Farmers in the Simalaha live in an area that used to be home to a vast number of animals. This was once a thriving wildlife corridor where elephants and different species of antelope moved and migrated between what is now Kafue National Park in Zambia and Chobe National Park in Botswana. The Simalaha Community Conservancy and Peace Parks Foundation are beginning to reintroduce wildlife and restore natural functions of the floodplains and woodlands. Grounded is working with the farmers and these partners to stimulate regenerative agriculture and bring farming and nature back into balance. However, various challenges make this a difficult task.
The Simalaha is situated in the Kalahari basin, which consists of very sandy soils which do not capture a lot of nutrients. On top of that, slash and burn farming practices degrade the land by mining the nutrients without replenishing the soil. Slash and burn farming is when woodland is cleared and farmed for a number of years with little or no inputs until yields become so low that the field has to be abandoned. This also leads to habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss. The climate in the Simalaha has always been variable but in recent years the rains have become more irregular – which poses great challenges for farmers depending on rain fed agriculture.
Many of the people farming in the the Simalaha have diversified their livelihoods to reduce risk. They farm very simply, without investing much in inputs or labour because they can’t control the weather and because the soil is poor. They plant some rainfed crops, keep some chickens and goats, and perhaps have cattle as a security. In addition, of the approximately 5000 households in the area, most are farmers by inheritance, by circumstance, by history, not by vocational drive.
With the growing population, slash and burn methods require more and more land and it is becoming increasingly challenging to sustain current agricultural incomes without turning more and more natural areas into farm fields.
The local community has already taken steps to restore the natural balance with the help of the Peace Parks Foundation. If you’re interested in finding out more, you can watch SABC’s 50/50 programme on the area. Peace Parks has supported the community in bringing back giraffe, zebra and other animals into a conservancy area. For expansion of the natural landscape, it is critical that people and nature find a productive balance and this means existing together in harmony. Peace Parks began with a vital step in this process, training over 1000 farmers in sustainable agricultural practices, called “conservation agriculture”.
At Grounded we have taken a two-pronged approach to support the Simalaha. We are attempting to:
- Create a financially sustainable future for Conservation Agriculture through local processing, value addition and by finding markets where we can obtain premiums for these sustainably grown crops.
- Develop an exemplary incubator farm showcasing high quality, high value, high intensity regenerative agriculture. The incubator farm focuses on growing herbs and spices for local and international markets. The idea is to create hubs for more intensive agriculture, focusing on restoring soil health and radically increasing the income for the most ambitious farmers in the area.
We don’t have any products from the Simalaha yet. The farmers have been selling their own produce. In 2019, we are hoping that we might have some peanuts from the conservation agriculture project, and start producing spices through the incubator farm (ginger, turmeric, garlic,chilies) which can then be tested in various markets. Due to the complexities of working in this area, it might take a while before we have crops ready for international export markets. Local markets will be the focus for this company in the short term.
In 2018 we kicked off the first production cycle where we tried to find better markets for groundnuts (peanuts). Groundnuts are a familiar crop in the Simalaha and do wonders for soil health with their nitrogen fixing abilities. However, for a variety of reasons, we harvested a lot less peanuts than expected and were unable to test them on alternative markets. Together with Peace Parks Foundation we have captured some of the lessons learnt and in 2019 we hope to get a harvest which is marketable. Simultaneously, we are starting the incubator farm, which will focus on spices for local and international markets.
Grounded plays a supporting role for Peace Parks Foundation with the coordination of the Conservation Agriculture program and focuses mainly on developing the value chains and markets for the crops produced. In addition, we are establishing the incubator farm.