In the realm of sustainable and climate-smart agriculture, one valuable resource that frequently escapes attention is crop residues. These residues, which include everything from stalks and leaves to husks and stems left behind after harvesting crops, have the potential to bring about significant systems change in the agricultural sector. By harnessing the power of crop residues, organizations such as ours, The Harvest Fund, are building the climate resilience of female smallholders farmers.
Waste less, grow more
Traditionally considered waste products, crop residues have often been burned or left to decompose in the field. However, it is crucial to recognize the immense value that these residues possess. Crop residues play a crucial role in providing essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are vital for the growth and well-being of subsequent crops. When these residues break down into compost, the nutrients become available to the newly germinated seedlings. Serving multiple purposes, crop residues can become organic fertilizers, animal feed, or even raw materials for bioenergy production.
By effectively utilizing crop residues, smallholder farmers can enhance soil health, increase crop productivity, and decrease their dependence on synthetic fertilizers. The importance of improving soil health and productivity for these farmers cannot be overstated. The female smallholder farmers depend on maize production for stable incomes. Challenges such as high fertilizer prices and the unpredictable, ever-changing climate significantly impact the success of their crops. The repercussions are severe, as these women face the consequences firsthand; failure to address soil health often creates a vicious cycle of poverty for these farmers.
We realize that empowering smallholder farmers involves more than just providing them with better farming practices. It also requires a comprehensive approach that includes agricultural extension services, training programs, and access to markets. By working in collaboration with government agricultural extension officers and local communities, we ensure that farmers receive the necessary knowledge and skills to make the most of their crop residues. Utilizing these residues effectively can bring about systems change in the broader agricultural sector. By reducing the reliance on synthetic fertilizers, the environmental impacts of agriculture can be significantly reduced. This results in healthier ecosystems, improved water quality, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
Partnering to promote regenerative agriculture
Aside from providing extension services, we often collaborate with industry professionals such as soil scientists to improve our knowledge of the soil in certain regions. For instance, early in 2023, we worked with Brian Sakala, a Zambian soil scientist working at the FAO. Having recently finished his postgraduate studies at Stellenbosch University, Brian helped educate our team on the different soil types, especially when it comes to the composting test plot at one of our cooperatives’ farms. He described the soil at this plot as loamy clay as it holds water for a long period of time. Using the crop residues as compost helped enhance soil drainage as it reduces soil crusting, increases soil porosity, and allows better root penetration and aeration. Brian showed the cooperatives how a typical farm waste product holds a lot of value!
The utilization of crop residues offers immense potential in our pursuit of sustainable agriculture. At The Harvest Fund, our aim is to be leaders in driving initiatives that empower small scale farmers whether it be crop residues or solar-powered technology. Want to contribute to our powerful initiatives? Donate now!