In Diversity There is Strength: Moving beyond the Green Revolution in Zambia
Excerpted from Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (New Press 2019), Chapter 5.
At the Kasisi Agricultural Training Center outside Lusaka, the innovation pipeline was flowing freely, and Kasisi’s innovators had long since shifted their focus to organic agriculture. As Kasisi director Henrietta Kalinda explained, it hadn’t always been that way. The Jesuit center had been founded in 1974 to promote green revolution technologies, trying to avoid having Africa miss out on the agricultural boom. Kasisi would give young farm families plots of land and train them in the new high-input techniques, until they noticed something in the 1990s.
“We saw that they were not selling enough to pay for the inputs,” explained Kalinda. “And the land was becoming degraded — they needed to use more inputs for the same output.” Their farmers, like so many others, were running to stand still. Kasisi gradually made the shift to what Kalinda calls Sustainable Organic Agriculture. (“Organic can be unsustainable too,” she cautions.) Kasisi is now the premier sustainable agriculture training center in Zambia.
“We are finding that organic production works much better, it is much more resilient,” she added. “Farmers have done much better in erratic rains.”
We got a tour of the demonstration farm, which is used to experiment with new techniques, to train farmers in the transition to organic practices, and to support the center from the sale of produce. It is an impressive operation, featuring a large pivot irrigation system feeding a rich diversity of crops. The day we visited, farmers weeded plots of squash, amaranth, cow peas, and pigeon peas in the quarter of the crop circle devoted to training. Farmers pay a monthly fee for the irrigation but get to keep or sell the produce they grow. Farmers work with Kasisi extension agents to learn how to multiply seeds, bring small animals into the farm, compost manure, intercrop effectively, harvest and manage water, and control pests.
The wide range of biological pest control practices was mind-boggling. It included push-pull methods, with Desmodium legumes intercropped with maize naturally repelling pests while Napier grass borders…