Thursday, July 7, 2016

Africa doesn’t need more tractors; it needs better farmers.

A productive crop of Amaranth with some of our young farmers Stephen and Emma.

It is a common misconception that due to Africa’s low agriculture output the way forward is to mechanize and “get serious” with farming by getting bigger and better equipment. This is the common belief held by governments and NGO’s alike on the continent. Even banks push farmers towards getting loans for the big shiny tractors!

This is a horrible idea for many reasons.

Firstly, big Equipment is costly, farmers will be put into long term debt trying to afford expensive equipment. Once in debt the farmer will become like western farmers, putting his attention on gaining credit and not on maintaining soil fertility. He will then need increase his land size in order to have a higher chance of paying off his debt. This leads to the next problem…

Problem number two. Big equipment needs big land to cover the cost of purchasing it, paying the interest to the bank and covering high maintenance costs. Thus farmers (or worse, large corporations) will try to buy up large tracts of land. This is where things get really bad. Africa is farmed by about 750,000 small hold farmers who mostly use a hoe. When you buy out these farmers (after preaching to them the gospel of Big Agriculture) from their land they become dis-enfranchised; people without land. When a small scale farmers sells his land he also sells his grandchildren’s inheritance and he also becomes a manual labourer working on the land he once owned making minimal money with no control over his future. Disenfranchised people become factory workers and employees with very little hope of ever coming out of poverty with life-long minimum wages. 

Thirdly big equipment is often destructive to soil and the environment leading to lower yields and lower income. The plough causes huge amounts of erosion; sub-Saharan erosion rates are 50 -220 MT/Ha. It has been said that Africa’s largest export is soil – and we don’t get a coin from it! Many farmers in Africa don’t realize that when they get new equipment their fertility will go down through intensive soil inversion. Soil inversion causes water loss, carbon loss, fertility loss through oxidation, UV degradation and the loss of volatile nutrients to the atmosphere. With big equipment taking up a large part of their earnings, causing unplanned soil degradation farmers will be left with less to put on their table and in their bank accounts. Unprofitable farming pushes people back towards selling off their land in hopelessness, thus putting them back into the previously discussed position of being dis-enfranchised.

For now we'll just stick to those three reasons (there's more!). Let's get to the answer.

The answer is simple: teach people how to farm better with the equipment they have on the land they have. This won’t line the pockets of politicians, technocrats and big agriculture business so you won’t hear a lot about it but it’s the answer. In most cases God has already place all of the resources needed to farm within the rural areas of Africa. By teaching farmers how to be careful and intentional with their planting and cultivating methods a farmer’s yield can easily increase five times. YES! Five times in one season! How can this happen? By NOT ploughing, planting carefully, putting locally available (read free) organic inputs at the base of the plant, before the (locally sourced) seed is in the ground and by mulching a farmer can have a well fed, stress free plant which will give him high yields at little cost, with NO debt load and with piece of land now increasing in fertility.
How do you know you ask? I know because I used to work on a large bank-bound farm in the west and now I teach small scale farmers who are coming out of poverty and low yields by using Farming God’s Way. It’s amazing to watch the transformation take place on a farm when people put into practice the simple principles of Farming God’s Way. I’ve seen it time and time again where a farmers goes from barely surviving to having productive fields that feed their families and put money in their pocket. Here’s a few pictures that show the great crops that people now experience.

If you’d like to read more about how Africa suffers from dependence on things like equipment and poor agriculture practice and what the answers look like have a look at the Farming God’s Way Trainer’s Reference Guide. It contains lots of stats and references to keep you informed on topic.

If you'd like to be part of the work we do in Uganda we need more supporters to keep us here on the field.

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