I am using a photo taken in Patuet, South Sudan, when I went several years ago. I have this photo and several others on my ‘Building Hope in Southern Sudan’ page. I love this photograph; this fellow is a typical working man, a shepherd. The shepherds walk their goats, sheep and cattle to the White Nile River to water and graze them. This is not unusual, except that Patuet is at least a two day walk to the river. A road now runs through Patuet. The medical center come school we built has brought a lot more foot traffic to the village. There is also a trading place there now, where people can sell and trade their goods. I have written a poem to connect with this photo. I will also add another photo I love, of a goat that the chief gifted to us for going and helping out with a medical team in 2009. We found it rather difficult to explain that we could not take the goat on the plane with us back to Australia. One of the great doctors, and a great nurse are in this photo with me, taking care of the goat, before we had to give it to someone else to take care of it for us. This gift was incredibly generous, as this goat was breeding stock, and worth a lot of money to these people, who live very humbly, and need every resource they have to survive.
I connected this haiku I wrote to a photo that was taken on the 2009 trip we made to Patuet, in South Sudan. I don’t know who in our team took this photo. It could have been either Dr Ian Everitt or photographer extraordinaire, Bena Wandei. I love the way the photograph depicts the livestock farming in the tropical wet and dry climate of South Sudan. Temperatures are high throughout the year, with a dry season from November to March and a wet season from April to October. The wet season arouses the earth, the country side becomes alive; yet the water and the earth are quickly dried up with the onset of the somewhat shorter dry season. South Sudan’s major water resources are the Nile (White and Blue Nile) and its tributaries, and aquifers. A large part of South Sudan is covered by wetlands at favourable times of the year. We were in Patuet in late February, the hottest and driest time of the year. The shepherds still herd their goats, sheep and cattle; nothing much grows this time of year, fresh fruit and vegetables are non-existent. The well is the only local water available, the water tank dries up quickly. The hot, dry conditions trigger seasonal human and livestock migration to more permanent water sources (the toic), which serve as dry season grazing pasture, and for some ethnic groups, such as the Dinka, they also serve as fishing grounds. The people living in Patuet are of the Nuer tribe, they are predominantly cattle herders.
We recently carried out research in an African province with a population of over 4 million people and a yearly government income of over US$ 3 billion, and found little or no local industry for milk, feed, meat and other agricultural concerns. The entire region actually imports most of its agricultural and livestock products. Imagine what would happen if local industries were created instead.
Examples like this demonstrate that agriculture in Africa is a sitting gold mine. But also, as the world population increases, food demand is increasing at a rapid rate, and Africa is becoming recognized as the one place that has the capacity to feed the world. Already, fund managers and investors from various parts of the world are increasing their investment into agriculture on the continent, however, the surface has barely been scratched.
Most of the current focus in African agriculture has been on acquisition of large swathes of land for farming, production and export. This has generated its fair share of controversy with people complaining of various forms of abuse and exploitation. As a result, countries are beginning to place demands on investors and tighten conditions of land acquisition, which is are positive moves to make sure African communities benefit.
However, the greater opportunity may lie in developing and funding smaller scale operations, which come alongside African farmers to expand productivity. Investment needs to be made into development of technologies at this scale and helping farmers develop markets for their products. This approach will be less controversial as it tends to have tangible large scale benefit to communities at the grassroot level.
Pierre Mathijsen, President of EMRC, says African agriculture could be developed to such an extent that successful small-scale farmers emerged from all parts of the continent, returning Africa to its position thirty years ago as a net exporter of food. He pointed out that there is already sufficient funding available for African agricultural projects, but the challenge was developing a sufficient number of good, bankable projects.
The EMRC, partnering with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and other role players are coming alongside to help Africans fill this gap. These development agencies are working on the premise that since agriculture already employs over 60% of Africa’s workforce, its growth would bring sustainable job and wealth creation to the continent. These they believe can be achieved through development of sustainable public/private partnerships.
At the recent AgriBusiness Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, says African farmers can be moved from subsistence enterprises to exports, but it will take government, business, and financiers.
Focusing on small-scale farmers is really not a new strategy. Many firms from large to small understand the imperative and opportunity. An example of a large firm is Yara International, which has worked in Africa for over 30 years focused on supply inputs for farmers and capacity building for the value chain. And, Backpack Farming, a small, entrepreneurial enterprise, creates portable packs for cultivating small plots of land in East Africa.
For investors, there are three spheres from which they can benefit. First is the local demand for food. At this point, most African countries are importing their major food needs like fish, meat, milk, and corn. Locally created agricultural ventures will find opportunities here and in regional markets. And, as noted before, the growing global demand for food will be an opportunity to leverage African agricultural investments.
While there is a lot of opportunity, there are still a lot of challenges, e.g., infrastructure, for foreign and African investors and businesspeople alike. In reality, it will take ten years for many of today’s challenges to be addressed on a large-scale, but smaller, focused ventures with clusters of complementary businesses that catalyze the value chain can unleash the potential of this market much sooner.
In a bid to reduce food insecurity, the Mauritanian government is turning to several new approaches to agriculture, including expanded irrigation schemes, popularising new crops and harnessing the energy of recent graduates.
The new strategies follow a period that focused on training for smallholder farmers, the introduction of mechanisation for large-scale production, as well as guaranteeing good prices to farmers as means of ensuring a steady supply of farm produce.
