If your land is a tangled mass of weeds and bush, preparing it for cultivation without a plough or a fire may seem an impossible task. However, the job can be tackled properly if you take it one step at a time. Tie a light rope between two pegs a good distrance apart, say 40m to 50m, on the edge of the land. Tie a second rope in the same way, parallel to the first rope and 2m from it. This will mark out a strip 2m wide.
Start clearing the marked-off area with a hoe and lay the weeds down as a layer of mulch. Uproot perennial weeds to prevent them re-sprouting. Enlist the help of your family members and others. The mulch will act as a blanket to cool down the soil surface, retain moisture, reduce wind and water erosion, smother new weed growth and allow rain to penetrate the soil.
In time, the mulch will also decompose and feed the soil with nutrients. When the first strip is completed, mark out a second 2m strip alongside the first. Repeat until you have treated the entire land. After the mulch has decomposed, the land will be ready for cultivation.
Although this mulching method is sound and will certainly work well, it is geared towards small-scale farmers with only hand tools and many helpers. Another approach is to introduce animals – controlled high-density grazing with goats or cattle, or controlled high-density foraging and rootling with pigs. The animals’ urine and dung will help to feed the soil and their mechanical hoof action and rootling will loosen and break up the surface crust of the soil.
Foundations for Farming (FFF) is an NGO based in Zimbabwe that teaches conservation agriculture practices to farmers, based on Christian principles. FFF provided the information for this article. Visit www.foundationsforfarming.org.