conservation agriculture and spitting cobras

I might as well start with the most interesting photo, though I won’t actually tell you about the spitting cobra until later in the post (skip to there, I suppose, if you’re anxious)….



I spent a couple of days this last week in Mwakiwasha village.  [You guys are familiar with Mwakiwasha village; we did a couple of photo tours there a while back: mwanza to mwakiwasha and a visit in mwakiwasha village.]  The whole family went out Monday, mostly just to greet everyone, though we also worked out some dates for vaccinating chickens, harvesting rice, and having the interns stay a few days.  It was Harper’s first village visit ever, and our friends were very happy to meet her. 

Yesterday, though, my visit was for some farm work.  Yohana, one of the teachers in the church there at Mwakiwasha, has given me about a half-acre to use as a small experimental agriculture plot.  I’ve got plans for all the property, though I’ve only planted two small sections of it at this point.  

my little experimental plot of corn and beans

I’m currently experimenting with conservation agriculture in one of those sections.  Rather than tilling up the entire field, we dig small planting stations in which we place our seed.  And we add improvements only to the soil in those planting stations, instead of attempting to spread fertilizer over the entire field.  There are lots of benefits to this no-till approach, though I don’t want to bore you with all of them.  I do, however, want to share with you what I’m excited about… so I’ll just give you two benefits:

  1. We save resources (manure, for instance) by only improving our actual planting stations — and by using those same planting stations year after year.
  2. We minimize erosion and loss of soil nutrients a) by not turning our field under and b) through the use of a heavy mulch cover.

some of the guys at mwakiwasha — yohana is the one in the green shirt

Friday, I did some weeding and a urea top-dress in the corn.  As per usual, a lot of guys from Mwakiwasha helped out, making short work of it all.  Then we shared a meal together.

these are beans

Both the beans and the corn are looking good.  But I’m especially impressed with the corn at this point.  Most of the corn in the area is short, scrawny, and yellow (though planted a little earlier and already having formed their tiny ears).  My corn is just now starting to tassel, but it’s tall and deep green, with thick stalks.  I wasn’t expecting to see good results, necessarily, for another year.  So I’m quite pleased.

My biggest problem at this point is that I don’t have nearly the amount of mulch cover on the soil as I’d like, though I’ll continue adding some every couple of weeks for now, and then hit it especially hard after harvest; I should be fine by our next growing season.

a dead spitting cobra

So about that snake…

As we left my little farm plot, Yohana and I walked the long way in order to look at some of his corn and sweet potatoes.  We heard some yelling and screaming from the direction of everyone else, but carried on with our walk.  When we finally arrived, one guy was standing next to about a third of a snake (the middle third), while others were chasing the remaining parts with hoes.  

In the end — you won’t believe this — the end with the head managed to sliver another 30-40 meters from where his back half was cut off.  The snake was a spitting cobra, and I’m gonna’ call him five feet long.  [If you’ll look closer at the the picture up top, you can see where he was cut in three pieces, and put back together only for the photo op.]

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4 Comments

Filed under agriculture, farming, just photos, living in africa

4 responses to “conservation agriculture and spitting cobras

  1. Cynthia

    Wow, your garden looks great!! The beans make me wish I had some fresh ones right now.

  2. LoriBelle

    What about making compost? Just something that crossed my mind. Congrats on the garden.

    Now, about that snake. Are spitting cobras common? Do they try to bite or do they only spit? Is there venom poison only if it makes contact with mucous membranes or even when it touches the skin? What is their food source? Do you own a mongoose? 😉

    • hi, loribelle. thanks for commenting.

      compost is incredibly useful, though my current stance is that it’s too labor-intensive to be worth the time spent when being on larger fields. that’s a controversial stance, admittedly, but it’s mine.

      spitting cobras are fairly common here. i’m told they will bite if forced, but they prefer spitting only. the venom will blister even your skin and is apparently really dangerous. they can spit up to 6 feet. i don’t know what they eat, though — my guess is rats and small animals. i do not have a mongoose, but i do have two dogs. and i’ve seen several mongoose in our neighborhood, but not in my yard.

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