Example of a farmer innovation story

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(courtesy Bob Carty, Producer, CBC Radio)

Sound Effects (SFX) - a hoe working rather tough soil, a man breathing heavily with the labour SCRIPT: Benjamin Erinle has been working his soil for two decades. Since his father died. And most years have been good.

CLIP: (Benjamin) This was good soil, good soil. We used to get enough maize to feed our family all year round. Sometimes the rains were not good, but most years we had enough to eat.

SCRIPT: Benjamin’s hands are strong and heavily calloused. He is only 35 years old but his back is bent like an old man's. And his eyes show a gleam of worry.

CLIP: (Benjamin) The problem started about five years ago. The weather was good, but the maize was down. We only got enough to feed the family for ten months. And then it got worse. Last year we only had enough maize for eight months. I had to sell some animals and work on a big farm. My soil is tired. (REPORTER) HOW DID YOU KNOW? (Benjamin) There was a man who came. He sells fertilizers. He said my soil does not have enough nitrogen. That's why the plants were not producing.

SCRIPT: Nitrogen helps plants grow. When maize doesn't have enough nitrogen, the leaves turn yellow, starting at the tip with the yellow going back, in a V-shape, right down the leaf. Benjamin’s maize is suffering a "nitrogen drought". And the salesman from the fertilizer company had a solution.

CLIP: (Benjamin) He said I need to buy his fertilizer to get more maize (REPORTER) SO DID YOU DO THAT? (Benjamin) No, No. It costs too much.

SCRIPT: Nitrogen fertilizers are made from natural gas found in oil wells. So their cost has been rising very fast. Farmers like Benjamin need another solution.

CLIP: (Benjamin) If I bought fertilizers I would have to sell animals and use all my savings. And what if the children got sick? What if the rains didn't come? We had to do something else.

SCRIPT: Benjamin had heard of a low cost way to solve his problem. On the radio he heard about a farmer from another country who had sick soil, but made it better by planting beans in between the maize plants. Benjamin thought that was a great idea and wondered if it would work with cowpeas. But his wife, Clara, was not so sure. It was not the traditional way of farming.

CLIP: (CLARA) If you put two plants in the soil they just take food from each other. And neither one grows well. We have always grown maize on its own, not with cow peas.

SCRIPT: But Benjamin wasn't sure his wife was right. After all, in a healthy forest, there are many different kinds of plants. They seem to help each other grow. So he decided to try an experiment. SFX - walking though fields

CLIP: (Benjamin) Two years ago I planted cow peas in between the maize plants - but just in this section. Not everywhere. (REPORTER) HOW BIG IS THIS SECTION? (Benjamin) About one-quarter of my land. (REPORTER) DID YOU WATCH HOW THE PLANTS GREW AT THE BEGINNING? (Benjamin) I used to come here every day to check. They came up, both the maize and the cow peas, and both were growing well. (REPORTER) WERE YOU WORRIED? (Benjamin) A little bit. Because if it didn't work, we might have less maize. But it would only be a little less, so I wasn't too worried.

SCRIPT: And at harvest time, he stopped worrying. Benjamin got the same amount of maize in the quarter section grown with cow peas as he had without cows peas.

CLIP (REPORTER) SO YOU DIDN'T GET ANY MORE MAIZE. (Benjamin laughs) ... (Benjamin) No. But I didn't get any less. And we had cow peas to eat! (REPORTER) SO YOU WERE NOT DISAPPOINTED? (Benjamin) No. It takes time to heal a body. It will take time to heal the soil.

SCRIPT: Benjamin was patient. He did the same thing the next year. He planted the same one-quarter of his land with both maize and cow peas. And that's when he saw the difference.

CLIP: (Benjamin, laughing) Oh, man. You should have seen the plants. Big and strong. They grew right up over my head! And no yellow on the leaves. And when we did the harvest. Wow. We got as much maize from that quarter as from all the rest. The soil seems better with the cow peas growing in it.

SFX - EITHER POUNDING MAIZE, or stacking bags of maize SCRIPT: Benjamin has discovered the benefits of "inter-cropping". His harvests are bigger and healthier because the roots of the cow peas put nitrogen back into the soil. There is no longer a nitrogen drought. And the maize grows better. Benjamin’s wife has changed her mind too. She doesn’t complain when there is more maize to pound into flour. And she is making good meals with the cow peas too!


(Please note this story is not a true story. The characters and situations have been created as a learning tool)