DEVELOPMENT OF MODEL FARMS IN SUB SAHARAN AFRICA AND LAUNCHING OF AN APP TO HARMONISE FARMING PRACTICE
Africa has continuously produced sufficient food but is constantly faced with food hunger, diminishing interest in agriculture, wastage of agricultural produce. Several techniques have been proposed to curtail this trend such as use of modified seedlings for planting; the absolute reliance on Internet of Things for farm management, 3D printing for preservation, and so on. However, these techniques if implemented in isolation may not be successful due to the prevalent low level of education and poor maintenance culture of the average African farmer. To a large extent the problems associated with agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa are tied to infrastructural deficit such as bad roads and unreliable power supply for food preservation and also Communication Gap. The little advancements made and more ways of improving farming practices to maximize production yield and minimize wastage and effort are not properly communicated to farmers.
A comprehensive way to address this communication gap and by extension food insufficiency, poor returns for farmers, gender inequality would involve 2 major projects aimed at teaching and demonstration.
Establishment of Model Plantations
Use of an app THE FARM APP
Other indirect ways to address it include provision of basic infrastructure such as renewable and cheap power, quick and convenient transport system for crops.
ESTABLISHMENT OF MODEL FARMS
The model farms can be established in all the agro-climatic areas of sub-Saharan Africa. The essence of having these farms in place is so that all farmers can have a reference point from which to hone their skills as well as get practical training on a regular basis. These will serve as the hub of agricultural extension workers, testing facility for any agro based innovation, research into improved agricultural practices. These farms will be a likened to an agricultural institute where agricultural research, recycling and packaging take place. Such models will have a cash crop plantation (e.g. palm, cocoa), a food crop plantation (e.g. cassava, tomato), a plantation for fruits (mangoes, oranges), a ranch for animals and an aquarium for fish.
In these farms, viable seeds will be sown, monitored, irrigated till maturity using improved agricultural practices. Biochar which has been proven to enhance soil retention of nutrients and water as well as other IoT approach to agriculture can be implemented on these model farms. All techniques to guage the soil water retention rate, soil nutrient content, acidity, etc that are necessary for a good harvest will be monitored regularly on such farms. All findings and recommendations from this will be executed in the farm and communicated to other subsistent farmers through The Farm App (discussed in the later part of this write up). Also any research findings made on this can be disseminated to farmers.
It is also on this farm that recycling of waste products as well as packaging of finished products will take place. Waste products such as chaff and animal dung can be processed into organic manures (which are safer than chemical fertilizer) and biochar (which retains soil water and nutrient thereby increasing yield while minimizing effort and ground water utilization). Standard packaging of grains like corn and beans can be carried out on these farms too.
Another plague in agriculture is wastage during post harvest handling. Many food materials (in Nigeria for instance, like tomatoes, peppers, fruits and vegetables) get spoilt before they get into the market. Then they get thrown away. 3D printing may have been a good alternative to this phenomenon but it would not be sustainable in Africa yet. It therefore behooves the model farms to adapt local methods of preservation and standard packaging to store away the affected crops. Other organic byproducts can be sourced from the market places and farm premises then recycled into organic fertilizers and biochar for improved agricultural practices. Education of the farmers and market women (traders) involved and commercialization of this system can ensure sustainability. If the process of obtaining these wastes is commercialized, more farmers will be willing to participate. The agricultural value chain willing be increased and environmental pollution in the urban areas will be reduced drastically.
A very big challenge facing the poor rural subsistent farmer in sub-Saharan Africa is insecurity. This is usually posed by fellow farmers specifically the Fulani herdsmen. This group has destroyed lives and farms in order to secure feeding ground for cattle. Only the establishment of model farms will make it obvious to such groups that pastoral farming is not as economical as ranching. Pastoral farmers can learn by formal teaching or observation on such model farms. The resultant effect is that the ranched animals get fatter; more farmers return to their farms; fewer crops are destroyed.
THE FARM APP
This is a proposed app that will be used to share information between stakeholders in agriculture and the rural farmers. The app is expected be country specific and to connect: all farmers in a particular climatic environment, national bureaus of statistic, agricultural scientists and experts, weather forecasters.
By default categories in the App will require the farmer to select geographical area, Crop of Interest, then area of interest such as: Planting, Pest/Weed Control, Harvesting, Processing, Packaging, and Available Markets. For animal husbandry, selection sequence would be Geographical Area, Animal of Interest, then areas of interest such as Breeding, Nursery, Growing, Routine Vaccines, Disease Management, Local Abattoirs, Processing, Packaging and Available Markets. For the purpose of this write up, the focus would be on plant production.
The app would serve as a guide to farmers on improved agricultural practices. It would mirror and narrow down all activities carried out on the model farms as is applicable to a small scale farmer.
Climate change has affected planting and harvesting seasons. It has also affected the viability of certain soils for growing certain crops. Some farmers do not know this and have not adapted to the trend. Agricultural scientists who monitor these trends can communicate their findings and recommendations more effectively using such a platform. In some cases, whole farm lands are covered in flood. The Farm App can minimize such an occurrence by linking weather forecasters and the farmers. It is also important to note that break outs of certain diseases can be announced and mitigated using this platform.
MERGING THE FARM APP AND THE MODEL FARMS
The model farms will serve as large practical reference points for any improved agricultural practices and can be assessable to all farmers. Cooperative societies, especially those that comprise women, would be given access to these model farms where they can learn by observation and direct mentoring all the improved practices that boost food availability. Most of the existing farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are old and uneducated. They would not be quick to adapt to IT innovations but can easily observe and learn techniques that work. The model farms will also boost utilization of agricultural inputs, reduce unemployment, and act as excursion points for people who want to improve their knowledge of agriculture. Initially, these farms will be heavily dependent on governments to stand but they can be self reliant if properly managed. Harnessing biochar in such plantations can also generate cheap renewable energy without releasing green house gases that damage the atmosphere.
On the other hand, The Farm App will address farmers individually. This application will also make any type of agriculture appealing and simplified. It will also help stake holders in the industry to gather information such as: disease outbreak and incidence of pests. The platform can be used to disseminate information relating to availability of improved seedlings, suitability of the weather for farming certain crops, impeding disasters like flood with recommendations made. Farmers too can have access to information from virtual agricultural extension workers on the different stages of their production, how to minimize wastage and available markets to sell off their produce while bypassing middle men.
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