New Era (Windhoek)

Namibia: Communal Crop Farmers Gear Up for the Organic No-Tillling System

Following the record-breaking yields of maize, sorghum and mahangu in the seven crop producing regions in the North this season by applying the conservation agriculture (CA) methods, Namibian communal farmers are preparing to introduce the next step up from this proven method: the Organic No-Tilling System.

This system could produce harvest tonnage unheard of previously in Namibia and turn it into a crop exporting country within the next five years, says a local expert.Organic No-Till Farming is now world-wide considered as a map to the Holy Grail of Dry Land Crop Production -- a system that limits tillage, reduces labour, and improves soils structure. Advocate of this system is local businessman and agricultural expert, Gerhard Baufeldt, owner of Baufi's Agricultural Services, who manufactures rippers and planters in his Windhoek workshop, which are used in the CA method and who has also successfully demonstrated and sold his equipment to the agricultural sector in Senegal.

Baufeldt is armed with the new technologies and tools based on sound biological principles, making it possible to reduce and even eliminate tillage and he says crime, water shortages and housing problems in Windhoek and towns elsewhere in the country can be solved on the mahangu fields in the North if the CA and subsequently Organic No-Till System is made "National Policy" and is fully applied in the communal dry land crop producing regions.

The system limits tillage, reduces labour and improves soils structure as well as prevents wind erosion of soil. Soil erosion due to wind has robbed the Central Northern Areas of Namibia of some 50 percent of top soil and Baufeldt says implementation of the Organic No-Till System is of critical importance to save and restore the remaining top soil. "Field-tested over the past ten years in America, these methods make cover crops into a source of fertility as well as a tool for weed management. As traditional tillage turns into rotational tillage, natural soil biology is maximised and synthetic inputs are minimised. Combining the best aspects of no-till and satisfying the requirements of USDA organic regulations, the system provides great potential for agricultural change," says Baufeldt, adding the system, through the use of cover crops and reduction of synthetic herbicides, give organic farmers what they need in terms of weed management and soil building practices. For organic farmers who want to refine their practices and conventional farmers interested in much bigger yields, Organic No-Till Farming is indispensable.

Baufeldt says at the heart of the system is the fact that all crop residue of the previous season is contained to form a mat of plant material (mulch) that prevents soil moisture from evaporating, and also provides protection from soil erosion and minimises wind erosion. Because the cover crop mat shades out weeds, the farmer does not need to use herbicides. Tilling the fields in the conventional way leads to desertification, higher labour and fuel costs. While there are many benefits to adopting a no-till organic crop system, the most obvious benefit to farmers will be sustainability of high yielding soils.

A benefit of using a front-mounted roller/crimper (R/C) is that you can roll the cover crop and plant the cash crop at the same time, thus reducing field operations to a single pass. The reduction in tillage as well as wheel compaction enhances the preservation of a healthier soil quality. Less time spent operating heavy machinery in the field means less soil compaction and better water infiltration. The rolled cover crops also aid in the enhancement of soil moisture by creating a moisture reserve underground that can supply moist to plants for up to six weeks during periods of no rain.

Baufeldt says the ground cover will consist of legumes (cover crop) as well as crop residue and must stay in the field until the main planting season. A specially designed coulter cutter and row opener is then used to cut open the mulch layer. Farmers are able to plant their cash crops at the same time if they make use of the Baufi's implements. "If implemented on a national scale, this system, which requires minimum input and produce maximum output, will change the landscape of conventional crop farming in the seven crop regions forever. Crop yields of six tonnes of mahangu, and more per hectare, have been recorded during the current season. We will become self-sustaining and within five years be ready to start exporting instead of importing maize and mahangu to the tune of N$250 million annually.

"That money could be well-spent on a system that will bring spin-offs like social upliftment, training, improved health status and business opportunities and solve many of our current problems associated with urbanisation. We will never look back," Baufeldt concludes.

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