Research: Gliricida Sepium Trees

COMACO in Mambwe

Report by Kennedy Kanenga, Zambia Agriculture Institute, Msekera, June 2012


Purpose of the field assessment

The objective of the field assessment was to establish the benefits of using Gliricidia Sepium trees to improved food security, income and environmental benefits to local communities.


Due to climate change and erosion of the ecology by small scale farmers through conventional farming, cutting of trees and abandoning exhausted fields and moving to new ones has resulted into both land scarcity and deforestation while decreasing the ability of small-scale farmers produce adequate food and increase incomes.

In the Luangwa valley fragile ecosystems the carrying capacity of the natural resource base has fast decreased compounded by animal and human conflict. There is an urgent need to produce food while conserving the ecosystem.

Causes and effects of environmental degradations include poor soils, soil erosions, deforestations, illegal extractions of forest products, encroachments, fires, overfishing, destruction of water catchment area, poaching, human wildlife conflicts, reduced water points for animal drinking, floods, drought, food insecurity and low agriculture productivity. all require to be addressed with social accountability based on ecologically sound approaches.   These problems cannot be solved by conventional farming.  Decades of conventional farming has posed these problems.

Use of sustainable agricultural practices to produce food and increase incomes as opposed to conventional farming have proven beneficial in all aspects relevant to health and the environment in Mambwe.   WCS-COMACO has integrated growing of Gliricidia sepiun tree and conservation farming methods to bring food security, social and cultural well-being to targeted 1000 farmers of the Luangwa Valley.

Gliricidia sepiun tree is a fast growing leguminous multipurpose tree. Since the tree has the ability to make nitrogen from the air and store it in its leaves. Fresh leaves of Gliricidia sepium contain as much as much as 3.5 percent of the nitrogen. This is higher than common animal manure. When leaves are cut and added to soil or through leaf fall nitrogen is added to the soil.  Once this tree is established from either seed or a mature twig the shrub re-grows for as many years. In the process both the soils’ physical and chemical properties are improved.

Conservation Farming    

Conservation Farming is the timelines and precision of using the 5 non-negotiables. These are: Modest soil disturbances by ripping or making planting basins (30cm long and 20cm deep), no burning of plants’ stover, or grass, early planting, timely weeding and harvesting, use of improved seed and practicing crop rotations with legume crops.  Recently, the aspect of interspacing plots with Musanga (Faidherbia albida) 15m apart has been observed.

Assessment Method  

By the time of the farmers’ field assessment most farmers had either harvested or had finished harvesting the maize.

Ten farmers were targeted to be sampled and interviewed to solicit benefits of using Gliricidia sepium tree and Conservation farming methods. The farmers were purposely selected based on successfully adoption of using Gliricidia sepium trees and Conservation farming for at least 2-3 years.

Estimates of either stored maize, area of the field, or maize stand with particular attention to size of cobs, amount of harvested maize were made. Comparisons were then drawn between productivity of conventional farming methods and use of sustainable farming- using Gliricidia sepium trees or Conservation farming. To solicit for productivity of conversional farming, except for one who wasn’t an adopter the same farmers (adopters) were asked on the level productivity before they adopted sustainable farming. Their memories were still fresh being only 2-3 years ago.

Interviews were complemented by a set of few questions which then formed the basis of quantifications, comparisons, assessments, findings, conclusions and recommendations.

Questions were:    How many of 50kg bags of maize was a farmer harvesting on the same piece of land prior to adoption and after?  How many bags of 50kg maize ware adequate to feed the family? If there was a surplus how many were sold? And if there was a shortfall how did the farmers cope and how many were bought? What were the main sources of income? What was the size of the income? What and which were the assets derived the increased household income?



Innovations by WC-COMACO

Farmer Trainings 

Initiated by WCS-COMACO the farmer groups received training on use of Gliricidia sepium, Conservations farming and other capacity building aspects to alleviate poverty and increase income.

At least 1000 households in groups of 15-20 have been trained to use Gliricidia sepiun in combination with Conservation Farming to produce maize, major food crop, groundnuts, rice, cowpeas, cotton and sunflower and vegetables. Farmers were planted 4-5rows of maize after each row of Gliricidia sepium trees.

