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Conservation agriculture bears fruit

By Elizabeth Tsehlo

MASERU — After adopting conservation agriculture technology, ’Maphoka Thaba is ready to harvest the fruits of her success.
The weather in Ha Khojane, Mahobong in the district of Leribe is chilly today. Thaba is an energetic woman and quickly guides us to her field. She is 71 years old and she is still an active farmer to feed three orphans living with her.

“I am taking care of my husband’s children, a 17-year-old boy and girl twins and a 14-year-old daughter.” The youngest attends primary school, one of the twins is in high school and the other attends a carpentry technical school. ‘Me Maphoka participates in the Emergency and Recovery Programme jointly implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS), funded by the United Kingdom Department For International Development (DFID) and the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO).

Beneficiaries of the programme receive inputs – maize and bean seeds, fertilizers and a vegetable seeds kit – and, more importantly, training on conservation agriculture and home gardening. “I have always been anxious because I cannot produce enough food to feed my family for a whole year,” ‘Me Maphoka says. “The neighbours help me when I run short of food.”
Seeing the long, healthy looking maize crops next to which we are standing as she talks, this is hard to believe. ‘Me Maphoka says that she decided for the first time in her life to change her agricultural practices and plant maize and beans following conservation agriculture principles: minimum soil disturbance, crop rotations and soil cover.

‘Me Maphoka says that she saw conservation agriculture being practised in the neighbouring village of Naleli and was very impressed by the harvest coming from the conservation agriculture fields. She enquired at Mahobong resource centre about conservation agriculture and was encouraged by the extension officers to do it. However, it was no easy feat to convince her 17-year-old son, Poello, to adopt this new agricultural technique.

“I didn’t know what conservation agriculture was; I could not understand how the seeds would germinate when they were put in the basins,” he says. Deep inside, ‘Me Maphoka also believes that her son was concerned about her health given the amount of work he thought digging basins would require. “He asked the neighbours to talk to me, to convince me to stop thinking of conservation agriculture. He didn’t want me to get sick after working too hard on the field, as he would not be able to help me because he needed to attend school.”

Although faced with Poello’s resistance, ‘Me Maphoka was not discouraged. She decided to give her son part of her 0.4 hectare land, letting him plant the conventional way while she would go ahead with conservation agriculture. ‘Me Maphoka and other farmers benefitting from the FAO-MAFS programme worked in a team and helped each other prepare the land, strengthening the social linkages in the community. The group of farmers is guided by the MAFS extension staff and the lead farmer Ntate Motseki who advise them on conservation agriculture practices when they need.

And the results of ‘Me Maphoka’s determination and solomonic decision to split her land into two are more than evident now.
After lines and lines of healthy maize, we get to Poello’s piece of land which looks fallow. Looking carefully, we notice that it is actually a field of scattered poor looking stalks of corn! “My crops look poor, whereas my mother’s crops look good,” he says.
“Now that I know more about conservation agriculture, I am willing to improve my knowledge and I want to help my mother to practise conservation agriculture on 100 percent of the land.”

The young man wants to support the family to produce more and be able to sell some of the produce. “We have three cows; I would like to learn about practising conservation agriculture with animals, and also about the way I can do conservation agriculture in the home garden,” Poello says. Poello’s dream is to be able to live thanks to both farming and carpentry.
“I will go to the resource centre to get the training and learn about conservation agriculture,” he says enthusiastically.
‘Me Maphoka is extremely happy with the way she managed her field this year.

“My children helped me a lot, especially for applying the fertilizer during the post-planting period,” she says. ‘Me Maphoka says that she used to harvest around 60kg of maize using conventional farming but this year she expects over 400kg.
Earlier in the season, as she was weeding — a good practice that can increase production up to 50 percent — people would come and watch her working her land.

“Now they can see that I will harvest more and better quality crops than them,” she says proudly, hoping they will be convinced to join her in practicing conservation agriculture.

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