If we don’t keep our soil well, we have no food

Gabriel Mhagama, trainer of farmers, Tanzania

I have a garden for my own use, not for demonstration. My wife and I are old, so we cannot always go out and buy food. We grow maize, rice, cassava, soya, potatoes, cabbage and onions in our garden.

After my retirement as a teacher, I started training farmers in soil fertility. If God wishes, I will do it one more year. I am 79 years old, and I want to go home.

Being of high age has advantages for a teacher. Farmers respect me and come to me on their own free will. Usually, I write a letter to the village chief, who chooses two or three farmers after seeing their fields. Those who are lazy, I leave them. I have no energy for them. But I know that one day they will come to me and say ‘please, I want to continue’.

Teaching about soil fertility is very hard, but easy to understand. Let me show you the pictures I use in teaching. Here you see a corn field raised on chemical fertilizer, and next to it a corn field raised on organic fertilizer. See the difference? The organic corn grows about three meters high! And this picture shows nine corn cobs, differing in size according to their fertilizer. Sunn hemp clearly gives the best results. Sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea) is a plant that releases nitrogen and potash. It grows fast, it grows on poor soil, and it tolerates drought. Two months after sowing, it is about six feet tall. Then you plough it in, and you can plant the corn. I also show farmers a picture of the costs involved with one bag of chemical fertilizer, from factory to delivery. Then I tell them the advantages of planting sunn hemp: it does not pollute the air, it doesn’t need transport, it costs not even a shilling, and in two months your soil is fertile.

I tell them: we get our breed from the soil. If we don’t keep our soil well, we have no food.”

Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM): www.kilimohai.org

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