The Minamba Research Farm is a forest farm in Muchinga, Zambia, where we research ways to give the forest more economic value, hoping that it will then be better protected from increasing population pressure. Although it is called a farm, it looks more like a forest. In terms of vegetation, it falls under the so-called miombo woodlands, which stretch from Angola to Mozambique and from Burundi to parts of South Africa. They are characterized by trees of the Caesalpinioideae family, including Brachystegia, Julbernardia en Isoberlinia. These forests in Muchinga are known as the “Central Zambezian miombo woodland”.
Before we got the land, it was used as “chitemene” land, meaning most trees were cut and the grass was regularly burned to grow annual crops. It has also been used for the production of charcoal and bricks, which are made from the clay of termite mounds and baked on fire from local trees. In satellite photos, you can still clearly see which stretches have been cut down in recent decades. The trees in those stretches are relatively young, or they have a thick trunk that was cut down at some point and then grew on (they are coppiced or pollarded).
While there are many good reasons to discontinue the chitemene system, it did have an interesting effect for food foresters: because fruit trees were often spared in the cutting, our land is now full of edible species like Musuku and Mupundu. This has, in effect, created a kind of food forest. By reducing the fire and protecting the trees, we hope to rebuild the humus layer in the coming years, which should improve the production of its perennial species.
The Minamba Research Farm is in the hills, sandwiched between a rocky massif, a small river and a stream that is full only in the rainy season. Because it is forbidden to cut trees along the water, we have very nice large trees there. Then the land turns into a rolling meadow, where we plant moisture-loving species like bananas and avocados.
As a de facto food forest, the Minamba Research Farm already provides a lot of local products such as mushrooms, fruits, edible caterpillars and honey. On the higher elevations, we have additionally added some old Dutch apple varieties. Apples in Zambia are expensive and popular, but now mostly come from South Africa. By placing these old varieties is a new environment, we risk disturbing the local ecosystem, but we also have a chance to give the forest a new revenue model, which could potentially protect it for hundreds more years. In addition, we are preserving old varieties, of which there are often only a few trees left in Europe.
These kinds of experiments make the Minamba not just a forest farm, but a research forest farm. Over the next few years, we hope to use this to build a revenue base that is at least sufficient to cover our own costs, but hopefully also gives other miombo forest farmers access to a market that allows them to protect their forest.