Background: The farming calendar is a graphic that lists the production cycles throughout the year, including characteristics, activities, and production needs during each cycle. The information, generated in open dialogue between members and facilitators, can be varied and rich. The farming calendar will help guide activity throughout the agricultural seasons.
Steps to follow for the activity:
Step 1: Ask the group members to build consensus on and list the key crop and livestock enterprises in the community. If ranking was undertaken as part of a mobilization exercise these key enterprises can be derived from that exercise.
Step 2: Draw a vertical diagram in which the months of the year are indicated along the top of the sheet and the enterprises are listed down the left hand side (see example in Annex).
Step 3: Ask group volunteers to speak about their monthly seasonal activities for key crops and Pathways crops. On the diagram, record the monthly activities for each enterprise underneath the corresponding month. It is important to cover the key crops, as they influence decisions on time and resource allocation for all crops.
Step 4: With the information collected, lead discussions about some key issues around the seasons and crops that give further insights into the farming system. Some examples are: seasonal needs for and availability of labor; seasonality of rainfall and drought; availability of irrigation; incidence of crop diseases.
Step 5: Together with the farmers, try to match periods of several important constraints with the different stages of the crop during the season. Write the name of these constraints along the bottom row of the chart in the appropriate month(s). Examples of these constraints are: weeds, insects, diseases, drought, and soil fertility.
Step 6: Try to draw attention to and explain the Pathways approach to possible solutions for these constraints. Stress the importance of future observations in the experimental field and the farmers’ own fields.
Integrated Soil and Water Management
Before, during, and after harvest depending on specific practice and crop; throughout the agricultural cycle.
To create favorable conditions for good crop growth, seed germination, emergence, root growth, plant development, crop maturity and formation, and harvest; give participants an increased understanding of soil and water management options for smallholder farmers.
2-4 hours depending on session
Paper and marker pens
Enough room to sit and stand
Background: To maximize the quantity and quality of crops, farmers must learn how to manage both soil and water resources in an integrated manner. This tool helps farmers identify their current soil and water management practices, reiterate the importance of improved practices, and discuss combination techniques to improve crop yield and resulting revenue.
Steps to follow for the activity:
Step 1: Brainstorm with farmers on their current soil and water management practices, helping them to outline their understanding of the benefits and challenges of each, e.g. labor for making ridges.
Step 2: Take participants through the basic guidelines for the development of integrated soil and water management systems by following up on one of the topics from the brainstorm. If you have many farmers, divide them into groups and have them discuss the benefits of the topics below:
Increasing soil cover is the most important process for: reducing water and wind erosion, increasing water infiltration rates and reduction of moisture loss, improving germination rates due to reduced temperatures and moist environment, improvement of soil organic matter and biological activity in the soil and suppressing weed growth. This is accomplished by:
Increasing the production of biomass in the field by sowing cover crops, intercrops, or relay crops
Applying fertilizers and organic manures in order to produce more biomass and enhance chemical fertility
Increasing the soil organic matter content
Increasing infiltration and water retention, reducing runoff to prevent loss of soil, water, nutrients, fertilizers, pesticides, and increasing the moisture available to the crop; this will consequently grain yield and biomass production. This is accomplished with:
Crop residues and mulches that prevent the formation of hard crusts that prevent infiltration; the cover also slows down run off and gives time for the rain water to infiltrate
Fallow periods to rest the land and allow for infiltration where and whenever possible
Application of organic fertilizer to increase the moisture retention capacity of the soil, especially for sandy soils; remember that large amounts are required, when compared to non-organic fertilizer
Construction of bench, orchard, or other terraces to reduce the slope in order to reduce runoff
Improving the rooting conditions to foster root development and growth, for the crops to absorb moisture and nutrients, as well as reduce the effects of drought on crops. This is accomplished by:
Carrying out deep tillage to loosen any compacted or hardened layers that are impeding root penetration.
The use of drainage channels where soils are not well drained, and use of raised beds and ridges to increase root depth even where there are no drainage problems
Improving the soil fertility and productivity to achieve increased yields and crop biomass. This is accomplished through a combination of the following activities:
Soil sampling to determine the nutritional state of the soil
Establishing the most economic fertilizer application rate, the rate corresponding to maximum yield, and the most appropriate method and time of application
Using locally available organic materials for manure to cut costs and increase organic matter of soil (see compost FFBS tool)
Utilizing crop rotation to rejuvenate the soils that are exhausted
Avoiding nutrient waste; do not allow burning of residues or stubble, nor the export of nutrients out of the farm (and preferably not out of the field), except for those nutrients in the harvest.
Increasing soil’s organic matter content, particularly in sandy soils with generally low fertility. This may be done by: applying large amounts of organic manures and mulches, sowing legumes and cover crops, intercropping, relay cropping, crop rotations, increased plant densities and through an increase of chemical fertility to encourage a high production of biomass.
Substituting the use of nitrogenous fertilizers by sowing legume crops as part of the rotation, as intercrops, relay crops or as cover crops.
Taking advantage of the processes of nutrient recycling, particularly in zones suffering serious leaching problem; introduce crops with deep rooting systems that absorb nutrients from the deeper layers which are normally beyond reach of most crops. This will allow nutrients to be brought to the surface in the dead leaves and stubble to be used later by the roots of other crops.