Feeding a growing population – Panel Discussion 23rd October 2012

 

Rural agricultural worker preparing land for planting in Brazil Sertão

 

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Tanzania panel discussion “Feeding a growing population: the essential contribution of agriculture in Tanzania” on 23rd October proved to be an interesting evening, and made me think back to my time in Brazil. The small family farmer has a central role to play in the future of agriculture. Much is being done to support small scale farmers in Brazil, as my experiences earlier this year showed me. Tonight I found out more about the situation in Tanzania, and the question of the future once again played on my mind – how to encourage young people to follow in their parents’ footsteps?

It proved to be a very interesting evening with varied speakers. It gave a good overview of the situation, some interesting opinions, and left much food for thought after the event.

The agriculture focus

The first speaker was Dr Andrew Coulson, an agricultural economist and author, who gave a comprehensive description of the agricultural conditions in Tanzania, highlighting the problems faced by Tanzanian farmers, such as poor, sandy soil, periodic droughts or water shortage – whilst recognising that plants and trees grow quickly in this part of the world.

He then went on to talk about the methods that small scale farmers in the region, as in other parts of the world, have developed to overcome these difficulties – methods such as fallow periods, ridges, multiple cropping, the use of multiple small plots, and seed selection for taste and drought resistance, not just yield.  He also made an important point about the dangers of tractor tilling – with soils that are common in Tanzania, generally the hoe and the ox-plough maintain the nutrients of the soil nearer the top of the soil, whereas the tractor overdoes this, causing nutrients to be lost too deep in the soil.

Small family farming

All four of the speakers had something to say about the need for both small family farms, alongside larger scale farms, though each had a slightly different emphasis. As described by Andrew, the characteristics of small family farms are that they incorporate the whole family, they respond to changes in the market, they are careful about risks, they are mixed (i.e. they will both grow crops and rear animals), and they are innovative. Large farms on the other hand allow for the production, processing and packaging to be carried out in a production line approach, more easily and efficiently than by a small scale farmer completing each as a separate process.

Monique Mikhail, Sustainable Agriculture Policy Adviser for Oxfam, involved in their GROW campaign, was also very much in favour of stimulating agriculture on a small, family farm scale, using private investors. A big argument for this is to give people a step up out of poverty. For this people need land rights, and women, being the primary people involved in small scale agriculture, but also the most marginalised, can be supported through this method too. An example that Monique gave was one of Oxfam’s projects in which they focused on small scale chicken rearing. This was chosen partially because chickens are cheap, require little space, and because most small scale farmers already keep chickens. They are also usually a woman’s responsibility, which gives women some control over the money received for raising poultry.
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Through training and support, people involved in the programme have been able to develop economically viable enterprises from raising poultry. Both men and women have been able to raise their prices as a result, as well as gaining skills in basic literary and numeracy which allows them to keep track of their business. Through increased production, the family intake of meat and eggs, important sources of protein, also increased. This is another important aspect of successful small scale farming – improved nutrition for low income families.

“Outgrowers”

The use of “outgrowers”, or contract farming, is a middle ground between the small scale and large scale. This arrangement can be very successful, but needs to be approached with caution as small scale farmers are vulnerable to exploitation. This method of farming was particularly supported by Daniel Hulls, Director of AgDevCo, as the future for feeding a growing population . He argued that whilst it is important to have a plurality of approaches, the use of outgrowers is essential for Tanzania to meet its food needs in the future because of the scales of food required, and also economies of scale in irrigation and storage. His company provides capital to existing and new SMEs in agricultural sector, to facilitate the growth and viability of their business and to help them enter into the value chain, which as isolated small scale farmers may be more complicated.

Cassava: Adding Value for Africa

Finally, Professor Andrew Westby spoke about a project on which he has been collaborating, C:AVA (Cassava: Adding Value for Africa).This project focused on what people should be growing, and how to encourage the growing of different crops. Currently in Tanzania wheat is a crop whose production is shooting through the roof. This needs to be treated with caution due to its vulnerability to weather changes amongst other things. Cassava on the other hand is drought resistant, can be harvested in stages and requires little input. The aim of the project was to look into ways in which high quality cassava flour could be marketed and incorporated to replace wheat flour. This involved small scale farmers, who would plant and harvest the crop, perhaps start the processing of the cassava into flour. The flour would then be taken by an intermediary to finish processing and finally be sent to a bakery as a wheat replacement.

What about education?

As well as the speakers today, members of the audience also raised interesting points. Problems of urban demand were mentioned, as well as the future of pastoral traditions in Tanzania. A point that I feel is vital to note is the importance of education. Something that I found in Brazil was that the education system is not geared up for children who come from agricultural families. The school year makes no allowances for when children or young people may have to go and help with harvesting, or planting, or any other agricultural activity.

There is no provision for agricultural training at a typical school and it only prepares people for city, or town, life, which results in young people feeling that agriculture is a dead end, not something to base their future on. And so they end up migrating to towns and cities, abandoning the land that their parents work. A sign of this  attitude towards family agriculture is the fact that tried and tested ways which work – the importance of the use of hoes and not tractors for tilling land, for example – can be seen as outdated, when it is actually more beneficial to the land. There is a danger of thinking everything that is newer is better.

If we want to encourage small family farms then this is a trend that we have to reverse, or change. In Brazil, the organisation I worked with, CECOR, did a lot of work with young people in rural areas to get them involved in their environment, not just through agriculture, but through other enterprises such as creating artisanal products, and involving them in cultural events. All of this helps them to be proud of their heritage and allow them to make a choice. So they can make – and believe they can make a future out of agriculture if they choose to do so.

 

 

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