‘There are a lot of benefits in growing forage seed, last season I realised over K40,000 from velvet beans, dolichos Lablab and pigeon peasseeds which I grew on a half hectare for each. Milk production has also increased from 9.4 litres to 20litres per animal per daybecause of feeding forage to for my dairy animals ‘says Margaret Chikoti
Margaret is one of the 6 forage seed growers in Luanshya district supported by the Enhanced Smallholder Livestock Investment Programme (E-SLIP) in the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock.
Forage is vegetative plant parts that are available and eaten by animals which include leaves, flowers, twigs, pods, stems and roots while forage crops are forage plants harvested before being fed to animals like hay, silage and green chop.
‘It was not easy to access forage seed and I had no idea where to get it until I was approached by the officials from the department of livestock development. After assessing me through their selection criteria, I was selected and taken to Palabana Dairy Training Institute where the Seed Control and Certification Institute (SCCI) trained about 60 of us from the 10 provinces as forage seed growers’
She says after the training E-SLIP gave her some seedsfor free to plant on demonstration plots and after seeing how well her crops performed, she kept on increasing her field every season to grow more forage seed.
Margaret initially started with one Lima (a quarter of a hectare) where she grew 3 lines of sun hemp and about 5-6 lines each of velvet beans and cowpeas in 2017/2018 season.
‘The seeds germinated very well and we harvested a lot of seed and used some to feed our animals. In 2018/2019 season I planted 1.5 hectares of velvet beans, dolichos Lablab and pigeon peas and realised over K40, 000. 00’
This turn in fortunes encouraged Margaret to reduce production of other crops like maize and increased production of forage seed which is more profitable compared to maize.
‘Farming is a business, I started making more money growing forage seed. I then decided to plant more forage seed and in this current season, 2019/2020 I have grown more than 3 hectaresof various forage seed.
Margaret says there are a lot of benefits she and her family have realised as a forage seed grower.
‘After my husband retired from the mines in 2013, we acquired land about 15 kilometers from Luanshya town on Mpongwe road and started farming. We have four children and the money we get from the sale of forage seed is supporting our last born who is in her final year at Apex Medical University where she is studying medicine’.
The Chikoti’s have also managed to buy a generator to assist in providing electricity during power outages.
Apart from growing forage seed, the Chikoti’s keep dairy animals, kuroiler chickens, layers and grow maize which they use to make silage.
Mrs Chikoti says they had challenges feeding their animals especially during the dry season when the natural grass dries and loses its nutritive value.
‘Our ‘mbuyas’ also compounded the problem by burning the bush when ‘hunting’ for game (mice) and most of the natural grass gets burned in the process.
She adds that the inadequate and poor quality of natural grass for grazing affected the nutrition of her dairy animals and resulted into poor milk yields.
‘During the dry season we were only able to milk about 9litres of milk per cow per day’
Mrs Chikoti who has 26 dairy animals says she is, however, now a happy dairy farmer because she is able to grown her own forage for her animals which has increased the calving rate and milk production of her animals.
Her income from milk sales have increased to more than K20, 000 per month due to adequate and nutritious feed that he is giving to her animals.
‘I am now able to milk about 20 litres of milk per cow per day which I deliver to Fisenge milk collection centre every day. Every month when I hear ‘titi’ ‘titi’ from my cell phone I know that ‘Zangena’, money from milk has been deposited into my account.
Mrs Chikoti says that officers from the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock and staff from SCCI regularly inspect her field to ensure that all parameters regarding seed production are adhered.
‘I am certified by SCCI as a seed grower and together with other farmers who were trained, we have formed a forage seed growers association which is registered with the Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA).’
Mrs Chikoti says she intends to invest in irrigation systems to enable her grow forage seed all year round especially in the dry season when pasture is scarce.
Meanwhile Luanshya livestock assistant officer Moses Phiri who is coordinating the E-SLIP component on forage production says the district is the first in the country to pilot the growing of forage seed since the inception of the programme in 2016.
Mr. Phiri says so far 6 forage seed growers and 158 forage famers have been trained and capacity built in forage production this year.
‘Our target is to reach all categories of dairy farmers in Luanshya especially the small scale and we hope to havemore than 400 forage farmers in the district’
Mr Phiri says last season Luanshya district harvested more than 3 tonnes of forage seed.
‘We produced the best forage seed in the country and were able to supply black velvet beans, cowpeas and dolichos lablabseed to Southern, Lusaka and the Copperbelt provinces’.
Mr Phiri says there is a lot of demand for forage seed within and outside the province.
‘Every time we display our forage seed during the Zambia International Trade Fair and the Copperbelt shows, we receive a lot of requests for seed from our neighbouring countries’
Mr Phiri observed that smallscale farmers cannot afford to buy commercial feed and by building capacity in forage production, many of them will be able to access it at affordable prices.
He says the forage seed growers have no challenges to sell their seed because E-SLIP has a deliberate ‘buy back’ policy where it buys all the seed that the farmers produce.
‘There is a ready market for the seed, last year E-SLIP was buying between K30 to K36 per kilogramme depending on the type of seed. The growers were also trained in entrepreneurship skills and linked to seed companies where they can also sell’.
Mr Phiri says growing your own forage and feeding it your livestock has many advantages than allowing them to graze on natural grass.
‘when you plant your own forage, you are sure of the quality of feed, You are giving your animals a balanced diet in terms of proteins, carbohydrates and minerals contained in the forage in form of legumes and grasses’.
Mr Phiri adds that farmers must understand what an animal should be given especially in the dry season which has 255 dry days.
Apart from providing forage seed, E-SLIP has provided implements and equipment such as sickles, motorised grass cutters and bale boxes to assist the farmers to harvest, process and store their pasture.
As more capacity is built in farmers to sustainably produce adequate quantity and high quality forages for use as fodder, production and marketing of livestock will improve and this will consequently improve the quality of life of people through wealth creation.