Farming is the main source of livelihood in the rural communities. This makes it necessary for farmers to gain as much yield as they can in order to have enough financial capital to meet their needs. The major farming takes place during the rainy season which is usually mainly between the months of June – September in the area. The yield is expected to give the family sufficient produce and income to last until the next rainy season. Two of the major crops planted and on which HVCF places stress for good agronomic practices are maize and soybeans. Farming in a subsistence manner and on small plots is a labour-intensive activity. However, this labour can be reduced significantly by the use of oxen and ploughs to work the land when the farming season begins. When HVCF started looking at common agricultural practices, using oxen and ploughs was not practiced. HVCF began to promote this practice to reduce the workload for the farmers, and now driving along the roads, it is evident that this practice has become common.
Most rural women engage in farming. When speaking of farmers, it is often male farmers who are the first targets of assistance. HVCF has assisted women’s groups with various trainings and inputs to enable them to have a higher yield on their own farms. In addition, it has assisted them in having group farms.
Having grain year round is essential for food security in a family. In many communities, at the time of harvest, the practice has been to bag the grain without considering a long term plan, and as a result, within months before the next rainy season, the grain is exhausted and the family enters into the ‘hungry season’, as it is called. To address this, HVCF has worked to have cereal banks in as many communities as possible. These cereal banks work on the model of a locally-run cooperative, and not only ensure that the members have grain or beans throughout the year, but also become a means of generating an income when the bank is officially ‘opened’ close to or at the beginning of the next rainy season.
As the population expands, areas available for farming are growing less. The result of this is that land is often over-used, and as a result, its fertility is depleted. Chemical fertilizer has been the practice in addressing this problem. However, two issues arise with the chemical fertilizer. The first is that it is not always available or too expensive for the small farmer. The second issue is that it does not restore the fertility of the soil. (A third, sometimes mentioned, is that the effects on health are not clearly defined.) HVCF has encouraged the rural farmers to return to the practice of composting, when it is possible. In this light, they have organized, for both men and women farmers, demonstrations on how to make compost, and used demonstration plots to show the effects.
Another area where the health effects are not clear is the use of chemical insecticides, especially when they are sprayed in such a way as to be carried by the wind. It is known that when they are placed in grain, a certain amount of time has to pass before the grain can be used because to the toxins in the insecticides. To address this issue, the
ENACTUS group of students from Kaduna Polytechnic collaborated with HVCF to train farmers on how to make organic pesticide using four commonly found ingredients. Appropriately, it is called SUPER 4. If it is placed in bags of grain, the food can be eaten immediately without any ill effects.
It might be lovely to see, but in a farm it is deadly for the long term fertility of the farm. It is the noxious weed commonly known as striga. Each striga plant contains up to 50,000 seeds that can lie dormant in the soil for 15 years, but still become active when maize is planted. In order to reduce this menace, HVCF has introduced farming methods which when properly used, can eventually remove striga from a field.
Striga in a field. On-site learning for controlling striga
COMMUNITY AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION VOLUNTEERS
Having good information about seeds, improved methods of planting, marketing, etc., is essential to good farming. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, there is a shortage of agricultural extension agents to assist farmers in gaining this information. In collaboration with VSO Nigeria, HVCF has trained men and women farmers from 7 communities with such knowledge, and helped them set up demonstration farms so that they can become community agricultural extension volunteers (CAEV) in their own communities and surrounding area. It is one way in which to spread knowledge about good agronomic practices.
Because agriculture is basic to life in the community, it is an important element in the work of HVCF. Moreover, it is constantly changing, with new learnings and new developments. It is for this reason that HVCF, in addition to what is mentioned above, continues to carry out a variety of ongoing trainings to enable the farmers, men and women alike, to improve their farming. To mention a few, there is the development of the farming calendar to marketing is a key strategic need; productive raising of livestock brings added benefits; etc.
IKUZE LIVINGKINDNESS CENTRE FOR LEARNING
The Ikuze Livingkindness Centre for Learning has an agricultural component. Young farmers in the area are taught both agronomic practices and livestock farming in order to improve their income generation. They are also introduced to new crops, such as ginger.
Caring for the Earth: Underlying all the practices such as organic farming methods is the awareness that we are responsible for the prudent use of the resources of the earth. It is incumbent upon each person to reduce wastage, conserve resources that are available, carry out activities that renew the earth. With this in mind, HVCF works to help people be aware of the impact of their activities on the earth.