Commercial Farming in Central Zambia

Trip Start Oct 17, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Chimsoro Farms Ltd. is a massive 10,000 hectare operation growing mainly maize in the rainy season and wheat during the dry season. It is located about 14 km down a typical zambian dirt road off the Great North road. I had received several invitations from my uncle Brian to come visit him and his wife Kim as he works as farm manager of one section of the farm, overseeing just shy of 3000 hectares along. So it was we arrived in true african fashion; the transport that was to pick us up in Lusaka failed to show. After two days of waiting it was decided to bus as far as Kapiri Mposhi and wait for a ride to the farm. We lucked out within half an hour of reaching Kapiri and caught a lift back to the farm in the cab of one of its tractor-trailers which dropped us within a short walk from my uncle's farmhouse.

Set amid maize fields and with a dambo to the back, the house was much larger than I expected as it appeared round one of the bends hidden by the maize. It's surroundings were landscaped with overgrown lawn and gardens; all exotic to its location here in rural Zambia. Being located on the highest and driest part of the dambo didn't seem to bother most of the ornamentals as many things were in flower including the biggest African Tulip tree I've come across during my visit. It's large orange cups littered the sandy driveway soon after being swept. This was my base for a little over a week of exploring the surrounding uncultivated land comprising mostly woodlands and dambos.

The day after arriving, I was shown around the operations of the farm on the back of a dirt bike. The pump station, storage sheds, offices and finally the setup of the fields themselves. Essentially, all the fields are circular and referred to as pivots; at the center of each pivot, the irrigation structure juts up from underground and stretches up to 500 m to the edge. The irrigation, when working, makes one full circle in about 24 hrs on pivots ranging from 80 to 200 hectares though not all pivots were set up for irrigation. The busiest time work-wise is during harvesting when employee numbers swell 10 fold. The biggest pivots take nearly 3 days to harvest with a combine working roughly 16 hrs nonstop.

I've never really liked the idea of large scale farming for several reasons. First, monocultures are not healthy for the environment as the amount of chemicals required maintain them is high. Various herbicides to eliminate unwanted plants and insecticides for fighting the insects; good and bad. Moreover, growing the same crops years after year quickly depletes the soil requiring more and more fertilizer inputs. All the while, these chemicals have the risk of being washed away and ending up as runoff into the streams and rivers that other people may depend on for drinking water. Now I would imagine this doesn't happen on all such large scale farms in general but am also realistic and know that in large operations, sometimes the smaller things get overlooked often including the environment. I would be proven right!

Anyways, my main reason for traveling out to this part of central province was to explore the bush, plant hunting essentially. On the lookout for pictures of anything flowering to add to my growing list of zambian wildflowers. I walked through the woodlands that bordered the pivots; to the little valleys along small streams that led to the river; to the dambos that occurred in the low lying areas. Though not very different topographically from the Lusaka area, the soil is much sandier. So sandy in some locations that one could lay out a towel for sunbathing as if at the beach by the ocean. At one point I stopped to cool myself down in the water of a stream and caught a familiar smell reminding me of the cottage and swimming in the Kosh. A weird recollection considering my location here in central Zambia.

Plant-wise, everything during my stay went as I was hoping and I was able to add several more plants, with corresponding pictures, to my growing list. On top of that I was able to collect quite a bit of seed from various plants and trees of interest which I have since shared with Innocent at Munda Wanga to help increase their native collections. Unfortunately, the best time to go 'plant hunting' would have been just around the onset of the rains when a good number of the perennial plants flower, including the vast majority of the orchids. By this time of year many things blend in with the tall grasses and are lost from view. Even with that, I had a great time walking around and thankfully didn't come across any snakes, or crocodiles!

My departure from the farm was almost a perfect mirror of my arrival. Again the transport that was to take me back was cancelled last minute; once, twice and then thrice. Various different reasons from cancelled court appearances and meetings to the unfortunate car accident involving the owner's son. However, I finally caught a lift with the owner, Mr. Chilala, himself as we set off at 5 in the morning in his Lexus for a very comfortable trip back. Though I was very happy to get back to Lusaka, I hope to go back before I leave Zambia, one more thing I've promised but don't know if I'll be able to keep.
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