming Training Program in Mweenshan’gombe Zone, adjacent to BCP’s Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project. Designed to improve agricultural yields, the aim of the program is to reduce the pressures faced by local farmers to engage in activities that contribute to permanent deforestation in or near to the REDD+ Project Area. The Conservation Farming Training Program will play an important role in BCP’s overall effort to promote forest protection through activities that improve local livelihoods and provide alternatives to deforestation. This is in line with BCP’s approach to managing large-scale REDD+ projects, which puts partnerships with local communities at the heart of the company’s activities.
Last week, ten farmers attended a two-day training led by a representative from the Zambian Conservation Farming Unit (CFU), in cooperation with representatives from BCP. The aim of the CF technical training was to provide an introduction to the principles of minimal tillage conservation farming, as well as to gauge the level of interest among community members for the conservation farming practices. This two day training session also enabled BCP to assess the feasibility of launching a larger-scale Conservation Farming Training Program across the Project Zone for the Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project.
Representatives from BCP and the Zambian CFU carried out an in-field follow-up with those farmers who had attended the technical training. The results observed from this small field audit were promising: all of the farmers who had attended the training had already started to put into practice what they had learned, and they were in the process of setting up half-hectare on-farm demonstration plots. Over the course of 3-4 days, two farmers had already prepared thousands of the permanent min tillage hoe “basins” for planting maize. Seven others had prepared between 300 and 500 planting basins. This progress is both encouraging and bodes well for future technical interventions and adoption. In recognition of their interest and efforts, BCP made a donation of maize seeds to the farmers who had begun implementing conservation farming techniques on their own farms. BCP hopes that this initial pilot phase of the project will provide improved yields for the farmers, and this will encourage them to use conservation farming practices and systems on a greater portion of their holdings next year. BCP also hopes that the success of this pilot project will provide a tehcnical platform that will encourage other farmers in the Project Zone to adopt conservation farming practices, and that those famers who participated in this pilot project will be able to take leadership roles in facilitating the expansion of BCP’s Conservation Farming Training Program next year.
In addition to learning new conservation farming minimal tillage practices, participants in the program were provided with additional agro-forestry training on growing “musangu” trees on their farms. Musangu (Faidherbia albida) trees are known for their “nitrogen-fixing” effect, such that planting them among agricultural crops (a process called “inter-cropping”) results in natural fertilization that can result in increased yields. Farmers worked together to build racks to place the 135 seedlings they had prepared during the training, and at the end of the day, they were rewarded with their own musangu seeds to bring home. BCP will return in five weeks to assist the farmers in transferring the seedlings from the racks to their farms, once the rains have begun and their crops have been planted.
The training was a success from all points of view—farmers reported that they learned a great deal of information, and they said they were excited to be able to try these new techniques on their own farms. The farmers also agreed that they were interested in forming a Conservation Farmers Association that would be supported by BCP and would work closely with BCP to promote forest protection efforts.
“The next step is to apply these processes to our own farms, and then to train others,” said one community leader who attended the training.