Over 120 people representing 15 African countries from Canadian Foodgrains Bank-supported organizations recently gathered in Zimbabwe to share learnings and successes around the practise of conservation agriculture.
“Having Foodgrains Bank members and local partner organizations coming together and supporting each other is a bold new way of programming,” says Neil Rowe-Miller, Foodgrains Bank Conservation Agriculture Technical Officer in eastern Africa.
“The conference was a great opportunity for the Conservation Agriculture network to grow and expand by learning from one another.”
Conservation agriculture is a farming approach that uses minimal soil disturbance, crop rotations, and cover crops to improve soil health and increase production.
“In a rural community in Ethiopia for example,” says Miller, “one of our local partner staff may have discovered a really great way of encouraging farmers to gather mulch. There could be another partner organization in Lesotho, continuing to struggle with a similar issue. Prior to these meetings, there was no chance for people to share their learnings or to ask questions of other organizations doing similar work.”
That was the case for Felex Ncube, a field officer with Foodgrains Bank member Mennonite Central Committee Canada’s partner organization Kulima Mbobumi Training Centre in Binga, Zimbabwe.
For him, the opportunity to learn from practitioners facing similar challenges and conditions is important.
“One person’s approach is another person’s solution,” he says.
In particular, Ncube says he appreciated how the conference helped him learn different approaches to food security in the face of a changing climate.
“Cross-pollination of conservation agriculture ideas, practices, and approaches from different geographic regions with different experiences of climate helps us learn a variety of ways of dealing with it.”
According to Miller, conservation agriculture is especially important in the face of things like El Nino and climate change, where erratic and changing weather patterns make it difficult for farmers to know when to plant and how to survive in the midst of drought.
Waluza Munthali, project coordinator with the Synod of Livingstonia Development Department in northern Malawi, a partner of Foodgrains Bank member Presbyterian World Service and Development, agrees.
“Farmers from this part of the world are affected by similar challenges—floods, dry spells, drought, and high temperatures. Not only is my knowledge of conservation agriculture updated through learning and sharing experiences at the conference, but it motivates me to work hard after I see how other partners are succeeding amidst climate change. I am serving farmers better because of these gatherings.”
While many conference participants were from Foodgrains Bank member partner organizations, others came from member organizations, including Laura Litwiller, Mennonite Central Committee Co-Area Director for East Africa.
For her, a highlight of the conference was “attending the technical sessions where I saw some Foodgrains Bank partners sharing their best practices, successes, and challenges using conservation agriculture to improve food security and build resilience of small-holder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
The conservation agriculture conference was part of a United Church of Canada initiative funded
through the Foodgrains Bank that supports conservation agriculture work in southern and eastern Africa. It was also funded in part by the Canadian Government through Global Affairs Canada.
Daniel Njau from the National Council of Churches of Kenya:
Such conferences provide a much-needed platform for cross-learning, sharing of lessons and good practices on conservation agriculture from different countries and cultures.
Tiago Cipriano Vilanculo from the Christian Council of Mozambique:
A key learning for me was that for people to change habits, it takes time.
We must continue to work with our communities and show that we can create positive change in agriculture through adapting conservation agriculture technologies.
Things like human resource management, collaboration between producers and extensionists, planning activities, team work and having the curiosity to learn more are all vital to succeeding.
Meaza Melkamu, Conservation Agriculture Technical Specialist for the Foodgrains Bank conservation agriculture program in Ethiopia:
I love what I do and have worked in the area of conservation agriculture since 2010.
Conferences of this kind are important because they create room for experience sharing, learning among different partners, networking and addressing challenges. It also develops team spirit among different partners which will serve as a fuel to spread CA across Africa.