Botswana farmers explore natural farming amid climate change

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After 15 years of pricey organic farming, veteran Botswana farmer Adrian Dandridge has switched from organic farming to Korean natural farming (KNF).

“Natural farming is about farming the soil,” said Dandridge, the man with a conviction that soil is the foundation of all life, as inspired by Cho Han Kyu, a South Korean scientist who questioned what people did to produce food before the chemical and industrial revolution.

All life comes from soil, all of our food comes from soil, every animal’s food comes from soil. In most places around the world, however, people have destroyed the soil to some degree, if not entirely, said Dandridge, Managing Director and Head Research Officer of the Tshilli Farm located in the outskirts of Botswana’s tourism city Maun.

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“What natural farming does is to bring back the natural microbes of the environment into the garden environment,” he explained.
What Dandridge has to show after almost two years of adopting techniques and exploring variations of the KNF principle in the Botswana context is a large collection of indigenous microorganisms (IMOs).

The application of the liquid plant fertilizers he made has resulted in a rich selection of plants such as herbs like thyme, flowers like marigolds, fruits like pineapples and vegetables like spinach, to name a few that are now growing on his farm, helping him become a leader in Botswana’s transition to agroecology, a policy strategy stressed by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

The knowledge he gained from his internet research and subsequent implementation, he now transfers to other farmers within his community, and other villages like Shakawe and Gantsi.

The Ministry of Agriculture supports Dandridge’s skills transfer efforts, which is not surprising given the fact that Botswana’s food security is constantly threatened by drought, pests, diseases, and costs of pesticides.

Natural farming is therefore viewed as a solution that can ensure healthy, nutrient rich soils, translating to plants that can resist drought and diseases, while reducing the role play of the agricultural sector in causing global warming.
To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has since compounded Botswana’s misfortunes. The food price hikes that have since been put in place have showed that business cannot go on as usual, hence the need for food systems transformation and alternative pathways such as KNF.

“A good microbe population allows the plants to get the nutrients they need from the soil in order to thrive. Most vegetables that we get today in the shop are up to 80 percent less nutritious than they were a hundred years ago, and we wonder why we are getting sick,” shared Dandridge.

What he has learnt and taught about 50 of his private clients and groups of farmers that the Ministry of Agriculture brings to his KNF showcase farm is that they can make inputs for their own fields and gardens.

“Once soil becomes living, plants become resilient against drought, pests and diseases,” said Dandrigde.
Adding that other advantages of the KNF in Botswana’s climate change fight is that they are sequestering carbon because they are not tilling the ground anymore, they put all plant materials they don’t sale or eat back into the fields, and their healthy soils are holding water better and using less water.

For farmers, another immediate advantage is that earth worms, and composting is free, though there are a few things that they still need to buy.

“There is no need to spend on fertilizers and pesticides, most farmers here are spending about 100,000 Pula (about 8,300 U.S. dollars) per hectare on inputs of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers every year, with natural farming we reduce that to 1,000 Pula (about 83 U.S. dollars). Increasing profit margins for farmers,” he shared.

Convincing people to change, Dandridge said, is a challenge as people are locked in habit and farming knowledge is no longer with the farmer but is with corporates. However, he noted that farmers are starting to warm up to natural farming concepts, though at a small scale.

What he is now working on, is building a volunteer camp at his farm. A camp that will attract university students and personnel from intergovernmental organisations across the country that are doing projects in food production.

“We want to offer courses and train them in natural farming. It is not something you can teach in a day, but a week or so,” he said.
His efforts come at a time when the Botswana government has implemented a vegetable import ban, as a way of encouraging locals to take up farming. As of 2020, Botswana’s imports of vegetable, fruit, nut food preparations were 62.63 million U.S. dollars, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade.


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