Ahead of the 2011-2012 growing season in this West African country, 125 unemployed graduates were put through basic training in farming techniques. They have taken charge of 1,500 hectares of land on the M’Pourié plain, on the banks of the Senegal River not far from the southern Mauritanian city of Rosso.
Rabia Mint Zeidane, an economics graduate, is managing a field of ten hectares not far from Rosso. She’s been working here since May. Under the hot sun, far from family and friends, she spends the whole day clearing irrigation canals alongside her two labourers to ensure adequate water for her rice beds.
She declares herself determined to succeed in a domain traditionally reserved for men. Mint Zeidane told IPS that, like her counterparts, she has benefited from an agriculture training programme, access to a plot of land, a grant equivalent to roughly 1,430 dollars as well as two dairy cows.
Aside from the programme involving unemployed graduates, the authorities have also introduced wheat farming in a programme covering six of the country’s 13 regions.
The government has ambitious plans to extend the country’s irrigated acreage. Last year, not more than 20,000 hectares were irrigated, but for the season now under way, it is expected to exceed 30,000 ha, including 3,700 hectares devoted to growing rice. Wheat, vegetables and fruit will also be grown, depending on the varying characteristics of the soil.
In the capital, Nouakchott, and around Rosso and other areas, there were intensive preparations beginning in March, to make credit available, raise awareness, assess and improve access to water, and to put in place measures against potential pests.
Under pressure due to food insecurity and the rising cost of essential commodities such as rice, wheat and sugar, the government seems to be determined to make up for lost time.
Kinks in the plan
But in the fields which are already at the stage of tillage and planting, in the regions of Trarza, Brakna and Gorgol, in the south of Mauritania, all is not going as well as the producers had hoped.
Mohamed El Ghaly Ould Maayouf, who has a large field on the Rosso-Boghé road, says that the cost of production for even a single hectare of rice is very high – around 1,300 dollars, after accounting for the exorbitant costs of labour, fuel and transport.
Maayouf says he’s equally worried by the risks posed by uncertain rainfall and pests. He is particularly bitter over the spread of typha, an invasive reed which chokes irrigation canals.
He says that with stronger protection against birds and rats, as well as effective control of invasive vegetation, his yield could reach four tonnes per hectare of rice. But this, he says, would be just enough to cover his expenses, adding that only a yield above four tonnes per hectare will generate a profit on his efforts.
Daouda N’Diaye, who cultivates a field at Boghé, complains about the limited number of tractors available for tillage. Alioune Awbek, a farmer in Trarza, calls for the reactivation of a fund to support producers who suffer setbacks due to disasters during the growing season.
Salem Merrakchi, an agricultural engineer who is supervising wheat production, says the farmers who have followed the technical advice on offer can expect good results. He says he expects production of more than 3,840 tonnes of wheat from 1,882 hectares, though he stresses that some regions have proved unsuitable for the new crop.
“Difficulties linked to poor knowledge of wheat cultivation, animals wandering into fields, late preparation of plots and the absence of selective herbicides in Mauritania have held them back,” he told IPS.
Bettar Ould El Bou, director general of Crédit Agricole – an agriculture finance institution with its roots in rural savings and loan cooperatives – said that over ten years, his institution had disbursed more than 43 million dollars in loans. But not only has less than 30 percent of this money been repaid, a good part of this money has not been invested in agriculture. He said the institution has put in place reforms to better monitor the real use of its funds.
Niang Samba Demba, president of an umbrella group of cooperatives in the Gorgol region in the south of the country, said that previous efforts to introduce irrigation in the 1980s were not fully thought through. He says many farmers abandoned irrigation farming in the subsequent decade because of losses to pests, inadequate techniques for threshing wheat, and climatic uncertainties. Many farmers were left owing money, leaving them ineligible for new loans.
Demba added: “This time, we have no excuse for failure. The means are available and there is support for the programmes at the highest level. It’s a question of survival and of independence in cereal production.” He said farmers now have access to water, tractors and combine harvesters, improved seeds, quality fertilisers and technical training.
Aquaponics has become a viable and popular way for backyardies and the like to grow their own organic vegies and also have fish to eat, within a year to 18 months of setting it up. An aquaponics system is easy to get your head around; the system uses the water from a fish tank to circulate through a gravel grow bed. Nitrifying bacteria convert fish wastes into nutrients; the plants use these as their main nutrient supply. The fish also benefit, as the water is filtered by the plants, giving the fish clean water to live in. The system uses less water to grow the same amount of produce than regular agriculture methods. The plants usually grow at a greater rate and produce more crop than the conventional backyard vegie garden. I found this easy to understand diagram from http://www.grist.org/article/2010-04-05-agriculture-2.0
As Paul and I go along with this project, I will add photographs, showing how we set it up and how it is going, It seems fairly simple. I would like it to become a functional attractive part of our already existing garden; I don’t want an agricultural experiment type setup in our backyard.
This is my blogging debut. I am looking forward to sharing my insights my figments and my imagination with all who are interested. I have a ‘wild imagination’! I imagine that we can all share our knowledge and skills to empower one another on a global level. I imagine we can all acknowledge that we all have something good to contribute; that’s why we exist, after all! Cheers, and happy blogging!