Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Basic Education

Education in Zambia issue 1: What do children learn at a public primary school? Does the school offer them a better future or does the educational system perpetuate the social inequalities that it is supposed to make up for?

Nchimunya entering Basic School for her first teaching practice day.

My wife is doing a diploma course in primary school education. Last term she had to do her teaching practice at a government school at Choma. The school, initially a community school, literally is still under construction. Despite insufficient means, it is well managed by the headmaster, the deputy headmaster and the senior teacher. The construction of the school is supported by the community providing labour and financially by a sister of the Catholic Church.

The operating condition of the school has its specific features but much of it applies to a great many government primary schools in Zambia. Many informed parents and guardians are aware of the deficiencies of primary education in Zambia and prefer to send their children to private schools in the hope of better performance. The overwhelming majority of parents cannot afford such a solution and their children must run the “normal” primary school course in a government school.

Nchimunya was teaching term 3 of grade 2. In such schools grade 1 is taught in the prevailing local language (Chitonga in this case) and grade two is taught bilingual both in English and Chitonga. Most children come from homes where no English is spoken. Starting literacy and language subjects in the prevailing local language is supposed to make it easier for these children to start to read and write as the local language is familiar to them and English is not.

Part of my wife’s assignment at the school was to conduct research in an educational problem area, identify the causes of the problem and suggest solutions for it. She chose to look into language related problems, that is, in Chitonga, English and Literacy (i.e., a subject about the ability to read in English). Obviously poor performance in these subjects would negatively impact on most other subjects of the grade 2 curriculum.

She started to teach a class of over 60 children. Fortunately the school management had the sense and grace to split up the class in two, despite an acute lack of class rooms. The results stated below therefore apply to 30 children.

Twelve out of thirty children (40%) had an average score of 25% or less (out of 100) in Chitonga, English and Literacy.

Ten out of thirty pupils (33%) had an average score between 26 and 50% (out of 100) in Chitonga, English and Literacy.

Eight children (26%) had an average score over 50% (out of 100) in Chitonga, English and Literacy.

In short, the results of only 26% of the pupils are acceptable, for 33% there might be some hope for improvement and for 40% prospects are dim, if not very dim.

What accounts for these frightening results? Three types of variables were considered: factors related to the situation at home; factors related to the situation at school; and disorders of a mental, physical or social nature.

Domestic factors affecting the twelve poorest performers were: No English spoken at home (100%); lack of support and encouragement for the child (58%); illiteracy of parents (58%); neglect of child (41%); no Chitonga spoken at home (41%); malnutrition (33%); abusive child labour (25%) and disease at home (8%).

Factors pertaining to the school situation are: Poor education/achievement in previous grade; overpopulated classes; lack of individual guidance; lack of teaching aids; problematic methodology (by grading pupils into groups by achievement thus stigmatising the poor performers) and lack of provision for extra tuition. As a result the school cannot make good the handicaps the children have in linguistic abilities, especially reading skills.

The situation is aggravated by incidents of disorders and/or undesirable behaviours. One child in this class requires specialist mental care; four children might be dyslectic and eight children display deviant social behaviour. There is a clear correlation between misbehaving in class and poor performance. Extra care required to deal with such pupils is not possible in oversized classes.

In addition two other main factors contribute to poor language and literacy performance. Firstly, the number of teaching hours is too little and in fact just over half of a “normal” situation (as in a private school). Secondly, the rules for passing to the next grade are too lenient. In this case doing better than class average is rewarded at the end of the year by promotion to the next grade, even though results might be way below a 55% score out of 100 that should be the minimum requirement for a pass. Both factors have to do with the lack of schools or classrooms, and ultimately the cost of education and the availability of finance.

The net result of these policies and conditions simply is that the majority of public primary school leavers in fact are below standard performers and bound to fail in further education. It also means that the public educational system at foundation level does not make up for social and economic inequalities of the pupils and their parents or guardians. When poor you must be exceptionally bright and/or benefit from exceptional support in order to make the grade to higher levels of learning. When coming from a well off family you might be successful in further education even when mediocre by the better quality of education and additional support that the parents can afford. Effectively, therefore, social inequalities are sustained by the very educational system that is supposed to offer a better future for its pupils.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Promoting Musangu (Faidherbia albida) Cultivation: Some Thorny Issues

Notes on Agriculture in Zambia no 4: Promoting the cultivation of the tree Faidherbia albida (winterthorn, musangu) successfully requires more attention to (a) presence of favourable growing conditions; and (b) to social issues pertaining to rights over planted trees and land use in traditional farming area's (i.e., "tribal land").
Initiated: 25 September 2011
Updated: 22 Oct 2012, 29 January 2014, 9 March 2015

