Empowering Smallholder Farmers in Western Zambia: Bio-slurry's Role in Boosting Drought Resilience and Food Security

Published: Jun 13, 2024 Reading time: 4 minutes
Empowering Smallholder Farmers in Western Zambia: Bio-slurry's Role in Boosting Drought Resilience and Food Security
© Photo: Grace Sikanda Namakau

Many farmers in Zambia have experienced crop failure and reduced harvest due to the drought that ravaged the 2023-2024 cropping season. The situation was particularly severe in Western Province. This region is traditionally disadvantaged, given its remoteness from the capital, rugged terrain, climate vulnerability, and reliance on subsistence farming. 

The "Through Biogas Technology Towards Higher Resilience of Communities in Western Province of Zambia Project" aims to contribute to enhanced resilience to climate change and increased food and nutrition security of smallholder farmers in the region. In its final year, the project seeks to improve access to clean and sustainable energy and organic fertiliser for increased agricultural production, income, and nutrition intake of smallholder farmers.

The project seeks four outputs:

1)increase smallholder farmers' awareness and demand for biogas technology;

2)enhance the capacities of masons who construct biogas plants;

3)launch a financial scheme for biogas technology;

4)enhance farmers' knowledge about the usage of biogas technology. 

Moreover, households have minimal access to agricultural inputs, especially fertilisers. This lack of access is compounded by unfavourable environmental conditions, low soil quality, limited access to profitable markets, quality services, and new technologies. These factors have affected agricultural productivity, production, and income, subsequently contributing to high levels of chronic malnutrition and food insecurity.

Under this project, we provided support to 20 smallholder farmers to establish model gardens. Each farmer received 25kgs of tomato, cabbage, and rape seedlings. To support their cultivation, we also supplied 500ml of insecticide and 1kg of fungicide per farmer. Crucially, we promoted the use of bio-slurry—a byproduct from biogas plants—as an organic fertiliser. Bio slurry offers multi-faceted benefits: it enhances agricultural productivity and yields while limiting damage to soil quality and the environment. As an effective organic fertiliser, bio-slurry can increase crop yields and aquaculture production, ultimately improving food security and nutritional intake.

While the crops planted early in the hopes of stable rainfall suffered severely due to the drought, those who planted later and used bio-slurry as a supplement saw promising results. As farmer Chris Mulope Mubiana shared:

"Now you can see the importance of bio-slurry because all the plants here are green! To show that, indeed, bio-slurry is working." He further added, "From these vegetables, we harvested a lot from it yesterday and took them to the market for sale. And we managed to make 400 Kwacha (approximately €14)."

Another farmer, Mushaukwa Kabombo, highlighted the additional benefits of using bio-slurry, stating: 

"If you check this garden, with the bio-slurry applied, you will see that there's little to no insects on the crops. Because of the same bio-slurry manure, we've noticed that there are no diseases at all."

Gibson Mubiana Mushaukwa shared practical insights on the application methods for bio slurry, "You mix it well with soil and continue to water your plants, the tomatoes will grow very well. As I said, you can also use wet bio-slurry and apply it to your crops." He also highlighted an innovative use, "In addition to this, the same bio-slurry can be used as an insecticide. We get the wet bio-slurry and combine it with 40 litres of water. And then sieve it, getting only the water. It is that water we use and spray to our crops to reduce the risk of it being infested with insects."

The farmers' testimonials and experiences underscore the tangible benefits of bio-slurry in promoting sustainable agriculture, increasing yields, and improving livelihoods, especially in the face of climate change and environmental challenges. However, the situation remains dire in many parts of the country, prompting the Republican President to declare the drought in Zambia as a national emergency.

At least 2 million people in Zambia, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report. 23% of the total analysed population in 76 districts face high acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3+) and require urgent humanitarian assistance. In response, our, "Response to Food and Nutrition Security Crisis in Western Zambia,"—funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, and UNICEF—continues to support Zambian farmers. 

This initiative complements the ongoing "Through Biogas Technology Towards Higher Resilience of Communities in Western Province of Zambia Project," funded by the Czech Development Agency, which has demonstrated the potential of bio-slurry in boosting drought resilience and food security among smallholder farmers. As Zambia grapples with the challenges of climate change and food insecurity, we are empowering vulnerable communities and promoting sustainable agricultural practices.

Autor: Grace Sikanda Namakau

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