On Jan 13, 2014 Aaron Breimer and Mike Eaton of Veritas and South West Ag Partners embarked on a 10 day adventure to Kasaka, Zambia. Here is a brief report from Aaron and Mike of what they found.
Mike Eaton, Aaron Breimer and Jon Milos of Enactus travelled with the knowledge that all the corn had been planted. There were many positives being reported but also some issues with germination being reported. We were unsure of what to expect due to conflicting messages and lack of visual evidence of what was happening in the fields.
This was the first time the growing conditions and cropping techniques were examined from the perspective of participants with an agricultural background. When we initially visited in August 2013, the area had not received rain since February. We had to use a lot of interpretation of the conditions to design a plan that we felt could be implemented with the resources available and include the knowledge of corn production in Canada. When Enactus, Barry McFadden, Mark Lumley, and Jim Hazzard travelled to the area at the end of November, they had the tremendous job of executing (the logistics and training) plan with 138 participants in 5 days.
We wanted to get a better understanding of what was happening in the fields as well as what we can do to improve the program going forward. We were not able to make it to every field and we felt that our time was better spent doing an in depth analysis of a couple fields as well as talking to close to half the co-operators. We estimate that 50% of the fields will have phenomenal yields – better than even the best yields of the best farmers there. Another 25% has the potential to reach the target yields provided there are timely rains that extend to the end of February. The final 25% is hard to determine what the yield potential will be because there are a variety of issues at play that we were able to get a better handle on as part of this trip.
Increasing plant population from 18,000 to 32,000 seed per acre, using no-til in 20″ rows to quickly develop a canopy for moisture retention and weed suppression, and spraying herbicides with backpack sprayers were key changes we introduced to their traditional planting methods.
There were some germination issues caused by having the fertilizer and seed placed together. The soil conditions (very sandy, low pH, low organic matter) combined with the weather conditions (very hot and intermittent rains in the first part of December) led to germination issue in some situations. These co-operators either replanted or had success with slight modifications to the protocol that we had developed.
Overall, the community is very supportive of this initiative and when they see the successful fields, they quickly realize how big the potential for improvement is. The program going forward will have a few slight modifications from the original which we anticipate will address the issues we observed as well as the feedback we had from the co-operators. It is truly awe inspiring to interact with the community and understand how appreciative they are for some of the simplest “wins” of the program. Something as simple as having their inputs ready and in a timely manner so they do not have to sit at the local Ag retailer for 5 days (yes, they would actually sleep there).
In the future we hope that each and every staff member considers participating in this program. We each have a role we can play in making this program a success.
Aaron Breimer & Mike Eaton