27 June 2009

You can't transform traditional village agriculture into sustainable commercial farming just by providing improved seed varieties and fertilizer. Training and testing have to come first.


Rotary is working with several major partners in Huambo. The overall project – which includes water infrastructure, health services, microfinance, education, and agricultural training and market development – is led by World Vision. They've organized a consortium of major donors and government agencies, including the European Union.

Florinda Carneiro (Rotary Club of Luanda, D-9350) and PDG Nina Clancy (RC Visalia County Center, D-5230) make a new friend at the EU/World Vision training center in Dango

World Vision and the EU are training the 25 village agricultural associations that are receiving Rotary seed and fertilizer. They've established a training center and they're working in the villages, helping leaders demonstrate farming techniques and running tests to determine the best potato varieties and fertilizer levels for local conditions.

At Quinze, in the Bailundo municipality on 18 June 2009, we saw the testing program in action. The village association there had set up a series of test plots they are using to decide which, if any, of Rotary's offered potato seed varieties they want to plant, and to see how those varieties respond when different levels of fertilizer are added to their soil.

Test plot for the Romano variety in Quinze shows expected low yield with no fertilizer (right), lush production with maximum fertilizer use (center), and nearly identical results with minimal fertilizer application, leading to an interesting debate

In the first round of testing, the village association planted the Romano variety in three patches: zero, maximum and minimum fertilizer application. With no fertilizer the result was small and uneven plants. However, there appeared to be little difference between yields in the minimum and maximum fertilizers patches.

Eliseu Calito is the lead farmer in Quinze. He went through an earlier training course and is now in charge of running the seed and fertilizer tests. He and his village association have already concluded that they want to use the improved varieties, but the question of how much fertilizer to use is still under investigation.

Eliseu Calito (left), lead farmer in Quinze, and John Yale (right), World Vision country director for Angola, debate field test results

World Vision staff were hoping that Sr. Calito would conclude that minimum fertilizer application was optimal, but he isn't prepared to support that finding yet. Pointing out that the minimum patch was down slope from the maximum patch, he said they haven't ruled out the possibility that fertilizer was washed from one to the other when the field was irrigated.

A second round of testing, using the Fontane variety, is already scheduled. They'll change the layout of the test patches to try to eliminate irrigation effects as a factor. Then they'll decide how much fertilizer they'll actually need to apply.

Kristin Pires (RC Tulare Sunrise, D-5230) with some of the children at Quinze

The "Best Practices" training is done at an EU/World Vision in Dango, which is near the city of Huambo, at the center of Huambo province. About 250 local farmers, nearly all women, were attending when we visited.

Avelina Cihiiula, spokeswoman for the class, describes the training

They are going through the first phase of the course, which is about seed production and storage. Eventually, a second phase will be offered, which will focus on animal husbandry.

A critical factor in producing potato seed is keeping it in a proper storage facility, the training includes proper construction and operational techniques

As part of the training, they've constructed a warehouse, where potatoes intended for seed are kept in diffuse light so buds will develop properly. Potatoes intended for human consumption are kept in the dark. Initially, families will share a central warehouse, but as production grows, each family will build its own.

A budding potato seed, ready to plant

The area around the training facility tells a lot about recent history and current events in Huambo. A former Cuban military base is nearby. Cuba sent troops to Angola during the Cold War to support the MPLA, which was the Marxist group which eventually prevailed after 27 years of fighting.

Former UNITA headquarters in Huambo, which was destroyed by MIGs. The UNITA flag still flies over the building. After finally surrendering in 2002, UNITA became a political party in Angola.

Huambo was ground zero for that conflict. UNITA, which was the group initially backed by the U.S. and later supported by South African troops had its headquarters in Huambo. The city changed hands more than once during the conflict, and still bears the scars of light arms fire and heavier weapons, such as artillery and tanks.

Nowadays, it's the Chinese who have established the heaviest presence. They've built an agricultural school near the EU/World Vision training facility, and are frequently seen working on major construction projects, such as the rail line that will eventually link Huambo to the coast.

Saying goodbye

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