Innovation of the week: Teaching Sustainable Practices to Sustain Livelihoods

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By Supriya Kumar

In Zambia, poor rural families rely on agriculture to sustain themselves, but many farmers are unable to produce enough food to feed their own families, let alone to sell at markets to earn income. They are forced to take out loans to purchase inputs, such as seeds and fertilizer, which often don’t reach them in time because of bad roads.

Zambian farmers are able to share information and learn new practices through study circles (Photo credit: KATC)

But the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC), under the leadership of Brother Paul Desmarais, provides agricultural education to farmers on practices that require fewer inputs, which are helping to increase crop yields and reducing production costs.

Founded by Desmarais in 1974, KATC originally focused on conventional agriculture and encouraged Zambian farmers to use chemical fertilizers. For fifteen years, KATC promoted industrial agriculture and in only two of those fifteen years did farmers earn enough money to buy inputs. After visiting successful organic farms in Ontario, Canada, Desmarais saw the potential in organic farming, and shifted the center’s focus to more sustainable agricultural practices.

Today, KATC offers a variety of short courses, lasting from three days to two weeks, which allow participants to gain experience in agroforestry, conservation tillage, and organic pest management. Farmers are taught how to produce more food on their farms by improving soil fertility and preserving the environment through the use of natural fertilizers, such as compost and green manure, as well as through crop rotations.

In addition to scheduled classes, KATC also coordinates study circles where groups of seven to twelve farmers come together to learn about diverse topics, including small earth dam construction and organic vegetable production. KATC provides each group with manuals that help facilitate the meetings, where farmers can share information and work on practical exercises together.

In 1982, KATC established the Appropriate Technology Workshop to conduct research and develop equipment and tools, such as treadle water pumps and solar box ovens, which are suitable for small scale farmers in rural areas.

By providing Zambian farmers with education on organic practices and appropriate technologies, the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre is helping to improve the livelihoods of rural families in Zambia. The center has helped train 1,200 Zambian small-scale farmers so far and is continuing to provide farmers with the knowledge on how to grow healthier food, while protecting – and even improving – the surrounding environment.

Do you know of other innovations that are helping to provide organic agricultural knowledge to small-scale farmers?

 To learn more about organic farming practices, see: The Value of Organic Farming: On the Farm and In the Marketplace, Our Man in Havana: Sustainable Agriculture Thrives in Cuba and Generation Organic Spreads Its Inspiring Message: “Own Your Food, Drive Your Future”.

Supriya Kumar is a research fellow for the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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