A Review of Research with the “Foundations for Farming System”

A Review of Research
with the
“Foundations for Farming System”
of Conservation Agriculture.
D.E. Lowe & D. Edwards
March, 2014
•Brian Oldrieve, and a team of dedicated staff, have developed a system, now
known as the “Foundations for Farming system” of Conservation Agriculture
•There was need for a system of CA designed for low-income, small-scale
farmers to feed themselves and make a profit.
•It had to use appropriate technology suitable for small-scale African
•The team started working on this concept in 1983 on Hinton Estates,
Bindura, Zimbabwe.
•Initial work was through trial and error and demonstrations.
•In 2003 Foundations for Farming (FfF) moved their headquarters from
Bindura to Westgate in Harare.
•Westgate was developed as the first ‘Centre of Excellence’.
•The “Centre of Excellence” concept was to develop strategic centers for
improved demonstration, research and dissemination of information.
•The Westgate Centre attracted funding primarily from the donor community
from 2006 – 2012.
•During this time there was a shift away from non-replicated demonstration
plots to replicated trials.
•In 2012 the research grant to FfF was terminated.
•This paper will:
a) describe FfF system in detail.
b) describe key findings of R & D.
c) examine leads which the R&D department
are currently pursuing.
d)look at how R&D has managed to raise
money in 2013.
Materials and Methods
The FfF system, based on the three components of CA (as outlined by FAO) can be
summarised as follows:
1.Minimal soil disturbance
a) Planting holes for maize
i) 75 cm x 60 cm grid in rainfall areas above 700 mm.
ii)75 cm x 75 cm in rainfall areas from 500 – 700 mm.
Planting holes - small (15 cm x 15 cm x 8 cm).
Not the primary method of improving soil moisture.
b) Furrows for small grains and legumes are super-imposed either in the same
position as the maize rows (or in-between the maize rows).
Derived from the previous crop residues.
Great emphasis is placed on protecting crop residues for future crops.
Mulching is the main mechanism for improving soil moisture.
3.Crop rotation
Tight rotations with legumes are encouraged.
A maize – soya – maize rotation has given yields of 7 t/ha in maize after soya, with
no fertilizer (Westgate).
The FfF system, places a lot of emphasis on management. The 4 components are:
1.Doing operations on time.
Nothing demonstrates this better than preparing planting holes in winter.
Inorganic or organic fertilizers and seed are available at least one month before
planting rains are expected. When planting rains fall, farmers are ready and can plant
1 - 3 ha per day, per family. Early planting gives above average yields with this system.
2.Doing operations without wastage.
Emphasis is placed on measuring inputs precisely, and weeding early, thus
saving time.
3.Doing operations to standard
The grid system for planting holes is very precise, but once it has been put in
place, land preparation each year becomes easier. Three maize pips are planted and
then thinned to 2 plants per station. This produces a crop with a stand count of over
90% of the targeted stand count.
4.Doing operations with joy
When each of the 3 components above has been done well, the farmer can
enjoy the fruit of his labour and derive strength. (Nehemiah 8:10).
Potential areas for improving the system:
1.Reducing cost of nutrients
Replacing inorganic fertilizers with cheaper organic fertilizers. Compost
(basal fertilizer) + chicken manure (nitrogen top-dressing) has produced comparable
yields to inorganic fertilizers.
2.Improving soybean growth on sandy soils
If soybean yields of 2 t/ha or more could be achieved on these soils, then
maize yields 3 t/ha could also be achieved through maize-soya-maize rotations, with
little or no fertilizer.
3.Improving methods of doing fertility research on sandy soils.
a) Challenges:
In-situ, sandy soils are never uniform.
They have anthills which pose a challenge to doing replicated fertility trials on
farmers’ lands.
In a research trial there can be numerous combinations of lime, basal fertilizer,
compost, manure etc.
Potential areas for improving the system:
3. Improving methods of doing fertility research on sandy soils (cont..)
b) Solution
Do screening trials on a small-scale first.
Existing screening unit is made up of 200 x 200 l drums.
Drums are filled with sand (8% clay).
Screening unit allows for screening of promising treatments quickly, at low cost.
System is designed for 50 treatments x 4 replicates.
Only a few promising treatments will then be taken for testing in the lands.
4. Developing integrated farm models, which include livestock and cash
A start has been made on this type of work, but much more needs to be done.
The Fertility screening unit with it’s first crop – cabbages (February, 2012)
Results and Discussion
Early results from demonstration trials have shown the following trends:
1. High levels of manure gave comparable yields to inorganic fertilizer.
2. 200 kg/ha of compound fertilizer plus 200 kg/ha ammonium nitrate, gave the
most cost-effective ield of maize, in a maize-soya-maize rotation.
(Westgate - 40% clay).
3. If no fertilizer was applied to maize, the maize could produce a yield of 7 t/ha, if
the maize was rotated in a maize-soya-maize rotation.
4. There was a trend for manure to perform better than compost in early
demonstration trials.
The FfF system encourages compost because it uses 25% manure in the mixture.
Farmers can spread their manure over a larger area.
5. Where imported mulch is used e.g. Hyperrenia spp. (thatch grass), yields were
as follows:
Early mulch > late mulch > no mulch at all.
Levels of mulch of 4 t/ha were optimal. This represents 25 – 50% ground cover.
Results and Discussion
6. In one trial (Maondera), a yield of 4 t/ha was achieved with a high rate of Rhizobium
innoculum applied to the soybean seed and drenched onto the mulch in the furrow.
Under the right conditions, with Rhizobium of good quality, yield of soybean on
sandy soils can be increased.
This work will be the primary focus of all new fertility trials in future.
7. Mucuna pruriens when grown commercially on a large block as a uniformity crop
grew vigorously, gave a yield of 2 t/ha and a biomass of 4 t/ha.
This crop could play an important role in the FfF system in future.
It’s primary role could be as cheap way of establishing a good mulch cover when
starting a field on the FfF system.
Soybean on sands trial MARONDERA (the best site)
Inoculum + Compost.
Note the high level of
No Inoculum Inoculum
Yield(t/ha) Yield(t/ha)
Ant heap soil
Compound D
Ant heap soil +
Compound D
Ant heap soil + Compost
Ant heap soil + Compost +
Compound D
No inoculum +
No nodules on the
Results and Discussion
Cost of Research
Development in CA is hampered by cost of research.
In 2013, the R&D section of FfF made local Seed Houses pay per plot to demonstrate
their varieties.
Maize varieties were planted along the main road from Harare to Chirundu.
Signage was used to advertise 28 maize varieties form 4 seed houses.
This was very popular with the seed houses.
This idea provided FfF with enough funds to run the R&D department for 6 months.
Other ways of raising income for R&D are at discussion stage and will be published
when implemented.
In future, more work will be done in “giant pots” because many treatments can be
screened simultaneously. With the power of modern computing, results can be
analysed, producing valuable information, at a relatively low cost.
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