The Musangu features with the Jatropha in the Conservation Agriculture scheme of the Conservation Farming Unit (CFU) of the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) as one of the two non-food trees and is the more prominent of the two for reasons stated below. The CFU mentions the tree in its conservation farming handbook (ZNFU 2007 : 47) and provides on the Internet a very useful, more detailed information sheet (go to: www.aec.msu.edu) that provides the rationale of musangu promotion.
I need to state, at the onset, that I am not a trained agriculturalist. We farm at an 8 ha plot outside of Choma, Southern Province, on land with low natural fertility. My interest in musangu springs directly from this adverse condition.
Well developed 2.5 year old musangu in Choma district. About 150 cm tall.

Some basics about the tree
The musangu, the chiTonga name of the tree, is indigenous to some parts of Zambia. It occurs, for example, naturally in the Gwembe Valley. The English common name for the tree is Winterthorn, referring to its highly unpleasant thorns. The tree, requiring decades to achieve full maturity, grows a wide, impressive canopy and secures its water requirements by a deep tap root. CFU propagates the leguminous tree mostly because of its soil fertilising capacity. I quote out of the handbook:
Through leaf and pod fall, nitrogen fixation and association with soil-micro-organisms, fertility accumulation under the canopy is reported as follows: 75 kg N, 27 kg P2O5, 183 kg CaO, 39 kg MgO and 20 kg S. This is equivalent to 300 kg of complete fertiliser and 250 kg of lime worth at least USD 330 today and provides the recommended nutrient requirement for a 4 ton maize crop.
Wikipedia’s musangu page also mentions: the use of the wood as fire wood and for carved objects like canoes and pestles; medical properties of the tree; use of seed pods as animal food and its importance for bees as an out of season food source.
The tree is in listed in Appendix A (Plants used by the Gwembe Valley Tonga of the Middle River region) of Thayer Scudder's The Ecology of the Gwembe Tonga (1974:256) where it appears under its older nomination Accacia Albida Del. . The indigenous Gwembe Tonga name given is muUnga. Scudder says that its seeds are eaten, the pods used as fish poison and the wood used in dugout canoe construction.

One outstanding property of the tree is that it sheds its leaves in the rainy season. This, in combination with its fertilising properties makes it a perfect tree for inter-cropping  especially with maize. The CFU proposes a planting grid of 10 x 10 m, resulting in 100 trees in a hectare.
Now how good is this all in practice and what are the hitches? Below an account of my experiences with musangu and some thoughts and observations.

What we did
We planted about 350 musangu seedlings during the 2008-9 and 2009-10 rainy seasons. A number of these were procured at the CFU Choma office, others were grown by us from seed in plastic bags, following CFU instructions. The seed was procured at the CFU office. We planted three hectare where we do crop cultivation, using a slightly different grid as the one suggested by the CFU. We also planted a number of trees in non-crop area, out of curiosity, as boundary markers or for future as yet unknown use. Our soil is shallow and sandy, located in agro-ecological region I. Under the sand is gravel. Ground water level goes up to 3 m below soil surface in a good rainy season. We are about 1,200 m above sea level.

Freshly planted Musangu seedling. Note basin for trapping water and keeping manure, compost and mulch.

CFU provides suggestions for planting in its useful leaflet no 1. We planted the seedlings at the onset of the rainy season in small holes, about 25 cm deep, in which we would put some topsoil, manure, compost or MAP (= root growth promoting) chemical fertiliser; whatever we had. The seedlings were placed in a basin having a shallow bowl shape, so as to more effectively direct water to the root system. Where possible we use(d) pulled out weeds as mulching materials.
Based on experience I would now pay more attention to plant hole preparation; make them a bit bigger e.g. 25 x 25 x 50 cm or even deeper in area's with shallow soil, put more organic matter in, perhaps mixed in with some ant hill soil to improve on the water retaining capacity of our sandy soil. 
CFU advices 1 litre a week for seedlings in the dry season, for example by using the knap sprayer filled with water. In year 1 we watered many of them using a water bottle feeding system, supplying seedlings with about 1-2 l/week by a form of drip irrigation using bottles filled with water next to the seedlings stuck top down in the ground. Survival rate was good with only a few dying of drought. In year two we bucket-watered the basins having now over 1 year old seedlings with about 10 l preferably once every 2 weeks. We had almost no casualties because of drought but it is a lot of work. Trees in year tree dry season we gave about 20 l preferably once every 2-3 weeks. Again, this is a lot of work; you need to have the water, manpower, time & money. The reason why we opt for periodic thorough watering is to stimulate deeper root development. Typical irrigation problem: the basin in which the tree is growing must be maintained, have the right shape and depth. In practice workers often just water, more than is necessary or ineffectively, into a basin that is too big and flat. Clearly, this water nurturing must continue until the tap root has penetrated ground water level. As of year 4 we stopped watering the trees and to date the large majority of trees has survived. However, they remained small.   


