2014 most successful year for conservation agriculture

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By Deon Schlechter

WINDHOEK – The year 2014 was indeed an exciting year for conservation agriculture (CA) developments in northern Namibia. By December last year, more than 300 CA demonstration plots had been established under the USAID-funded Namibia Conservation Agriculture Project (NCAP), which is implemented by NCBA CLUSA and its partners, CES and the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU). Land preparation is continuing into 2015 to cater for as many farmers as possible.

Specifically, NCAP, together with its partners and participating farmers, achieved some great successes in 2014, which included the following:
* 432 trained Lead Farmers training their neighbours in CA;
* 18 new CA tractor tillage service providers empowered by Kongalend CA loan packages, and other additional tractor loan clients benefitting from Agribank and Wesbank;
* Record pearl millet, sorghum, maize and cowpea yields from Lead Farmers’ demonstration plots;
* Media coverage, including newspaper and magazine articles on CA, radio and TV broadcasts on rip furrowing, the most recent being a 30-minute coverage on NBC’s televised Green Horizon programme on 21 December broadcasting interviews with ripper manufacturer, Gerhard Baufeldt, CA farmer and CES NCAP Field Consultant, Johannes Keshongo, and Agronomist, Anna-Tukwafa Shonghela, also CES NCAP field consultant;
* NCBA CLUSA trained numerous tractor drivers and draught power animal owners in CA theory and the rip furrow method. NCBA CLUSA’s excellent field support to tillage service providers was instrumental for the successes in land preparation.

While NCAP’s 2014 successes are cause for celebration as Namibia starts 2015, it must be remembered that the road for CA development in Namibia has been long, and, at times, challenging.

It started off in 2005 with the CONTILL project (the Namibia Agronomic Board, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, GART, NNFU and NRC) which trialled various CA methods together with farmers in the Omusati region. A few years into the CONTILL project, it emerged that the Namibia-Specific Conservation Tillage (NSCT), a two tine ripper fitted with wings, was the preferred method by farmers. Thus CONTILL decided to focus on perfecting the NSCT method up till the end of the project in 2011. By 2008, the EU had also come on board to fund the spread of NSCT to other northern regions. CONTILL thus began operating in four additional northern regions.

In 2009, CES started implementing the UNDP GEF-SGP Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA) pilot project in northern Namibia. The NSCT method formed a vital pillar in the CBA project for combatting soil degradation and increasing household food security. The method was piloted with farmers in areas in five northern regions that were extremely negatively affected by climate change impacts, such as droughts interspersed with flood. Out of the six adaptation strategies concerning food and water security that were piloted in the CBA project, farmers’ adaptation strategy choice No. 1 was CA (either NSCT, or the hand-hoe basin method).

By now, CA had started to gain support from Regional Councils. The CBA pilot was implemented in collaboration with the Councillors at constituency level, and when it became evident that CA increases yields even under the most climatic challenging circumstances, calls for scaling-up were made from Councillors and farmers. By then, numerous case studies had been produced and everyone involved were looking for a scaling-up solution.

NCBA CLUSA heard the calls for the scaling-up of CA in Namibia. NCBA CLUSA approached the USAID, which approved the proposal for a CA training programme in Namibia for farmers, tractor owners and drivers, and draught power animal owners. Thus, NCAP was born, and there was much rejoicing.

Implementation started in 2012. The interest from farmers already practicing CA to join the program as Lead Farmers, ie CA specialists who are capacitated by NCBA CLUSA to train their neighbours in a Farmer Field School setting at their established CA demonstration plots, was overwhelming.

Trainings of Lead Farmers commenced and they started registering their neighbours for CA on-farm trainings. However, despite the huge interest from farmers to learn about and practice CA, NCBA CLUSA was faced with an enormous challenge – the lack of rip furrowing services to farmers. Simply put: There was a close to 100 percemt lack of service providers with adequate, good condition 4×4 medium-sized tractors fitted with the correct ripper implements.

NCBA CLUSA had to start elaborating on how to support the private service sector for it to be able to provide professional rip furrowing services to the NCAP participants. On 16 March 2013, NCBA CLUSA therefore arranged a meeting for tractor owners, aspiring tractor owners and Regional Council representatives from the seven regions where NCAP is implemented. NCBA CLUSA also invited Agribank and Kongalend to present their finance packages to existing and future rip furrowing service providers.

The attendance was overwhelming, and it stood clear that the interest was high among the participants.

A field visit to Johannes Keshongo, the farmer who have recorded by far Namibia’s highest record of pearl millet yields per hectare by applying NSCT, certainly cemented the point that CA is the way forward, and that tractor owners should take up rip furrow service provision.

What made NCAP take a giant leap forward in 2014 was the fact that Kongalend had come on board as a cooperating partner with NCBA CLUSA. Kongalend had by 2013 created the Lima Power loan for agricultural inputs and services, and in 2014 Kongalend created the Special small agri-business loan for tractors and rippers. Farmers and entrepreneurs queued up for application forms, and on the 21 and 24 November, eighteen John Deere 5503 models and Baufi’s Agricultural Services rippers were officially handed over to Kongalend clients in six northern Namibian regions. Finally, the last step to NCAP success was in place, and, again, there was much rejoicing!

Other positive side effects from NCAP are the needs for services by farmers from the private sector in terms of threshing services and seed outlets marketing quality seed, meaning there is real opportunity for the private sector to grow.

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