#42: No-cost agriculture in Zambia, Biofertilisers and a Regenerative farming journey

This month we head to the tenth annual Oxford Real Farming Conference. First up we hear the inspirational story of 5000+ women who are now practising natural agriculture, or no-cost agriculture, on farms and smallholdings across Southern Zambia. Back in the UK we get the lowdown on biofertilisers providing food for microbes, and finally we hear the ups and downs of a regenerative farming journey from one young farmer in Somerset.

Photo: one of the famers who are part of the Natural Agriculture Development Program in Zambia. Thanks so Shumei Intl for the photo.

January for us, and many others across the UK farming community, means ORFC – The Oxford Real Farming Conference – now in its tenth year and this year double the size.

There were more speakers than ever and the Landworker’s Alliance ceilidh was a definite highlight.

First up, this month, is one of our favourite sessions at the conference with Barbara Hachipuka Banda, founder of the Natural Agriculture Development Program in Zambia. Barbara is working with Shumei International and thousands of women in Zambia to teach and promote natural agriculture – or “no-cost” agriculture, as she calls it.

We have been intrigued by biofertilisers for a while now as we have heard from a number of different farmers and growers who are excited about them, yet the scientific community often seem unconvinced by them. At ORFC we got the lowdown from Matt Dunwell and Juanfran Lopez who regularly run courses on biofertilisers (and much more) at Ragman’s Farm, a 60 acre farm in the Forest of Dean. They explain that unlike compost teas, biofertilisers are all about providing food and nutrition for the microbes, not actually brewing microbes themselves.

Finally we hear from Fred Price who was part of a panel on becoming a soil health expert on your own farm, hosted by Abby and the team behind the Sectormentor for Soils app. Fred has been farming at Gothelney Farm in Somerset for the last 10 years. From the start, he’s been on a quest to be the best farmer he can be. Initially, that meant maximising his yields and being as productive as possible. Within a few years, he’d achieved those goals – but then he started to realise it didn’t all add up. The questions he began to ask have led him on a regenerative journey – a process of un-learning the chemical farming mindset and instead using the soil as his guide to build the health of his farm

Be sure and keep an ear out later in the month for our Short which features brilliant perennial polyculture farmer Kathy Dice with some tips from her pick-your-own farm in Iowa, Red Fern Farm. We met Kathy at the Perennial Gathering put on by the Savanna Institute in Wisconsin late last year. The Savanna Institute are laying the groundwork for widespread agroforestry in the Midwest. Over 100 farmers and researchers gathered to share learnings from different agroforestry and silvopasture operations. Kathy has some great tips…

Photo: Pastured pigs on Gothelney Farm, Somerset

Thanks as ever to our supporters for this episode Rebel Kitchen! Their health message doesn’t separate the individual from the whole, and demonstrated through actions, not just words. As they point out, it’s all connected. We couldn’t agree more!

Farmerama is made by Abby Rose, Jo Barratt and me, Katie Revell. This month, we also had help from Louis Hudson and Suzie McCarthy. Thank you to the Oxford Real Farming Conference for kindly allowing us to use their recording of Barbara Hachipuka Banda speaking at the event.

Community support is by Annie Landless, Eliza Jenkins and Olivia Oldham, and our theme music is by Owen Barratt.