CFU supports mulching generally but does not mention it specifically as a means to supports the establishment of musangu seedlings and young trees. Yet the normal benefits of mulching also help the musangu: less evaporation of water, better absorption of water, less or no weeds, creation of topsoil.
We fertilise preferably twice a year, certainly once with cow manure and in any case at the end of the rainy season when new leaf appears. We may also sprinkle some Zambian fertilisers formulation “C” – supporting root formation, having trace elements and 30% organic matter. CFU (as in the Jatropha case) does not suggest a fertilisation scheme. Yes, when you are among the lucky having naturally fertile soil it might be enough to plant seedling trees to see them rapidly develop. But in our case we had to supply additional nutrients.
Tree development
Seedling development into young trees has shown a stunning variety. Some seedlings hardly seem to grow; many conform to what, under the prevailing circumstances, appears to be “normal” development; some seem to be doing very well, being over 2 m tall. Normal development at our place would be about 0.75 to 1 meter tall for a 2.5 yr old tree. What you want, for a tree inter- cropped with maize or sunflower, is a tree having a straight stem eventually developing a canopy above the working surface. What I see is that many trees require training and support. The “central leader” tends to bend over and down. On this “leader” another branch starts to grow upwards resulting in a peculiar trunk segmentation. Seedlings and young trees also are sensitive to wind and therefore tend to grow up slanted following the prevailing direction of the wind. In order to promote regular more or less straight trunk development you need to prune the tree from time to time and support it with sticks. You need to collect the pruned material and burn it because of its thorns.

Musangu about two year old. Note near absence of leaf, picture is taken during rainy season. The tree is placed in a mulched basin and supported by a stick to promote vertical development.

A, and possibly the main factor in tree development is soil depth. You can improve the soil around the tree by organic means, you can add nutrients, you can give water in the dry season but there is little you can do about soil depth. If your soil is shallow and if the gravel or rocks under that shallow soil are so dense that the tree can not make a proper tap root it will not develop well and remain dependent on artificial watering. In that case your tree is in the wrong place and you'd better relocate it to a suitable location.

Musangu, unlike the Jatropha, appears to be relatively disease free. We have had incidentally and rarely a tree seemingly afflicted by a white fungus. Ants like to "burrow" next to the tap root, but we have no incidence of trees dying because of ants or termites destroying them.
Some practicalities of the musangu grid
Planting the musangu in a grid, e.g., the 10 x 10 m proposed by the CFU, structures your land and this is very convenient for example in the calculation of seeding or fertiliser/manure requirements. It also is aesthetically pleasing. But in the first years your young trees are easily trampled by people or oxen doing their work. It is good to put sticks next to your small musangu trees to increase visibility. Make sure that necessary repairs be done immediately and have spare plants in the nursery.
In retrospect, however, I would decrease the distance between trees in the row to 5 meter; and possibly increase the distance between rows to 12 meter. If it comes to pass that the trees overcrowd each other in the rows you can always thin them as necessary. That might take some time, perhaps over 20 years.
Frost sensitivity
Musangu is a (sub)tropical tree that can withstand our "normal" winter but very definitely does not like frost. In our area we rarely do have night frost. The winter of 2011, however, was one such rare occasion with one night of true night frost. I live here since 1988 and it was the first time to experience this. It was not good for any musangu tree exposed to below zero temperature C. It did not kill them but in many cases destroyed the vegetation above ground level. Gradually new shoots emerged right above soil level, in a coppicing manner, developing rapidly. (One more reason to look well after water and nutrients!).
The time it takes to reap
To have the stated fertilising benefits one needs patience, and quite a bit of it, as well as foresight, and a long term perspective. The tree, under favourable conditions, can develop massively up to 30 meters tall with an immense, broad canopy. We do not have, it appears to me, in Choma district many places having such favourable conditions. However, at Bruce Miller's Nansai farm, some 20 km's north of Choma, well developed, mature trees can be seen. On poor soils the period that it takes for the musangu effect to result in substantial savings in cost of fertilisation is longer than the 10-12 years stated by the CFU. Perhaps it is wise to adjust the grid, sticking to 10 – 15 meter between the rows with a spacing of 5 meter within the row. One could imagine that tree spacing be related to local conditions.
Social constraints in Musangu propagation
CFU aims at 240,000 ha having the musangu cultivation system. The cultivators in very large majority are small scale, sometimes very small scale villagers farmers & rural households. I have, from a different position, experience in promotion of tree growing for village households in Southern Province. It concerned the malala tree (Hyphaene Petersiana), a palm tree used in basketry. Success rate was low to poor despite free dissemination of seeds and technical advice. Reasons:
1. Mobility / insecure future as regards residence. Mobility in the village / rural households can be quite high and is unpredictable. People move because of local frictions, death in the family, witchcraft, or perhaps just in search of greener pastures. Mobility was in fact a basic aspect of Tonga life and accounts for their territorial spread. You stand to lose “your” trees if you move, and traditional land (as it stands) is not for sale.
2. No guaranteed rights over land and hence your investment. People may have the right to cultivate a piece of land by traditional custom, but that right usually ceases when actual usage stops. Often there might be latent claims on the same piece of land that can be activated at any time and certainly at death. Such reasons obstruct having a clear right to ownership (your investment) in the trees planted and cultivated. In the traditional system you might be cultivating (rightfully) somebody else’s land, for example of the spouse. Also in such a case you’ll not be able to say: this is my land and those are my trees. The trees are an investment the returns of which need to be guaranteed in one way or another.
Propagating the “musangu system” without addressing the social constraints and conditions mentioned above is nearly pointless. Indeed, of all problems and constraints, this by far is “the most thorny issue.”
Assessment of Musangu
1. The tree indeed seems to be relatively easy to grow as far as susceptibility to pests and diseases is concerned.
2. Anticipated functionality might improve by developing strains that grow straight (also in Choma district).
3. It would be good if a fertilisation schedule is put in place related to soil types and location.
4. Same for irrigation.

