Most of the agriculture in Sub Saharan Africa is by smaller holder farmers. Despite having wide knowledge and experience, harvests continue to dwindle every other season and as such famine and hunger remain widespread. The one-million-dollar question is “Why are commercial firms which operate monocrop farms year in year out having higher productivity per unit area, compared to smaller holder farmers in rural settings”. Farmers have invested in buying common fertilizers as CAN, DAP, Urea for application but these efforts have not been able to yield fruitful efforts. Over 90% of smaller holder farmers in Sub Saharan Africa harvest too little that at best, their families can only afford to eat one meal a day, and at worst are cases of chronic malnutrition, endemic hunger, wasting, stunting and death due to hunger-a grim but stack of realities happening annually in most parts of the region.
After through analysis working with farmers, and undertaking a painstaking evidence-based research, we got to understand it’s not poor-quality seeds grown, or even little farming knowledge, emerging pests or diseases as claimed or even lack of modern agricultural mechanization techniques as tractors. The challenge is farmers do not know the soil composition in terms of present nutrients, relevant fertilizers to be applied or which crops are best suited for their soils. As such they continue to grow the same crops every other season despite dismal harvests and care less about what actual problem could be causing this challenge. This is attributed to the fact that several thousands of smaller holder farmers in any nearby setting have poor yields so term it a general problem. This imposes a glass ceiling and limits the capacity of a local farmer to think that s/he can harvest much more yields if they only went an extra mile of identifying which crops and fertilizers are best suited for their gardens. So, they keep growing crops anyhow because it’s what everyone is growing and keep in the vicious cycle of poor harvests, chronic hunger and endemic malnutrition.
Realizing this, few soil laboratories have opened up but remain unreasonably expensive as they are private businesses with sole aim of profit making. Therefore, these soil laboratories can be of importance to only large commercial firms who can afford their exorbitant bills for analysis of nutrients in soil samples and making fertilizer recommendations. Smaller holder farmers are among the poorest of the poor, thus cannot afford such services, much as the soil laboratories are in place, a local farmer would rather move in straight to a shop to buy Urea fertilizer than first test his soil for the soil nutrient that is deficient, in the name of “cutting costs”. In the long run, this farmer incurs a high operational cost, yet continues to get lower yields, because, he did not solve the actual problem, he only attempted to solve a symptom, and caused more suicide.
Having looked into such plight facing smaller holder farmers, and given food security is UN priority goal SDG2, and as well partly linked to SDG6 on health and wellbeing, we have designed a model that will end this challenge and improve crop yields as farmers will be able to know and plant the right crops for the right soils, know which nutrients are deficient and in what quantities and thus apply the right fertilizers and in the right amounts.
The private laboratories are mainly located in city centers, yet farmers who are meant to be served are in rural and remote settings of the country. This is a factor we have considered and will thus take it into keen consideration, as we intend to pilot our model in one of the remotest districts in the country. Having successful piloted, we intend to scale up and make a nation-wide coverage because agriculture is a major backbone of Uganda’s economy, which if well practiced will make an economic turnaround.
In this model, we aim to establish soil testing laboratories say one in every district, collect soil samples from village level for interested farmers. This means if around 20 farmers are in a close area, we can just charge them for one sample to reduce costs burden as we assume the nutrients in there will be similar across, thus they will benefit from shared economies of scale that reduce cost burden per individual farmer. We shall then transport the soil samples to our laboratories, analyze them, and recommend which crops to be grown or fertilizers to be applied.
Our organization is a not for profit organization, thus will not be profit motive focused, but how we can create positive impact, solve farmer challenges and improve livelihoods. As you may be well aware, it is almost next to impossible for a smaller holder farmer to raise money required for inputs as fertilizers, soil testing, pesticides, quality seeds, irrigation equipment for dry areas, green houses for crops fit for indoor gardening. As a non-profit social enterprise venture, we are committed to partner with suppliers of these equipment as fertilizers, pesticides, sprayers, green houses, irrigation systems and provide them and we pay them on behalf of our client farmers. The total loan per farmer will then be calculated and this farmer can be given between 3 months to 12 months to clear back the loan (In monetary terms) without incurring burden of paying lumpsum at once. If in any situation, a farmer has little income, we can allow them harvest, sell and clear according to their capacity, while leaving them with enough for food and other home necessities.
Soil tests will avail the right information that farmers have been deprived and lacking for long, which will enable them to harvest better yields that they have not harvested before and thus it will be only through this that the huge economic potential buried in the soil can be utilized if we have the right information on available nutrients and suitable crops. Soil sample analysis is right way for the right crops and enough food. This milestone will enable us to transform the hidden soil potential into an agricultural green revolution above the ground.
These farmer repayments will enable us to meet the costs of our day to day operating expenses to be sustainable. We shall keep fundraising and seeking grants and donations to help us scale up until we can serve over 1,000,000 smaller holder farmers. For our pilot program, we are set to pilot with around 300-500 farmers for the first one year.
We are mainly moved by the fact that by 2100, the current population is expected to have more than doubled, while food production is expected to have reduced by 60%. With such competing land uses for urbanization, industrialization, population explosion, initiatives that increase land productivity for the right crops, and supporting smaller holder farmers who custodians of the food basket is probably the answer to the question of “food insecurity”; or if not, it points a finger in the right direction-a simple compass at best.