Letters

Demonstration Plots 

My experiences have convinced me that demonstrations of farmers doing what they believe in and are committed to, on their own land, are the most effective type of demonstration. One exception to this that I have seen, was at the Rural Reconstruction Movement Centre at Mampong in Ghana. There the demonstration was not set up by centre staff, but rather by the trainees. The trainees had gone on to plant and adapt what they learnt there on their own farms. They then returned the next time as trainers - so the demonstration was closely linked with their own farming.

This also offers a possibility for some church situations.  Some churches have plots where the members cultivate crops to raise funds for the church. These they farm in their own way, normally using traditional techniques. These farms could become very positive learning areas if the women who work together on them can decide themselves to try new ideas, such as planting trees and crops together on the same land. They can use them as demonstration and learning sites for ideas that they can then use and adapt on their own land. By working together in this way, the demonstration is very open and everyone knows exactly what is involved in the planting, etc.

Roger Sharland, OAIC, Box 21736, Nairobi, Kenya  

Fermented Food

I read with great interest your issue on mother and child care. People in Malawi also use fermented foods and germinated flours. The local phala (maize porridge) is also good for ORS. Likoni phal is made using maize with Soya and groundnut flours added for extra protein (80% maize, 10% Soya, 10% groundnut).

I appreciated the articles on traditional beliefs and traditional birth attendants.

Our project is also debating the value of demonstration plots. It seems people are more willing to try out new ideas in a group, where the risk of failure is shared. Once people see things working in the church plot (we plan to introduce soya beans and nitrogen fixing trees), hopefully they will be willing to risk trying things out in their own gardens. I have read elsewhere that any new technique must increase yield by at least 25% to have any impression on small farmers.

The best way for a new idea to spread is when people start to teach and show each other the new technique.

I appreciate the resources section and book reviews. Also the bible studies. Keep up the good work!

Rowland Van Es, CRWRC, Box 90, Nkhoma, Malawi  

Green Manuring

In the article on Soil Fertility in Footsteps No.7, we feel your excellent magazine is making an error in equating green manuring with ploughing-in.

In countries like Zimbabwe, which have a very long dry season, organic matter that is ploughed into the soil is rapidly broken down and quickly disappears through the process of oxidisation. We therefore recommend that green manures are slashed as they begin to flower and left on the surface as a mulch that can be broken down by soil organisms. Besides the nutrients added to the soil in this way, when a nitrogen-fixing plant (legume) is slashed, the roots give a boost of nitrogen if left in the soil.

Bridget O’Connor, Fambidzanai Permaculture Training Centre, Box 8515, Causeway, Zimbabwe 

Striga

I found the article in Footsteps No.9 about striga very interesting, having spent 13 seasons in Northern Nigeria developing striga control methods for peasant farmers. The Footsteps article listed most of the techniques we used but did not mention the value of excluding light. 

By working with the farmers, we found that a combination of the various control methods was very effective - weeding, resistant varieties, improving soil fertility, mixed cropping, crop rotation, etc. Farmers also knew that planting sorghum very close together on the most fertile land would usually give a good yield. We found that this was because the leaves grew so densely, that the soil surface was completely shaded and this prevented the growth of striga. 

Farmers in this area were certainly aware of the danger of striga to their crops and used descriptive local names like Wuta wuta (Hausa for fireweed) which illustrated this.

The local extension service did not adopt this successful combination of techniques. They really wanted a control method using one technique like a herbicide or resistant crop variety. However, five years after leaving Nigeria I revisited some of the farmers I had worked with and found they had virtually eliminated striga from their land. 

Different environments will need slightly different combinations of techniques. I would be very happy to help any Footsteps readers to develop similar solutions to their striga control problems.

James Ogborn, 16 Grove Avenue, Harpenden, Herts, AL5 1EX, UK