5. Information should be provided about naturally optimum conditions for the musangu habitat (soil, water, altitude, temperature) and effect of significant deviation of these outside of the natural habitat; and measures to be taken to counteract these deviations. 
6. Alternatives to the 10 x 10 m planting schedule should be considered on the basis of expected tree development. There are area's where the tree is not going to reach giant size, and it might also make sense to opt initially for closer spacing within the row and thin later as or if necessary.

7. Check before planting your soil and soil depth, and the gravel and rocks underneath. Don't plant If it appears that the tree shall not be able to make a tap root that can reach ground water level. Indeed, if the musangu cannot grow well on your land you may ask yourself if it makes sense to grow commercial crops on that land. You may be better off leaving it to cattle.
8. Social constraints in the cultivation of the musangu must be considered and addressed. This applies to areas where land can only be cultivated under customary law, meaning land that is not owned nor has “title.” The large majority of the CFU target group has the "right to use" land because of actual usage and that right ceases when usage ceases.

Post Scriptum
Attached comment by experienced agricultural researcher Franz Ulrich Fischer confirms that musangu can be cultivated outside of its natural habitat, but to do this successfully (in sandy Choma soils) one needs to create favourable conditions as by watering, soil preparation and fertilisation.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Jatropha Cultivation Is NOT Easy

Agriculture in Zambia no 3: Conservation farming and Jatropha cultivation

Post by Bert Witkamp

The cultivation of the Jatropha tree is propagated by the Conservation Farming Unit (CFU) of the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) in its conservation agriculture package. Below an account of my encounter with Jatropha (Jatropha curcas).
I should warn the reader that I am NOT a farmer FARMER. I rate myself a serious amateur. That does, however, put me on a par with the CFU target group when it comes to Jatropha. These farmers are generally small scale farmers using hoes and oxen in their cultivating efforts. Also for them Jatropha cultivation is an exotic adventure. Unlike the large majority of these farmers I do have access to the Internet and this gives me entry to info and knowledge they do not have.
The Jatropha originates from Central America. It exists in a number of varieties, the one we use is Jatropha curcas. It is a small tree growing up to six meter tall. Production of  seeds starts in year 2 or three (if things work!) and can go on for some 50 years.
Notably GTZ (German Development Cooperation) has propagated the Jatropha, in a now abandoned programme located in Southern Province. A useful leaflet, however, remains titled The Jatropha System (accessible via The Net). Projects featuring Jatropha can also be found in India, where Jatropha cultivation is developing in a major way. An interesting site providing substantial technical information is www.svlele.com
In Southern Province a few farmers are experimentally growing Jatropha on a large, commercial scale.

Two year old Jatropha trees planted as fence.

