Big, small, flourishing or stumbling, tree nurseries in Africa come in all shapes and forms, and with varying quality. Some are owned by governments, others by non-profit groups, others still by individual farmers.
Edward Lutawo Phiri, from Zambia, and his father are two of those farmers, and the nursery they started together is one of the best in the business. As a small child, Lutawo Phiri watched his father plant seedlings and was mesmerized. Then when he passed away, Lutawo Phiri took over and expanded the nursery to a point where now he employs 12 people on 3 hectares.
Of course, he was lucky that his father had a good piece of land with a permanent water supply. It is a gently sloping, well-drained site with a good supply of suitable soil materials. He levelled the site and firmed the soil, marking out the shape and sizes of the beds and erecting them using durable poles. Also, he used sand and small stones to give good root penetration and help with drainage. He has clay and top forest soil which improves the moisture intake and nutrient retaining qualities.
He also plants and grafts fruit trees. Grafting is a form of vegetative propagation, which involves the union of two separate structures, usually woody parts of two plants. The common parts grafted are usually stems. The upper part is the scion and the lower part or root is called stock or rootstock. The scion and the rootstock must belong to the same plant species or to the same family.
Grafting means that the qualities of the two parent plants are united in one plant. The scion has one or more buds from where all branches of the future fruiting grafted plant will grow from. All methods of joining plants are called grafting, but when the scion part has only a single bud, the operation is called budding.
Fruit trees commonly grafted in Zambia include mangoes, avocadoes and citrus.
“After grafting, I propagate them and during the rainy season, I intercrop them with beans and peanuts which do not disturb the growth of the trees,” says Lutawo Phiri. “I also practice agroforestry and am raising indigenous timber species such as red mahogany which take seven years to harvest.”
“We need to diversify,” he says. “We need to grow trees because they help us withstand floods and drought and give us medicine to fight diseases and bring us rain. Trees are life.”
Whereas other tree nurseries often struggling with water, Lutawo Phiri explains that through a very rigorous management of the forest around him, with no bushfires allowed and no careless cutting, he has managed to maintain water levels and have shallow wells as well.
For pest and disease control, Lutawo Phiri uses the neem tree leaves which he pounds and sifts into water to spray on the seedlings. For fertilizer, he uses leaves to make compost and mixes it with manure, adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil.
David Ngwenyama, provincial project manager of the Zambia Integrated Forest Landscape Project says he’s hoping to work with Lutawo Phiri because he is very reliable, has the best quality seedlings and is ready to give advice and help out whenever needed.
Lutawo Phiri was awarded a Gold Medal for distinguished services for Zambia by former President Michael Sata.
According to Judith Walcott, a safeguards and landscapes specialist for the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, “As the UN-REDD Programme continues to support countries on nature-based solutions for climate change mitigation, with a focus on both conserving and restoring forests, the role of work like that being done by Lutawo Phiri will be key. The use of high-quality seedlings and native species is important in helping restoration efforts, and also securing a range of other benefits that forests can provide, such as biodiversity conservation and other ecosystem services.”