The sun is scotching when the Seeds of Gold team arrives at Lamarao Farm, about 40 kilometres from Brasilia, the federal capital of Brazil and seat of the government.
The farm is a model of plastic mulching growing technology. Farmers from all over the world flock the place almost daily.
The 10-acre farm is owned by a community group founded about five years ago. It specialises in vegetable and fruit growing.
The agribusiness has transformed the lives of the 10 members of the group and their families. It is some minutes past noon when when arrive at Lamarao Farm.
The Seeds of Gold team is accompanied by an agriculture officer who has been working with the farmers since the business began.
He gives them advice on how to get improved yields and how to ward off pests and diseases. Farm president Joimas de Sousa is around tending to the crops.
The farmers use black plastic mulching, “which helps us conserve water, reduce weeds and increase our harvest”, he says.
“We are the first farm to adopt to this kind of technology in the greater Brasilia area and have witnessed good results as far as the yields are concerned,” De Sousa told us.
The farmers grow eggplant, persimmon fruit, egg tomato, bell pepper and other fruits and vegetables in large quantities.
“We began the business with greenhouse farming, but that lasted only a year. The group changed to plastic mulching when we suffered huge losses due to diseases, bad weather and pests," the farm president said.
COMMONLY USED TECHNOLOGY
The greenhouses were also getting destroyed by hailstones, which are common in the province.
According to De Sousa, the use of black plastic mulching technology reduced instances of pests and diseases and increased the harvests.
He said the mulching helps to keep away weeds and conserve water in the soil.
The farmers get water from a dam near the city, which was constructed by the government specifically to help residents irrigate their lands.
The water is supplied to different farms using pipes. At the farm run by De Sousa and the rest, drip irrigation is used under the plastic bag mulch.
The vegetables are watered early in the morning and late in the evening daily. Before planting, the farm is tractor-ploughed and all weeds removed.
Planting troughs are then prepared in rows and 15-centimetre holes made in the channels. Three quarters of every hole is then filled with manure mixed with soil and watered.
“We lay the irrigation pipes in the channel, allowing every plant to connect to the drip. The plastic mulch is then placed on the troughs before we plant,” he said.
Planting in the plastic mulch holes is done a day later, when the soil is soaked.
According to state agriculture officer Marconi Mareira Borges, plastic mulching is one of the most commonly used technologies by farmers across the vast South American country.
“The technology provides a suitable environment for crops to grow and prevents weeds from feeding on the nutrients provided by the manure,” Borges said.
The officer said the technology also reduces the frequent tending to the crops and land by farmers, particularly weeding.
INCREASE THEIR HARVESTS
The polythene bag is good for maintaining humidity in the crops, making them grow and mature fast.
“The method reduces evaporation. During the dry season, the crops can survive for more than four days without being watered,” he said.
Borges added that the technology prevents the fruits and vegetables from getting into contact with the soil and reduces damage to the roots.
However, farmers must be prepared to invest a substantial amount of money in purchasing the mulch and installing the drip irrigation system.
The Brazilian Government has been helping farmers buy the equipment. They begin paying in monthly instalments after the first harvest.
De Sousa said the group makes about $2,500 (Sh250,000) per month from selling the vegetables and fruits to supermarkets, hotels and markets in Brasilia.
“There is a network of traders that visits the farm at the end of every week, especially on Fridays, to get the fruits and vegetables,” he said.
According to Borges, the method is good for farmers in arid and semi-arid areas seeking to increase their harvests.
The technology was developed to replace the traditional mulching that uses grass, plant twigs and leaves.
WHY TECHNOLOGY IS ENCOURAGED
- Black polythene bags have replaced the traditional leaves, grass, branches and twigs in many parts of Brazil.
- The technology, according to government officials, provides a good environment for crops to crow, especially in dry areas.
- It helps to keep weeds and pests away and conserves water in the soil.
- Its initial costs are high but the farmer ends up with good yields.
- Ordinary mulching can attract diseases and pests.
- Irrigation pipes are lain in the channel, allowing every plant to be connected to the drip.
- Before planting, the farm is usually ploughed using a tractor and weeds removed.
- The farmers then prepare planting troughs in rows and 15cm holes made in the channels.