What we did

We planted Jatropha during the 2008-9 and 2009-10 rainy season, hundreds of them as seed, seedlings and cuttings. We planted them closely spaced in places where we hoped and expected that they would develop into a living fence, and more widely spaced along one of the farm tracks. Our soil is shallow and sandy, located in agro-ecological region I.

Why Jatropha?

The Jatropha tree is propagated as:
·       It can be used to make a life fence.
·    The seeds can be used as (1) source of oil for lamps (paraffin substitute), (2) commercially as raw material for bio diesel (this is at present only a future prospect and based on the anticipated increased expense of diesel), or (3) source of oil for soap.
·       The seed cake can be used as organic fertiliser, as a source of biogas or, if detoxed, a source of animal feed.
·      The tree is drought resistant and needs little water.
·       Is supposed to be able to grow on “marginal” soils.
·       Presumed medical properties.

Below Some Jatropha Things to Think About

Susceptible to disease

The Jatropha tree is an exotic tree, hence not naturally adjusted to local conditions including pests and diseases (that is, disease causing organisms). It is, for a layman, not possible to identify specific causes of disease. I do suspect that the tree is vulnerable to fungi, judging by diseased leaf (see photo) en also by plants dying because of some sort of “root rot.” I have applied fungicide occasionally but can’t tell how much good this did. This kind of problem is not mentioned in the Conservation Farming & Agriculture Handbook by the CFU. Combined with the idea that "Jatropha is easy to grow" one winds up in all kinds of speculations as to what causes your Jatropha not to grow so easily. Trace element lacking? Soil too shallow? Sick seed? Not enough water? Too much water?

Jatropha with diseased leaf appearing as brownish spots, possibly fungus. 
Common at our place.

Water is needed
Jatropha water requirements for survival are low. The tree (apparently) is able to survive on only a litre a day. Nevertheless seedlings and young trees have to be watered/nurtured for several years through the dry season. You need to have the water, time and money to do this. My favourite system is to have the plant stand in the middle of a bowl shaped depression in which once every 2 weeks (but depending on size and time) the plant is thoroughly watered.

Bottle water feeding a Jatropha seedling. 
Good for year 1 dry season. Fill once a week.

Propagation is by seed, either directly or by planting in plastic bag, or by cutting. Cuttings do not produce the tap root and might therefore do better than trees from seed on shallow soils on rock. The tree most commonly is propagated by seeds. We do not have special Jatropha grown seeds and seed quality therefore is erratic resulting in greatly varying up growing trees. At our land we have quite a number of minuscule trees, which despite being 2 years old, still look like seedlings. At the other extreme we have trees that are well branched and about 2 meters high.

Jatropha is supposed to survive on marginal land. This might lead one to underestimate the importance of soil preparation and continued care. Best is to prepare a hole of at least 25 x 25 x 50 cm by filling it with some rotted manure, topsoil or compost. This will do for seed, seedlings or cuttings. I also like to add some Zambian fertiliser formulation “C” (the one for roots & tubers which also has trace elements and organic material). Once or twice a year put some rotted manure in the plant basin and repeat the C type fertiliser. Fertilise when the plant starts to blossom and later during seed set. In the website mentioned above it says that one reason why Jatropha does well in India is because  of applying cow dung as manure. In other words: even if you start out with poor soil you need to improve it, and the more so if you want to harvest the tree! Mulch as soon as possible if you have the organic material. Do not plant in periodically water logged soil or clay soils. Jatropha likes sandy and loamy soils.

We planted several hundreds of randomly collected seeds in relatively poor , shallow sandy soil. I estimate that about 1/3 of the seedlings died in the past 2 years because of various diseases and occasionally by insufficient water. The surviving trees show a great variety in development ranging from dwarf growth to healthy, vigorous vegetation. A few started to flower and produce seed in year 2. The impression that Jatropha is an easy plant to grow is wrong: you have to look after the soil it grows in and after the plant as well.

It would help if:
1. “Certified,” disease free seed would be available.

2. A leaflet (preferably also published as a web page) be produced describing how Jatropha is best cultivated. Including how to deal with its pests such as certain fungi and (organic) fertiliser schedules related to harvest and soils.

Post Scriptum in January 2014

At this point in time, 4 and 5 years after planting, we have roughly one third surviving trees, ranging in development from a few decimeters to some two meters high; from barely surviving to seeds producing. We don't have the water to go on watering them substantially during the dry season, they pretty much have to survive on their own. We do look after the bowl shaped basin, and once a year put in some compost and much.
Our previous conclusions have been confirmed in that:

  1. If you want to cultivate this tree to harvest this tree for it seeds you need to treat it as any crop - fertilise the soil, notably organically with manure or compost, keep it free from weeds and provide at least some water in the dry season. You also need good soil to start with.
  2. The tree does not thrive in marginal soil, and even its ability to survive in such soils is poor unless substantially aided by the cultivator/farmer though the provision of preferably organic fertiliser, water and care of the tree environment. Soil depth and possibility of developing a tap root are crucial factors.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Some Introductory Notes on Conservation Farming

Agriculture in Zambia: no 2. About conservation farming and conservation agriculture.  The need to broaden concept and practice to ecologically sound farming, and to join the IT revolution.

