A Natural Farming Project

80% of the agricultural sector in Africa is made up of smallholder farmers cultivating low-yield foods for their own subsistence. In some Sub-Saharan countries, smallholder farmers contribute up to 90% of domestic food production.

Land degradation and deforestation, climate change, poor agricultural practices, and increased dependency on expensive fossil fuel-based fertilisers are an immense threat facing the continent and its food security. Smallholder farmers are left worse off; they are challenged by reduced productivity, declining yields, inadequate market access and consequently worse income.

Africa’s population is growing rapidly. It is predicted that, by 2050, almost 2 billion people could inhabit the continent. With 23% of the population already being classed with chronic hunger, this figure is expected to rise.

Significant support around climate-adaptive measures, improved productivity, and the reversal of damaged soil is required.

Implementation

The Perivoli Rangeland Institute is partnering with the Perivoli Schools Trust to establish various pilot sites across Namibia, Zambia, and Malawi to identify the best suited natural farming practices per region that can be adapted on smallholder plots. We have coined this the Perivoli Natural Farming Programme.

Partnering with the Perivoli Schools Trust facilitates the implementation of our Natural Farming Programme at scale. Most of the Schools Trust teachers and their trainers have farming plots of their own. By experimenting with a limited selection of the trainer’s sites across each country, we can identify the most effective and long-lasting interventions that contribute to improved
food security, resilience, and prosperity.

Once the most appropriate practices have been tested, we will disseminate guidelines for each intervention within a Perivoli Playbook. The Playbook will be distributed to the Schools Trust trainers and eventually the teachers they oversee.

We envision the widescale uptake in natural farming practices throughout the Perivoli network as well as the wider local community. As these smallholder plots are surrounded by other plots, neighbouring farmers will be able to see the positive impact of natural farming. Once others see the results of improved productivity and crop diversity, we hope these methods will become the new norm.

The improved conditions of agricultural landscapes also contribute to the drawdown of carbon.

Natural Farming

Natural farming focuses on the application of locally available resources and intends to mimic nature’s processes for improved agricultural systems, eliminating the need for external chemical fertilisers and keeping cost inputs low.

Nature-based solutions derived from agricultural waste products and animal dung seek to replace harmful agricultural practices on smallholder plots. For example, repurposing these materials for use as mulch and organic fertiliser eliminates the harmful practice of burning crop residues and other waste products – a process which releases substantial atmospheric pollutants.

It is anticipated that natural farming will rejuvenate soil health immensely. One of the most impactful transitions to natural farming from conventional agriculture follows the implementation of a no-till system. Tilling the land has been ingrained in African smallholder culture; the practice is believed to loosen the soil before planting for optimal crop growth. However, this practice destroys essential networks of mycorrhizal fungi and microbial life, depletes soil humus, and in the process releases CO2 to the atmosphere. Conventional agriculture also leads to substantial water and topsoil loss. Only now is research around soil health coming to light through the worldwide regenerative agriculture movement.

Encouraged practices within the Natural Farming Programme will include no-till, transitioning to the use of organic fertiliser rather than fossil fuel-based fertiliser, application of mulch and compost, integration of cover crops, crop rotation or intercropping, crop and animal diversification, water retention techniques, agroforestry, and natural remedies to pests and diseases. Research is underway to identify the best practices and crop and plant species across various regions.

Research

A PhD researcher at the University of Namibia is leading the development of the Perivoli Natural Farming Programme. With the assistance of Perivoli School Trainers, deployed as local citizen scientists, an extensive amount of real-time data and observations can be collected across all pilot sites simultaneously.

Presently, 15 pilot sites have been established across Malawi, 2 pilot sites have been identified in the Zambezi and Kavango regions of Namibia, and several sites are under review in Zambia. More updates will follow on these.

Playbook

A region-specific playbook will be designed based on the compiled findings of the natural farming interventions at the pilot sites.

Considerations of local context and traditions will be central to its iteration. The Playbooks will additionally be published in local languages, with the intention to be widely used across different communities.

Impact

It is anticipated that the impact of the Natural Farming Programme will be felt beyond its intended scope.

Newly integrated farm management practices will be expected to be adopted by neighbouring plots as a ripple effect is predicted to take place. Teachers play an important role in all communities; they are often leading voices of influence and have continuous access to parents. Therefore the PST teachers can embody a powerful role in sharing the word about the effectiveness of natural farming.

We predict, once teachers are trained on the interventions and become witnesses to the benefits, that the principles of natural farming could reach up to a million smallholders. This would have an immeasurable impact on generating healthier, diverse, climate-resilient and productive food systems across thousands of hectares. In consequence, hundreds of megatonnes of CO2 could be sequestered each year and millions of livelihoods could be positively impacted.

Monitoring & Evaluation

A database is currently being developed to measure all the environmental, social, and economic impacts of the Natural Farming Programme.

Various indicators will track the uplift in prosperity of the agricultural landscapes and communities across the implemented areas. Citizen scientists, deployed under the umbrella of the Perivoli Schools Trust, will provide verifiable updates for years to come.