Conservation agriculture is helping farmers boost their livestock and food security in Zambia

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Gertrude Banda, a lead farmer from Eastern Zambia, shows different forms of resilience to climate stress induced by the weather phenomenon El Niño. As a dedicated trial implementer under the Ukama Ustawi initiative, Getrude has transformed her 9-hectare farm into conservation agriculture (CA), with 0.25 hectares specifically devoted to the research trials. Despite facing an unpredictable climate, this year has been particularly challenging, with some of her CA crops thriving while others failed to yield any grain on the cobs. This did not deter Getrude, however. Instead of treating it as a loss, Getrude transformed it into an opportunity. While some would abandon their fields and leave what’s left unused and eaten by stray animals during the dry off-season, she took a more proactive approach and baled her crop residues in preparation for the dry season ahead. This would at least help her keep her livestock healthy during the winter and fetch higher prices for the animals if she is forced to sell them.

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step!

But how did her journey into conservation agriculture begin? Getrude Banda from Chafulu, Sinda District in Eastern Zambia, reminisced, “I started conservation agriculture with the help of SIMLEZA (Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume based Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern Province of Zambia) in 2011. I was travelling with CIMMYT to Monze in the Southern Province, where we met farmers who practiced CA for more than seven years. They showed me how to plant crops without tillage using an animal traction ripper. When I tried this on my own farm, I soon realized that there was less labour involved in preparing the land. Through the project, they exposed me to new crops such as soybeans and cowpeas that they planted in rotation with maize.”

Over the past 13 years, Gertrude has been working with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), progressively expanding her area under CA to cover her whole farm with reliable food and income from both maize and soybeans, year after year. On her farm, all crops are seeded in riplines, and she rotates maize with different types of legumes. Currently, she plants approximately half of her land area under maize and the other half under soybeans, reporting a net income of USD 5,000 from just the soybeans. This underscores the benefits of persistent efforts and the opportunities in cultivating legume crops, a combination that creates a strong market “pull” for CA adoption.

In 2016, Gertrude was awarded the best CA smallholder farmer in Zambia title in recognition of her leading role in promoting CA on her farm and training other farmers on the principles of sustainable intensification. In the village of Chafulu, more than 70 percent of the farmers have now converted to ripline seeding and are using other principles of CA, such as crop residue retention and crop rotations.

Sustaining livestock in the face of El Niño

Getrude has leveraged insights gained from trainings facilitated by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) through the Ukama Ustawi Initiative to turn grass and legume biomass into fodder for her livestock. This valuable insight has empowered her to convert biomass into fodder, providing sustenance for her livestock even in times of scarcity. ILRI’s efforts to capacitate farmers with cutting-edge livestock innovations, such as diversifying and intensifying maize-based systems with forage legumes, complement Getrude’s CA practices and have boosted her farm’s resilience.

As Getrude notes, the fodder produced serves as a supplementary feed, enhancing the nutritional quality of her livestock’s diet. Besides the maize fodder, Getrude also adds legume residues such as groundnut and cowpea to the feed formulation to enhance the nutritional quality even further. “After grazing our livestock, we supplement with formulated feed, which we now know thanks to the training received from ILRI. We also add a little bit of salt so that it is tastier for our animals.”

How do farmers determine the quantity of feed needed to meet the nutritional demands of livestock? Farmers can determine the quantity of feed needed by cows based on their weight through a simple calculation. Getrude explains, “From the trainings, we first weigh the cow using a graduated belt (or weight band) to measure the chest diameter (or heart girth) of the cow. The weight band converts length (cm) to kilograms (kg). Once the weight is determined, we use a recommended feeding guideline shared by ILRI, which specifies the amount of feed required per unit of body weight.”

“Through multiplying the cow’s weight by the recommended feed rate per kilogram, farmers can calculate the quantity of daily feed needed for their cows. This ensures that the animals receive the appropriate nutrition for their size and stage of growth or production. Weekly monitoring and adjustment of feed quantities based on changes in weight or physiological conditions are also important to maintain optimal health and productivity,” adds Godfrey Manyawu, project leader at ILRI.

Despite the sophisticated process, farmers are embracing the importance of this knowledge, to sustain them during periods when grazing land is limited. Getrude’s journey is a powerful example of how adopting CA and leveraging training opportunities can transform farming practices, enhance food security, and build resilience against the impacts of climate change.

Featured photo: Gertrude Banda, lead farmer for Eastern Zambia, sharing her success story with others. Credit: Blessing Mhlanga/CIMMYT


  • Blessing Mhlanga, Cropping Systems Agronomist, CIMMYT
  • Christian Thierfelder, Principal Cropping Systems Agronomist, CIMMYT
  • Godfrey Manyawu, Project Leader, Impact at Scale, ILRI
  • Kudzanai Chimhanda, Communication Specialist, CIMMYT


  • CGIAR Initiative on Diversification in East and Southern Africa
  • Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Systems in the Eastern Provinces of Zambia

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