In the text below and its sequels I would like to comment on some agricultural practices propagated by the Conservation Farming Unit (CFU) of the Zambia National Farmers Union. These practices are known as conservation farming (CF) and conservation agriculture (CA).
The CFU runs a well organised programme supported internationally (Norway), the Zambian government (GRZ) and the Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU). According to CFU information some 180,000 farmers practice CF in Zambia. Farmers, actually, often develop their own variety of CF and CA, or perhaps incorporate only some of its elements in their farming practice.
Conservation farming is a concept and a practice seeking to “conserve” and enhance the (natural) fertility of the soil. Soil should not be ploughed but cultivated by ripping (only the strips which are to be planted) or by digging basins (minimum tillage) or should not be tilled at all (zero tillage); crop rotation should be practiced including minimally 30% legumes planted surface; timely soil preparation (before the rains) is stressed; and liming and proper fertilisation are amongst the essential elements of the CF package.
Conservation farming is an extension of CF in which certain plants and trees are included. Notably the musangu (Faidherbia albida) and Jatropha; there is also cassava and the idea to have a few fruit trees is mentioned.
Some of the conservation practices, such as crop rotation or liming when chemical fertiliser is used, are sound practices which can be implemented in a simple manner. The need for timely planting of crops and soil preparation before the onset of the rains is clearly put forward – and so is in general the need for soil husbandry as opposed to soil exploitation. There is also some laudable emphasis on intelligent farming – using the brain and not just the hands.
Other measures may sound simple but in practice may not be so simple to implement and possibly are not even that sound. I am listing some topics for discussion below, in random order:
  1. The cultivation of the Jatropha tree
  2. The cultivation of the Musangu tree (Accacia Albensis or Faidherbia albida).
  3. Weeding and the use of herbicides
  4. The shaka hoe
  5. Ripping or basins vs. ploughing
You may expect more topics to come up as we go along.Topics discussed you’ll find in the booklet Conservation Farming & Conservation Agriculture by the Conservation Farming Unit of the ZNFU. This very useful booklet is available at the ZNFU offices. It exists in a variety for hoe and for ox farmers, and distinguishes several agricultural regions. You'll find it on the Internet http://betuco.be

CFU handbook
Now, before we discuss some elements of conservation farming/agriculture, smaller or larger, that may require some thinking and rethinking, I’d like to lay down my main observation regarding conservation farming/agriculture.

I strongly believe that the principles of conservation farming/agriculture should be incorporated in a much broader approach to agriculture resulting in an “integrated approach towards ecologically sound farming.” By “integrated” I mean first of all that the elements of a farming practice “hang together,” supporting each other, and secondly tie in with the broader setting in which the agriculture is situated. The farmer must produce healthy, good food that is needed by society in an economically viable manner. By ecologically sound farming I mean a way of farming that respects our natural endowment and works with nature rather than against it.
Examples of agricultural topics that would broaden CF / CA into a more comprehensive system of agriculture, together working towards a way of life (culture) rather than a list of techniques, are:

·         Trees to grow for fire wood, charcoal or construction and how to go about it.
·         Models and possibilities of mixed farming (life stock + crops; using crops to feed life stock and manure to enhance soil fertility; options to thus reduce dependence on chemical fertilisers).
·         Listing “friendly” pesticides, fungicides and herbicides and how to apply them; possibilities of home growing those plants or trees with proven effectity.
·         Use and cultivation of moringa and neem trees.
·         Growing of vegetables (beyond rape, onion and tomato!) – if not for the market then at least for the household.
·         Introduction/sustenance of natural (“wild”) vegetation for medicine, fruits, biodiversity, birds & other life, and beauty.
·         Bees and beekeeping.
·         Mulching.
·         Composting.
·         Storage of crops.
·         Crop/Food processing (for the household and the market).
·         Social and cultural restraints in agricultural development.
·         Suppliers
·         Accessing markets and buyers

Needless to say that this list can be extended a very long way! What about pan brick and quarry tile making, water conservation and rain water harvesting, wind mills and solar electricity? All with the aim: the transformation of farming to a way of life that is gratifying for body and mind.
In this introductory text I need to mention two more things that need (re)considering: (1) the supply of inputs and (2) the production, access and distribution of information.

