On January 3-4, 2019, Shumei attended the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) in England. The Oxford Real Farming Conference brought together more than 950 attendees, including farmers, scientists and activists to discuss natural solutions to pressing farming issues.
Barbara Hachipuka Banda, founder and director of the Natural Agriculture Development Program Zambia, presented in a special session with the Soil Association on the importance of empowering women farmers in Africa to create food security, tackle climate change and improve sustainable development. She spoke about her personal journey of going back to the basics of farming. When her mother suddenly passed away, Barbara began working with the Mbabala Women’s Farmers Cooperative, a group that her mother had started. The women farmers were struggling to make a sustainable living, to feed their families and pay for fertilizers and seeds each year. These women were also responsible for the majority of household chores, taking care of the children and had little voice or input in decision-making or access to funds.
By teaching the women to cultivate their crops using Natural Agriculture, which does not require the use of chemical additives or manures, they were able to eliminate their reliance on expensive inputs. This no-cost agriculture also encouraged the farmers to utilize native maize varieties instead of store-bought seeds, which helped to increase the resilience of their crops as well as their harvests and their profits. As a result, the project helped to improve the women’s status in the household and the community.
The conference attendees were interested in learning more about the different challenges they faced in transitioning to no inputs and seed saving, and the incentives of Natural Agriculture. Barbara explained that Natural Agriculture brought back the passion of working with the land.
One of the key aspects to teaching the farmers Natural Agriculture was the use of demonstration plots and farmer-to-farmer exchange with the women leading the way; the no-cost nature of Natural Agriculture created a financial incentive as well. Once the farmers were able to see the bountiful harvests from the Natural Agriculture demonstration fields and the impact on the women farmers, more women joined the project. Barbara reminded the audience about the importance of the basics of farming and the relationship with nature that has been forgotten.
Listen to a portion of Barbara’s presentation featured on episode 42 of Fermerama Radio.