Paul Desmarais, SJ
Developing local strategies to conserve environmental resources, and providing lifelong education in sustainable farming: these are the central tasks of the Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre (KATC) in Zambia. Situated about 30 km northeast of Lusaka, Zambia’s capital and largest city, the Centre retrains rural subsistence farmers in organic agriculture. Operated by members of the Society of Jesus, KATC follows its mission to empower rural communities to improve their livelihoods through research, training, extension courses, cooperative development and market linkages.
KATC was established in 1974 and initially offered a two-year course for families in conventional (i.e. industrial) agriculture. In 1990, it shifted to organic, sustainable agriculture and moved to short courses. Currently, KATC offers a variety of three- to five-day and two-week courses in organic agriculture, including residential, on-farm courses and study circles.
Principally, KATC teaches farming techniques that do not require fertilisers and pesticides and that require reduced water input or irrigation. The reasons are obvious: fertilisers and pesticides are expensive and a simple farmer cannot easily afford them. Furthermore, the reservoirs are drying up. Within 35 years of “trial and error,” the members of KATC became pioneers in developing the knowledge of sustainable agriculture, and in developing simple, inexpensive, yet effective tools for small-scale agribusiness.
KATC’s five-day courses provide a broad knowledge in basic challenges of subsistence agriculture, such as the production of organic vegetables and cotton, biological pest management, agro-forestry, beekeeping, but also in administrative tasks like farm management and internal control systems. Our programmes aim at training rural families as well as agricultural extension officers for government and field staff of NGOs. The participants come from Zambia and from neighbouring countries such as Malawi and Zimbabwe. Given the fact that seven main languages are spoken in Zambia and in view of the linguistic plurality of the catchment area, the courses also have a strong integrative aspect that can be challenging if members of different language groups share the same course. Generally, the training is held in English and the vernacular.
In addition to residential training, KATC offers village-based training. Some staff members offer extension services in the district. KATC works with approximately 1,200 small-scale farmers. Some research on organic agriculture is also done at KATC and in the villages. A workshop in “Appropriate Technology” researches and develops equipment and tools suitable and affordable for use in rural areas, e.g. fuel-efficient stoves. This workshop also offers the repair and maintenance of farmers’ equipment.
KATC has always relied on donors for its work. Since it is becoming increasingly difficult to fund core expenses, the centre is expanding into Production Units. Currently, it has a dairy herd of 30 animals and sells the milk to a cheese factory. It also set up some irrigation schemes and there are 80 hectares presently under irrigation (next year hopefully 160 hectares), thanks to two dams supplying the freshwater.
The centre has about 20 staff members who come from different institutions and possess various different skills. Currently, we are considering becoming a tertiary-level educational institution. This will offer a professional degree in organic agriculture and certainly strengthen the co-operative movement, extension education, and appropriate technologies.
The author is the Founder and Director of Kasisi Agricultural School, Zambia. Contact: paul.desmaraissj (at) gmail.com. For further information, visit KATC’s website that offers also a broad survey of educational materials for download.