Supply of inputs
Local ZNFU /CFU branches from time to time facilitate access to inputs propagated by them. Here in Choma during the past years cuttings of a certain variety of cassava were freely distributed, in line with the promotion of the growing of cassava so as to enhance food security. Similarly two years ago, in the 2008-9 season, seedlings or seed of moringa and musangu have been made available at minimal cost.
Still, a large area of permanent supply requirements is not or poorly catered for, including by the private sector. Examples are proper seed (velvet bean, musangu, neem, moringa); simple but extremely handy tools (such as the hand held hoe, the dutch hoe, quality garden forks; and also, unfortunately for not so simple but very practical mechanical, motorized multipurpose cultivators.
Production and Distribution of Information: Need for IT Development
The CFU has been promoting CF and CA by booklets, instructive sheets and its extension service working directly with farmers. The CFU also has a website: www.conservationagriculture.org (the URL on the booklets is outdated, but googling as so often in life solves the issue for you).
The website is simple and basic.
What I have in mind is the development of another type of website, a site that is open to contributions by members or community members, operating on software that is geared towards community service and participation. Such as Drupal or Joomla. If you check out the Drupal website you’ll discover that almost all of its very extensive programme components (“modules”) are developed and maintained by thousands of professional volunteers, who through the same site talk with each other and their software users.
We can do something similar on the Internet about ecologically sound farming. You do need an office with an IT professional and an agriculturalist. You design the structure of your website, in chapters (“pages”) as in a regular handbook. But unlike the printed handbook contents can be permanently adjusted (updated), deleted or added on. And unlike the regular handbook your Eco-IT-FarmSite has, in principle, an unlimited number of contributors. You add on a blog and a public forum application. A reference library and/or a component guiding you to places having the references/information you might need – there is already in a dispersed way an immense amount of relevant material. You store and make accessible the recorded experiences of good farmers, and perhaps at occasion those who mess things up as well. You make up for the inaccessibility and poor quality of formal (agricultural) education. You make farming more interesting, efficient and rewarding.
Well, the sceptic might say, (1) in general IT in Zambia does not work so well, and (2) the overwhelming majority of farmers currently addressed by the CFU is computer illiterate. So what’s the point?
1. IT access in Zambia is not perfect and to have genuine broadband does not come cheap. But in a great many places you can have affordable access, be it slow. So what? It will do and is bound to get better.
2. Yes, almost the entire current target group of the ZFU is IT illiterate. But that should not obstruct sensible development. Also village based farmers increasingly access the net, sometimes with the help of a fellow local who has done this before. That, for example, is how some of them look for cars. There are other ways to get around this. CF farmers associated to the CFU are organised in clubs. All that is needed is to familiarise a few members of each club in Internet access, preferably in an Internet cafe. Often these cafes have staff to assist. Finally, ecologically sound farming is a matter for any farmer. Just as in CF and CA propagation of ideas works by practice: farmers copying and adopting from each other. As long as it starts somewhere. What you need are people with a pioneering, enterprising spirit.
Finally, the time is ripe, also in Zambia, for the IT revolution to take its full effect. It is an exciting, sobering and encouraging thought that anybody, privately or as part of an organisation, a company or a NGO, can set up something like the site proposed above, an
site - or something like it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Virtual Museum of Zambian Art - first orientation

The zamart business as of 16 Feb 2011 is on a seperate blog: ZamArt Blog

The text below serves to sound out interest in the establishment of a virtual museum of Zambian art. You are invited to post comments and suggestions.



by Gijsbert Witkamp*

version: 13 Feb 2011

1.     Purpose of text

The text below serves to gauge interest within Zambia and beyond for the establishment of the or a Virtual Museum of Zambian Art. By “art” I mean in the first place and initially modern visual art in Zambia. For reasons of convenience I’ll refer to the proposed museum as www.zamartmuseum.
        Substantial interest in Zambia is essential for such a project to succeed. Primary parties are the artists themselves and their organisations; NGO’s and charities supporting art development in Zambia; museums active in modern art collecting, preserving and exhibiting; educational institutions or facilities having art departments or courses; patrons of the arts and private collectors; gallery owners; students, writers and journalists of Zambian art – in short all those who have a deep and sincere interest in the development of Zambian art.
        Substantial interest beyond Zambia could take the form of support to establish the project. The nature of such support shall depend on Zambian interest in the project, and capabilities to initiate, manage and sustain it.

