In the heart of Zimbabwe, just 65 kilometers from Bulawayo, lies a farm with a profound mission. Ebenezer Agricultural Training Centre, affectionately known as "Ebenezer," isn't just a place where crops grow and livestock are tended to. It serves as a beacon of hope and knowledge for young, aspiring farmers from the surrounding villages and from all over Zimbabwe. At Ebenezer, the Koppert Foundation, in collaboration with Tearfund Netherlands, Tearfund Zimbabwe and Koppert South Africa, is making a difference by promoting sustainable agriculture practices and providing essential education.
The agricultural industry in the region is on the rise, primarily to meet the food needs of the local population. Young farmers at Ebenezer receive comprehensive training in sustainable farming techniques. This holistic approach ensures that the young farmers not only develop practical skills but also a deep sense of responsibility towards the environment and their communities.
Pest Management: A Success Story
Koppert South Africa, a key partner in this project, plays a pivotal role in educating these budding farmers. Marcel van Ruiten, our Koppert representative in Zimbabwe, has been instrumental in delivering training sessions on sustainable cultivation practices and the use of natural crop protection solutions. His expertise is equipping these future farmers with the tools they need to make a real impact on their communities.
One of the most significant achievements at Ebenezer has been the effective management of pests, particularly the notorious Tuta absoluta in tomatoes. The approach involves two key strategies:
Koppert's pheromone traps and sticky traps have been deployed in both the greenhouse and outdoor tomato crops. These traps effectively monitor Tuta absoluta moth activity.
Pretiobug (Trichogramma pretiosum) was introduced from South Africa and have significantly reduced Tuta and boll worm infestations. Their presence has allowed the crops to thrive without the need for chemical sprays.
Andrew McKechnie, farm manager at Ebenezer Farm shared his thoughts: ‘The crop is undoubtably the best that we've had for a long time, without spraying any chemicals since the biological solutions were applied. In the past we would have sprayed weekly against Tuta absoluta preventatively in an effort to keep it under control. We have just started harvesting this crop and the fruit-set and quality are exceptional.’
Beyond Tuta absoluta, Ebenezer faces various other challenges, such as fruit flies in butternuts, thrips on onions, aphids on carrots and cabbages, fall armyworm in maize. The center has devised comprehensive strategies for managing these issues, combining biological controls, pheromone traps and minimal chemical interventions.
The adoption of sustainable practices at Ebenezer extends beyond pest management. The center has prioritized the inclusion of organic matter in all crops, banning the use of fire for land clearance, and promoting composting and the use of chicken litter as a soil conditioner and mulch. These practices not only enhance soil fertility but also reduce the environmental impact of farming.
With support from Tearfund NL, the completion of a solar farm at Ebenezer has revolutionized irrigation. This has resulted in better seed germination, seedling establishment, and more robust, uniform crop growth. ‘The positive outcomes of these "new" practices are inspiring staff and students to embrace a natural approach to farming’ – Andrew continues.
The Koppert Foundation is thrilled to be part of this project's success. As Johannette Klapwijk, the leader of the Koppert Foundation, affirms, ‘These types of projects ensure that many people are reached and trained about sustainable growing methods.’ The foundation's commitment to sustainable agriculture is not only changing lives at Ebenezer but also serving as a model for the future of farming in the region.
While the journey towards entirely sustainable farming practices is ongoing, Ebenezer represents a beacon of hope for agriculture in the region. Andrew McKechnie aptly summarizes the center's achievements, ‘There is still a long way to go before traditional land preparation and chemical sprays are totally forgotten, but I believe the first steps have been taken.’