An Oxen-Powered ‘Ripper’

Thursday, March 12, 2015
Oxen hooked up to chisel plow

Oxen hooked up to chisel plow

Less work, and less soil disturbance

Manitoba Co-operator editor Laura Rance is on secondment to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank to explore how investment in agriculture affects development in low-income countries.

Lundazi, Zambia–Conservation agriculture techniques and tools can be as varied as the farm.

Olipa Tembo and Dickson Nkata were using “pot-holing” in which the farmer digs a small basin into which manure, and later seed, is planted.

It’s an alternative to traditional methods of digging deep furrows, in their case with oxen, which are then hoed or plowed into high ridges as the plants emerge.

Last year they started working with a “ripper” for the first time. This year they put a down payment on one through a purchase program through the Reformed Church of Zambia.

The ripper is an ox-drawn implement that replaces the chisel plow with a narrow opener that “rips” a narrow trench into the field into which they drop manure. Sometimes they add a bit of soil on top of the manure, which is then followed by the seed.

If they have access to fertilizer, they can follow up after the crop has emerged by top dressing with urea.

Ruairidh (pronounced Rory) Waddell, program co-ordinator for World Renew, said pulling the ripper through a field is far less work for the oxen, which means the farmer is able to cover more ground with the same amount of energy.

“He can do much quicker for a greater area,” he said.

More importantly, it prepares a seedbed with minimal disturbance to the soil surface. “So you are able to retain the soil cover from the previous year, the leftover crop residues. That really builds on the carbon content within the soil and keeps the nutrition in the soil,” he said.

“Also it helps to retain the moisture. So the plants tend to be healthier, grow better are more drought
resistant,” he said.

Steven Chinyama, 47 and his wife Matilda, intercrop maize, pumpkins and sunflowers in a bid to keep the weeds in check. From the looks of their field, they were still losing some maize yield to weeds. But their decisions weren’t solely based on maize yields.

The pumpkins produced on their farm last year provided them with another source of food and something to sell for cash during the lean months before a new harvest came in.

They also use “fertility pits” that consist of 2×2-metre pits dug about two-thirds of a metre into the ground into which manure and compost are added. The soil is placed on top and turned. Crops can then be planted on the surface, sometimes intercropped with different varieties and rotated from pit to pit.

Farmers in Malawi use their hoes to create planting basins, into which they put composted manure and seed.

Fertility is supplied in some cases with mulch and manure, while other farmers use organic fertilizers in combination with inorganic sources.

Clever Zimba, who farms in the Lundazi area of northern Zambia, was using a hand-held seeder that jabs seed into a hole and side bands fertilizer at the same time.

Weed control is either done hand, by hoe or using herbicides. The farmers using herbicides appeared to be scaling up their conservation agriculture plots at a faster rate.

–Laura Rance, Manitoba Cooperator