2.     Purpose of project

The purpose of the project is to develop and establish a virtual museum of Zambian modern art. A virtual museum is a museum constructed as a website. The functions / objectives of such a website are outlined below.
        It is relevant, in this regard, to note that there is no physical museum of (visual) art in Zambia to date. Equally relevant is that we have only one Zambian website dedicated to Zambian art, the www.arthostorg/insaka, last updated 26th July 2004. This site is/was affiliated with the Visual Arts Council of Zambia and has/had its office at Rockson Studio, Lusaka.

3.     What is www.zamartmuseum to do?

Physical museums, in theory, have a number of basic functions (such as preservation, conservation, documentation, presentation, exhibition, education and research). In practice a museum may concentrate on some of the above functions (rather than all of them) and possibly have others attached to it.
        The core function of a virtual museum is the gathering and storage of information and the provision of a channel to access such information. The type of information depends on the type of museum. Nowadays physical museums have developed and are developing virtual museums that allow the site visitor to, for example, make a museum tour or access a collection. (Try Google for this and you’ll see where we are going). Virtual museums may also incorporate interactive (educational) programmes and have special facilities for communication (social networks) about museum related topics.

What would we expect www.zamartmuseum to do? The site, in any case, should:

a.    Document:
a.1.   Art work (in Zambia or out of Zambia by artists having worked in Zambia)
a.2.   Artists (working or having worked in Zambia)
a.3.   Art organisations and institutions

b.    Be a platform for publications:
b.1.   On Zambian art, art events and art history
b.2.   Have bibliography and references of published and unpublished material

c.    Inform and educate:
c.1.   Have selected information readily accessible to site visitors
c.2.   Have virtual exhibitions as by slide shows
c.3.   Have interactive educational programmes

d.    Announcements:
d.1.   Exhibitions
d.2.   Other events / news

e.    Facilitate contacts:
e.1.   Provide addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, websites, Blogs, and social networks of art interested parties.

f.    Facilitate sales:
f.1.     Of art by an online art shop
f.2.     By referring interested parties to individual artists, art organisations and galleries
f.3.     By advertising (art, art materials, publications, art related services)

g.    Facilitate and stimulate debate:
g.1.   The site should be associated to a social network and/or Blog for public debate, exchange of views or information on current events and topics.

h.    Develop a strong income generating section:
h.1.   The site might “rent out” dedicated pages to individual artists and art interested parties.
h.2.   Charge a fee for services provided under (6).
h.3.   Produce and distribute cd’s with informative and educational material.
h.4.   Produce and distribute cd’s and perhaps dvd’s for professional documentation of art objects and art processes.

4.     Pro’s, Contra’s and Conditions

There are a number of clear advantages in setting up a www.zamartmuseum:
1.       It to some degree makes up for the current lack of a Zambian national art museum or gallery by making art information available.
2.       The cost of managing the site is only a fraction of the cost of running a physical museum.
3.       Global promotion of Zambian art, independent of location of the viewer.
4.       Flexibility: easy to add on, change or to remove.
5.       Once established site maintenance is relatively cheap.
6.       Development and site servicing can be done from any place having adequate connection.
7.       Possibility of interactive programmes and communication.
8.       Possibility of extending art education in schools.
9.       Unprecedented possibilities of participation and involvement by interested parties by provision of an internet platform.

Disadvantages are or might be:
1.       Slow transmission obstructs full use of facility.
1.1.   This a crucial issue. It may be necessary to have a “light” version especially of the imagery.
2.       Constant need to update site content. Danger of lax site management.

1.       You need the right people to do the job.
2.       Adequate internal and external support.
3.       Inbuilt drive to make the project self sustaining.

5.     Some practical notes and ideas

Status of organisation:
The project can be managed as a private enterprise, by a dedicated organisation established for that purpose (NGO type) or as a (autonomous) unit of a relevant, existing organisation.

Executive team must have advanced IT/website design skills; art historian competences, excellent writing, management and income generating capacities. If the organisation is to have a Board key players must be represented in it.

If the project idea catches on the best would be to put a small founding committee into place of key supporting / contributing parties or individuals.
This typically is a project that can start on a low budget to build up to a point where convincingly external support can be applied for and raised.

Initial needs:
1.       Equipment: Excellent camera and scanner; website software, image processing software, 1 laptop, 1 desktop, 1 external hard drive, 2 printers.
2.       Office furniture
3.       Transport / vehicle
4.       Technical competences


*      The author of this text and initiator of this project has worked in Zambia as an artist; artist’s organiser; anthropological researcher of art ; museum and crafts project manager; international development expert; and consultant for NGO’s in museum and crafts development, marketing and income generation.