The following were farmers’ benefits:

Efficient, profitable production

Gliricidia sepium tree use and Conservation Farming was commercially viable in producing more food per unit of energy and scarce resources, according to farmers.

  • The interviewed farmers were moved from producing 6 x 50kg to 12-18bags X 50kg of maize per lima of land-doubling or tripling the outputs. An average Zambian family of 7 people consumed 12-16 X 50 bags per year.
  • Extra area, extra bags, meant extra income, enabled them to send children to school, acquired one or two bicycles for transport, and decent house
  • While extra cash, labour, time and land was devoted to profitable enterprises such as vegetables, fruit production, small-livestock, bee keeping
  • The bottom line was diversified income with maximum of K16m with one particular farmer interviewed.

Soil fertility restoration

  • Interviewed farmers stopped the habit of abandoning old fields and cutting trees to start new fields, rather farmers remained on one the same piece of land because the land became fertile due to leaf fall accumulation or simply made their own fertilizer through compost from the maturing Gliricidia sepium shrubs.
  • Increased a soil organic matter and nitrogen levels meant healthier and more fertile soils according to the interviewed farmers
  • Micro-organism activity was higher, soil nutrient recycling was created and both weeds and plant diseases was suppressed
  • Fields planted with Gliricidia sepium trees were easier to cultivate due improved soil physical structure

Less deforestation

  • The Gliricidia sepium tree provided firewood-bringing out the multpurpose nature of tree as Gliricidia  sepium tree served as a woodlot .
  • Women no longer travelled long distances to fetch firewood.
  • The cutting down of new trees lessened, as result.

Climate-smart technology

  • Despite the uncertainty in planting rains farmers successfully planted the maize with early rains by mid November.
  • Maize germination, establishment and growth was satisfactory, according to farmers
  • The biomass from Gliricidia sepium tree, reduced soil erosion, improved the soil structure, the water holding capacity which was crucial in averting crop failure.
  • On the other hand, the farmer not adopting the technology forced to plant late, replant, experienced poor crop establishment, low yields and harvested less.
  • Farmers attested to the fact that existing water-points were maintained and recharged due to trees of Grilllicidia sepium planted nearby.   

Farmer-led Innovations

The following innovations were noted.

  • Farmers made their own fertilizer as opposed to synthetic fertilizers from Gliricidia sepium shrubs in a form of compost.
  • Goats were tied to Gliricidia sepium shrubs browsed leaves of Gliricidia sepium shrubs while being protected from direct sunshine.
  • Chickens and ducks were fed and supplemented by leaves of Gliricidia sepium tree-as leaves contain higher protein.
  •  Leaves of Gliricidia sepium tree were used to quicken the ripening process of bananas fruit
  • The fermenting effect of Gliricidia sepium leaves rendered a more uniform ripening  effect and more natural aroma of bananas fruit just put in a sack to ripen

Conclusions and recommendations

  1. Labour and time investments in planting of Gliricidia sepium trees and making planting basins were more than offset by long term ecologically and efficient gains of producing more food, income and energy (woodlots) per unit of land.
  2. Participatory monitoring and evaluation remains an important tool in not only soliciting benefits of sustainable of farming, but also documenting and adding commercial value to innovative way of producing food and increasing incomes by resource poor communities.
  3. Farmer to farmer exchange visits are a necessary platform of learning and adopting by seeing –seeing being the best method of learning by adults


Appendix 1: Farmers Interviewed

  1. Ackson Mwaza
  2. Julius Mwaza
  3. William Zulu
  4. Ester Banda
  5. Veronica  Banda
  6. Isaac Sakala
  7. Mrs Sakala (wife)


I would like to thank WSC-COMACO and the team: Dale Lewis, Nemia Tembo, Daka, Major Lungu and other WSC-COMAC staff for both enabling me and their support their respective roles and to undertake the field assessment.

Finally, I hope the report is beneficial to both institutions and above all to the local communities where these innovations are taking place to transform lives.