Train and empower smart farming
Arise has leased 20 ha of land near Menkao (70 km NE of Kinshasa) to demonstrate modern farming tools. The site has received many visitors and has created a lot of interest among the locals. Having a large maize crop (6 ha block) on a main agricultural road has put our work under the spotlight. We have been visited by some decision makers in the country and have explained the potential and challenges to make agriculture feed DRC. There is always initial enthusiasm. The below hired seeder is now replaced with an efficient and strong Gaspardo (Italian) seeder.
Slash, burn, plough, lime & offset disc
The land was uneven, due to the ploughed cassava mounds, so we first levelled the soil - which required slashing, burning and then ploughing. We then added lime to raise the pH of 3.7 and further levelled the soil and mixed the lime as logic suggested. Whilst these disruptive tillage practicies are essential to level the ground, we hope to now adopt continuous surface residue retention and no-tillage to improve soil and crop health into the future.
Crops grown - maize, haricot, melon
We have 11 ha of maize (sown 6 April), 4 ha of water melons (sown 28 April) and 4 ha of haricot beans (sown 15 May) and WEEDS!
Weeds are a significant challenge. A boom sprayer was something new for the locals to witness. While hand weeding employs local people, it is expensive (even at $5/person/day), many weeds are missed and can total $180/ha in wages. Using the right herbicide is much cheaper, more efficient and therefore more sustainable, does not involve tillage and has residual power.
Severe acidity, topsoil & climate
The topsoils of most of DRC are highly acidic (pH 3.8) and need liming. The lime costs $80/t and comes in bags and costs another $30/t to transport. We applied 2 t/ha before the maize and 4 t/ha before the beans. Next season we hope to do some trials to demonstrate its value. The topsoils are often 60 cm deep with a yellow loam underneath and the topsoil contains <8% clay. The climate is warm and wet from October to May and coolish and dry from June-Sept with an annual rainfall of perhaps 1,200 mm. The dry window in February splits the wet season into two - enabling two cropping seasons. We are at 680 m above the sea and 2 degrees S.
We enjoy talking to the locals, all of whom live from agriculture and most have never seen lime being spread, a mechanised seeder or a boom sprayer before. They farm with a hoe and machete. Even DAP and urea were new to many. The local people enjoy giving us advice and it is always good to listen them.. They had never seen a 90-day fast maturing hydrid white maize variety. With the last good rain of 15 mm being on 8th May, and receiving only 1/3rd of normal May rain, the end result will not be as good as I hoped but better than they expected. When no-tillage kicks in it will show the power of no-till in dry seasons. The Fall Armyworm has caused a lot of grief, 3 sprays did not hold it back. If only Bt was here.