15 Mar 2021
By GLORIA SIWISHA
EASTERN Province is an agricultural hub contributing a substantial amount of its crop production to the national food basket. In the 2019/2020 agriculture season alone, the province produced about 600,000 metric tonnes of maize which accounted for 19 per cent of the country’s total production.
Over the years, however, agricultural activities have had a devastating effect on the environment through deforestation, as smallholder farmers seek to open up more farmland in search of fertile soils so as to increase production and productivity. According to a 2016 World Bank report dubbed “Drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Eastern Province”, 54,027 hectares of forests were lost in Eastern Province between 2000, and 2010, and 102,087 hectares lost between 2010 and 2014. The report attributes the quick depletion of forests in the province to the heavy dependency on agriculture and the use of poor methods of farming such as clearing large chunks of land to pave way for agriculture expansion. The situation is further compounded by the cutting of trees for the extraction of fuelwood.
To help address the problem, the Zambia Integrated Forest Landscape Project (ZIFLP), has partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture to raise 5, 160, 798 agroforestry tree seedlings. 4, 222, 471 seedlings should be that of Gliricidia sepium, and 938,327 Faidherbia albida or ‘Musangu’ as it is locally known. ZIFLP National Coordinator Tasila Banda says 2,580, 399 tree seedlings would be raised during the 2020/2021 agriculture season, while the rest would be raised during the 2021/2022 agriculture season. “We realise that as a project aiming to reduce emissions that tree planting is key, and it can not just happen in open areas or in forest areas; it is also supposed to happen on the land where people are growing and harvesting crops because we also need trees there,” Dr Banda said. She said there was an urgent need to change the outlook of the province as much of the forests had been depleted largely due to agricultural activities.
She further mentioned that Eastern Province is known to be a continuum of agriculture fields. The land has more fields and mango trees hence the urgent need to want to improve that outlook by planting trees critical to the Green House Gas emissions reduction process.
The Provincial Agricultural Coordinator Alex Chilala said Katopola Farm Training Institute in Chipata, and five other Farmer Training Centres (FTCs) in the province, had been engaged to raise the agroforestry tree seedlings. He said the seedlings would be distributed to the 10,755 lead farmers, and 107,550 follower farmers who were direct beneficiaries of the project under its ‘livelihood and low carbon investments’ component.
Mr Chilala says it is necessary to shift the mind-sets of smallholder farmers towards climate-smart agriculture, as the smallholder farmers’ tendencies of moving from one field to the next in search of fertile soils had had a negative impact on the environment. He emphasised that agriculture must increase productivity while addressing climate change to ensure the food security of the growing population. The need to feed the growing population leads to the cutting down of trees for field expansion which has resulted in climate change. As a mitigation measure, the project has incorporated environment preservation methods to try and reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere, intimated Mr Chilala.
He said gliricidia sepium and faidherbia albida had been chosen for this programme because both tree species had the ability to add nutrients and organic matter to the soil through leaf drop; build the soil structure and be good substitutes for chemical fertilizer especially for low-income farmers. Mr Chilala said agroforestry also contributes to food and income security, improvement of the environment, and subsequently, mitigation of climate change effects. Gliricidia sepium’s nitrogen-rich leaves can be used to improve the fertility of the soils and crop production. Its leaves can also be used as nutritious forage for livestock and firewood. Faidherbia albida has a taproot system that can pull nutrients from the deeper layers of the soil and bring these nutrients to the surface of the soil for the benefit of crops, concluded Mr Chilala.
Chadiza District Agricultural Coordinator Kabange Masenga said the production of agroforestry tree seedlings has benefited communities in the region through employment creation especially women and youths. He said the programme was also a good platform for farmers to acquire new skills. “We have incorporated women and youth groups whom we are already working with in terms of other agricultural activities. So, as they come to participate in this programme, they are also learning how to produce the same seedlings. We believe that they will be able to practice the lessons they are learning as they go out in the fields,” he said.
FTC’s of Katete and Lundazi districts have gone a step further to engage farmer associations that are already involved in the production of tree seedlings as a way of strengthening and empowering them to grow their businesses and support their households. Franklyn Mwale, a smallholder farmer of Lundazi district and a member of the Kasega Association group which have been engaged to produce 300,000 seedlings for Lundazi FTC, said the initiative has helped members to raise funds to support their children’s education, including raising funds to access farming inputs. Furthermore, Adrian Njovu a reformed charcoal-burner of Saidi village in Mambwe district, said the programme has also helped youths to refrain from illegal activities such as poaching and cutting down trees for fuelwood.
ZIFLP is a US$32.8 Million dollars Government initiative that is being implemented in all the districts of Eastern Province from 2017 to 2022, with support from the World Bank. It seeks to provide support to rural communities in Eastern Province to allow them to better manage the resources of their landscapes to reduce deforestation and unsustainable agricultural expansion; enhance benefits they receive from forestry, agriculture, and wildlife; and reduce their vulnerability to climate change.
Under the livelihood and low-carbon investments component, and particularly agriculture, ZIFLP is up-scaling climate-smart agriculture practices, promoting agroforestry, enhancing market access for smallholders and private sector engagement, as well as providing grants for livelihood interventions. It is anticipated that the successful implementation of these activities will result in improved resilience of farmers in the region towards climate change effects; increased productivity, improved yields, and reduced Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.
The author is an award winner of the CCARDESA Media Engagement Award.