Learning from those you teach: NDSU agronomist visits the Republic of Zambia

Ryan Buetow, an Extension Agronomist at the NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center in Dickinson, poses with a Zambian farmer. Buetow just returned from a three-week educational expedition in the developing country. (Photography courtesy of Ryan Buetow.)

Ryan Buetow, an Extension agronomist at the NDSU Dickinson Research Extension Center in Dickinson, recently returned from a three week volunteer expedition to the Republic of Zambia, during which he taught locals the fundamentals of soybean and sunflower production, among other agricultural affairs.

“It was an awesome experience,” he told the Press.

Zambia, a British colony until the 1960s and ruled by a one-state socialist party until the early 1990s, is a landlocked country in south-central Africa. This isolated position, as well as a history of governmental corruption, have caused many problems for the people of Zambia, namely in terms of water transportation and international commerce. Although the World Bank named Zambia as one of the world’s fastest economically reformed countries in 2010, these issues have stunted the growth of the nation’s agricultural development.

“The style of farming is a bit different from what we have here,” Buetow said of his experiences in the African country. “First off, the access to electricity is pretty limited; they’re without power at least 12 hours a day. Access to fuel is limited, as well.”

What’s more, Buetow said, most of the agriculture taking place, especially in rural areas, is subsistence farming. Most Zambian farmers are working no more than one to three acres with the goal of consuming their own crop. As agronomic education is extremely limited, overall yield is both utterly crucial for survival and, yet, terribly meager.


“Education is a major issue,” Buetow said. “So this access to basic agronomic information, how to grow these crops properly, is huge for them.”

Unfortunately, as the 2019 Encyclopedia of the Nations’ entry on Zambia points out, although a much larger area is potentially arable, agricultural output in the country has yet to reach the point of meeting domestic food requirements with only 5% of the land area cultivated at any time.

With agronomic education at the heart of his expedition, Buetow set to working with and enlightening the developing nation’s rural communities.

“One of them had been growing soybeans for about three years, but the yields they were getting were less than 10 bushels an acre, so very low,” Buetow told the Press. “They were just hand-broadcasting the seed, and they weren’t putting inoculant on it. If you don’t put the inoculant or bacteria on the roots, or on the seed, you don’t get that benefit. So we were teaching them that this inoculant is not a chemical, but a living thing, so you should treat it like a living thing. Keep it out of direct sunlight and make sure you have an even spread. That kind of stuff.”

The NDSU agronomist was also careful to teach Zambian farmers visually with increments that were easy to understand and translate: “There should be two foot steps between each row and within the row, there should be about 10 seeds,” he said, repeating the instructions.

When asked what he learned from the experiences, Buetow’s reply was simple.

“The human component is the biggest thing,” he said as he reflected on his international journey. “They don’t have all these material possessions, but they’re happy and smiling. We’re very lucky to live the way we do.”

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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