Lusaka/Rome -- The European Union (EU), FAO and the Government of Zambia launched a four-year, €11 million programme to increase crop production and productivity of over 300 000 small-scale farmers by promoting practices based on conservation agriculture.
The agricultural production of smallholder farmers in Zambia is most affected by soil degradation, high-input prices, poor produce markets and poor farming practices. In response, the newly launched programme aims to bring conservation agriculture, a method to achieve sustainable and profitable agriculture to 315 000 farmers in nine out of Zambia's ten provinces.
'Conservation agriculture saves labour, makes efficient use of inputs, produces higher yields and is environmentally friendly. It also provides better resilience against drought and prevents soil erosion,' said the FAO Representative to Zambia George Okech, adding: 'It has become a preferred means of promoting agricultural development for the 40 percent of rural population in Zambia, who depend on agriculture for their survival.'
The EU's Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said: 'Zambia has made huge progress in development, particularly in agriculture. Yet despite its remarkable economic growth, Zambia is one of the most unequal countries in the world. I hope that this new programme will help make sure that from now on, the country's growth benefits the whole population, not just the few.'
The new project builds on gains made by previous EU-supported FAO activities in Zambia. Between 2009 and 2012, FAO implemented the Farmer Input Support Response Initiative with a contribution of €16.9 million from the EU.
That initiative more than doubled maize production, while the percentage of families that were able to produce food in surplus of their needs, increased from almost half to over three-quarters of the population. The area of land converted to conservation agriculture increased three fold.
Improving production, preserving the environment
Conservation agriculture is a way of managing agro-ecosystems aiming to improve productivity, while preserving the environment. It is based on three interlinked principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotation.
Tillage is reduced to an absolute minimum. Agrochemicals and plant nutrients are applied in quantities that do not interfere with biological processes, leading to better soil quality and ultimately resulting in healthier crops.
Complemented by other good practices, including the use of quality seeds, and integrated pest, nutrient, weed and water management, as well as the use of sustainable mechanization approaches, conservation agriculture can serve as a basis for market-driven and sustainable intensification of agricultural production.