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Re-imagining a farmer: Is helping  approach really  working?

Re-imagining a farmer: Is helping approach really working?

ANY farmer in the world – be him small, medium or large scale farmer – forms the nucleus of the entire agricultural value chain. He has gotten the capacity to make products worth consuming or not.

The fact that many of them don’t know this power that lies in them is in no way making this truth inexistent. Even in countries in which plantations owners dominate the production base, still, they call for shots in multiple dimensions.

Factors like uniformity, taste, cleanliness play a bigger role in determining whether any of our products can be sold at a premium price in major markets like Dar es Salaam, Arusha and Dodoma or they can even penetrate lucrative markets in Europe or America.

Interestingly, all these depend on whether a farmer can adhere to Good Agronomic Practices or end up mixing up different seeds during planting which ultimately leads to produce that is with mixed colours and probably with weevils in it. This is the reason why today’s essay will try to take a center stage on this very important component, the farmers.

Currently, our annual maize production is in the region of 5.8 million tons per annum.

Before the turning of the millennium, our production was around 3 million tons per year. What brought about this increment was large because of re-introduction of the National Agricultural Input Voucher Scheme (NAIVS) that was meant to help out the small scale farmers with subsidized seeds and (or) chemical fertilizers.

This scheme has been working in tandem with so many programmes launched by multiple stakeholders – mostly foreign ones – with a promise of bringing about the African Green Revolution after being inspired by the Asian Green Revolution.

The conflicting incidence is the fact that these programmes have been hard leaving behind the intended sustainable outcomes. An experience by Sasakawa Global 2000 – a development organisation founded by Japanese Industrialist Ryoichi Sasakawa and Norman Borlaug – is an eye-opening one most especially to anyone in need of learning the African experience.

Sasakawa Global 2000 revealed that many of the farmers in Ghana – a country which this organisation operated – who were beneficiaries of hybrid seeds, cheap credits, among other benefits offered by the organisation’s programme, couldn’t continue with the practice of using hybrid seeds after the programme ended, surprisingly resorted to old ways of applying traditional seeds.

The Ghanaian story is very common to Tanzania and so many other African countries, which gives birth to a one billion shillings question, is the helping approach really working? The common mindset that drives designers of several interventions in Africa is the assumption that “farmers don’t have answers to their problems”.

While it is agreeable that in the view of professionalism many farmers are not scientists or at least expected to be ones, an indelible advantage that they have arguably over anyone in the value chain is that they know their environment so well and that they usually take measures to solve them albeit in rudimentary ways.

In Ghana, when the Sasakawa Global 2000 farmers were asked to tell the reason behind their decision to return to normalcy they didn’t mince their words by telling that those hybrid seeds couldn’t adapt to erratic rainfall, shortening growing seasons and drier, less fertile soils, Alex Park and Siera Vercillo reported in their article published in Aljazeera website recently. In other words, local seeds that they reverted to were able to thrive in that environment.

This Doctor-Patient model appears not to work in this sector. Time has come when even the seed developers, start cultivating a culture of not only inquiring about the challenges that farmers are experiencing in their activities but also build on literal “traditional solutions” that farmers have been developing since time immemorial. Some accounts show that many of the inventions in the sector like plough and others were developed by slaves who used to work in plantations. Some slaves came up with sewing machines to help to ease their master’s works.

There are no records that these were in any way professionals in the language we understand today. Even an increment in production that so many African countries reports, including the one we mentioned earlier on Tanzania’s increment since the turn of the new millennium, is largely due to land expansion and not due to increase in productivity which usually feeds on technology application.

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Mwandishi: Zirack Andrew

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