In economies like Zambia, where maize-based farming is predominant, grain legumes – such as cowpea and soybean add the much needed fertility to the soils degraded by monocropping. Legumes are widely grown as intercrops or in rotations on maize-based farming systems. They fix substantial amounts of atmospheric nitrogen through biological nitrogen fixation in the soil, help improve soil fertility and also contribute to improved crop productivity. However, one the main challenges to growing legumes is the fact that their seeds are not easily available to farmers. But thanks to an emerging breed of bold farmers who have taken to producing seeds for their colleagues in Eastern Zambia, this challenge is being mitigated.
Mrs Tichoke Phiri, a woman farmer from Kawalala camp in Katete district, Zambia is one such farmer. She is part of a group of farmers involved in the SIMLEZA-Africa RISING Project activities to promote the cultivation of legumes.
“I was attracted to the idea of producing cowpea instead of soybean seed because we don’t have sources of improved cowpea seeds in my community and also because there are already a lot of farmers producing soybean seed. Cowpea seed will give me an advantage in the legume seed market.”
To establish their seed multiplication farms, the project gave Phiri and her fellow “seed producing farmers” each a 2 kg of cowpea basic seed for multiplication after a training on how to effectively raise quality cowpea and soybean seeds. Mrs Phiri planted those and took extra care of the crop, ensuring that her seed multiplication farm passed all field inspection tests.
Phiri harvested 165kg of cowpea (the highest yield in her area), which was later certified as Quality Declared Seed. Because demand in her community was high, she sold off her produce with ease, raising ZMK 900(US$145) in total. Such an income in one year is considered lucrative for smallholder farmers in Zambia who hardly make anything from subsistence maize production. She used ZMK400 (US$65) to purchase 4x50kg bags of fertilizer and 10kgs of improved maize seed from the Farmer Input Support Program (FISP) through her cooperative. She in addition paid ZMK150 ($25) for her son’s school fees, bought a blanket and food stuffs for ZMK250 ($41) and set aside $16 for cowpea seed production in the next cropping season.
Had she not participated in the project, she would have been unable to purchase fertilizer and improved seed, which she needs to produce maize, her family’s staple, as well as meet other financial needs. As she explains,
“Had I not taken part in the project, my financial problems would have persisted; I would not have been able to buy fertilizer that my farm really needs and pay my son’s school fees,”
Mrs Phiri plans to increase her production by planting 5kg of seed instead of 2kgs. She hopes to make enough to renovate her house. “I would really love to replace my house’s thatch roofing with iron sheets,” she concludes with a smile.
Written by Cannon Mukuma, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)