Don’t take ‘NO’ for an answer! Conservation farming success story

Christine Daka, small farmer in Zambia

Before Christine Daka took the Foundations for Farming course at Masaiti, Zambia she was producing 400 bags (50 kilograms each) of maize on 10 hectares, a good average for a small scale farmer. Her first crop after the course produced 400 bags on two hectares. That’s a good average for a commercial farmer. One a small scale farmer only dreams of. We visited Christine yesterday. She is part of the two to five percent success rate her instructor Boet Pretorius talks about. Why does she succeed where others fail?

“Start small, then when you can do it well, you can increase,” she always tells people looking for her advice. But that’s not advice they want to hear. She tells us of one farmer who insisted on growing 15,000 cabbages his very first try. She tried hard to stop him. He thought workers would plant, God would water, and he could harvest and make big money. He didn’t harvest one cabbage. “They were all chewed,” Christine said, by aphids. Now he is ready to listen, after losing a lot of money. It is a typical story. Why start small and make little money, when you can make big money quick? That you can lose big money quick isn’t part of their thinking.

Christine started farming small, after separating from her husband. Her first farm was a three hour walk away. “You are tired just from walking, then you have to work all day!” she says. But she had three children to provide for. Now she maintains a large market vegetable garden in her sister’s backyard , owns a two hectare plot outside the town of Luanshya where she grows more vegetables, and plants corn, soybeans and peanuts on 15 hectares in Mpongwe. She grows a quality product that customers come to her gate for.

What impresses me most about Christine is that she doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. “You don’t have enough education,” her brother told her when she asked him for money to attend the Conservation Farming five day seminar. She went and excelled. “There is no market for soybeans,” farmers say. But she had no trouble selling hers. “Soybeans are too difficult to harvest without a combine,” they said. She designed a unique harvesting table.

Christine has a wide reputation now, and is constantly being called on for advice. She is very happy to teach, wishing all Zambian farmers would learn and apply what she knows. Then Zambia would be a prosperous nation, she believes. Small scale farmers struggling to provide food for the family get free consulting services. They need to eat too, she says. She has learned to charge those able to make a good profit.

If ever we wonder if small scale farmers can do well, Christine reminds us it is most definitely possible. “Don’t take shortcuts and work hard,” she would say.