Perennial Maize and Animal Traction

Following an interesting blog and links by NIBBLES about perennial maize, and my curiosity peaked as to possible interest with our farmers here, I spent some time yesterday afternoon in the village discussing with cultivators what they thought of the idea.

The results were mixed: pros – cons – unsure:


  • Would save time in planting


  • Possible destruction from our very heavy rains and winds
  • Loss of materials for livestock feed
  • Loss of materials for fuel and building
  • Difficulty of planting such crops in areas not owned or rented by the cultivator (a major problem in this land-strapped country)

    Little plots of maize are grown by the poor by roads, in a spare field, in government land (etc) - and this is allowed because the crops are not permanent

Neutral: Folks wanted to think about it more…For example –

  • How would it behave during our 4 months of dry time?
  • Problems of pests if it is always growing?
  • Is it like sorghum and millet, which are cut back after harvest to regrow the next rains?
  • Would there be types for low/high altitudes; different weather patterns, etc?

This was a completely non-randomized sampling from a half-dozen smallholders who are ‘professional’ cultivators, both women and men.  They will continue thinking about it… preferably over some beer, as last evening…

Animal Traction

The link to animal traction brought up in NIBBLES, is simply not an issue because there are no traction animals in Burundi – and the likelihood of their being in the future is close to zero.

Totally absent tradition, lack of fodder, difficult terrain, and security are amongst the difficulties. For a few years I owned the only donkey in the country with a view to training it to harness for use in the IMBO lowlands along the lake, but this simply was not possible because Ana the âne raised such curiosity that people either drove off the road staring at here – or otherwise created a nuisance…

Ana always enjoyed snax from the staff

Ultimately, I gave her away as a pet to some folks…

Ana liked to sit on the patio so she could look at us in the house. This is Christmas Eve.


About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
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7 Responses to Perennial Maize and Animal Traction

  1. dianabuja says:

    Thanks for the comments. I can see that the system would perhaps work best in the States in the large prarie lands than here, with the many micro-plots, shifting cultivation, lack of land ownership, etc.

    Indeed, trees and agroforestry systems are best here, and many of these configurations are based on indigenous fruit trees that also give shade – at least in the drier, eastern part of the country.

    I have introduced Leuciana in some areas and this is very well received due to fast growth and multi-uses.


    • Jeremy says:

      I’m sure you’re right about what suits your area best. I thought there were problems with Leucaena pests in some places, but maybe that is only when it is planted densely. do people plant directly underneath it, or use leaves etc to mulch and build fertility nearby? I’ve heard of both approaches being used successfully.


      • dianabuja says:

        No problems with Leucaena pests here, that I’m aware of. It is planted as edgings to property or simply in a clump and lopped for feed. Or, goats are allowed to browse off of them for a time. No planting underneath, but leaves (fallen) are used for mulching by some. Mulching here is very important, but there is very little available biomass in some areas. Hence, trees such as Leucaena are good. Both dry and wetland rice, too, which both stabalizes the slil and provides quite a lot of multipurpose biomass.


        • You could also try native sesbanias. Perhaps you have already? That used to be one the systems recommended by ICRAF for improved fallows in places like Malawi.


          • dianabuja says:

            Yes, we were hoping to bring ICRAF here to develop some of the activities in which they have been engaged in Uganda – and including Sesbania planting materials – unfortunately the funding didn’t work out.


            • dianabuja says:

              A major problem here during the war years has been the unwillingness of donors to support projects that are other than AID give-aways. That’s a worthy goal, but in the meantime folks must farm, eat, and so forth. This has been one of my major issues – convincing donors that funds must also be directed to the latter areas.


  2. Jeremy says:

    I’m glad you took this up with some of the farmers you work with, and there thoughts are very interesting. Many of them I can’t answer. I do know that for The Land Institute one of the reasons they are researching perennial grain crops is to mimic the productivity of the natural prairies, which were converted to intensive farming. Perennials have root systems that bind the soil and accumulate organic matter, for example, so that productivity actually increases over time, rather than requiring continual injections of fertilizer, like farming systems based on annuals. And erosion is far less.

    Coping with a dry season would not be a problem; prairies cope with a snow-covered winter.

    I guess one would ned to know what the land there is like when it is not farmed, or before it was farmed, to know what kind of system would work best. I don’t doubt, however, that a more diverse system, in which the perennials might be trees, rather than grain crops, would deliver some important benefits.


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