Stories tagged: farmers

Farming Beyond Borders: Farmers Share Challenges and Solutions

Whilst many challenges facing Farming First’s supporters can vary from region to region, we also stand to gain much from sharing our common experiences, to identify relevant solutions. With this in mind, we recently interviewed farmers from opposite ends of the world, to find out which concerns and interventions – if any – they shared.

Beatrice Wakwabubi, a Kenyan farmer with Farm Africa’s Growing Futures initiative, and Jean Lam, a member of the National Farmers’ Union in the US, who works a no-till operation in Oklahoma, US, may seem to have little in common. But like many farmers in today’s uncertain climate, both women told Farming First that financing, rising costs and land access were their main concerns.

Beatrice called on her government to offer better financing options for smallholders to lease or buy their land, thus giving farmers greater security and incentives for investment. Jean added that as competition for land increased and farms continued to expand to remain competitive, young farmers would need low interest loans to incentivise them. Although their own experiences were vastly different, their concerns showed two sides of the same coin.

At the same time, a major challenge for Beatrice is the fertility of her soils as she diversifies and begins to grow French beans. A good way of avoiding preserving soil health is no-till farming, a practice that has already yielded results for Jean.

The scale of their farms, access to credit and markets, and environmental conditions may be greatly different. But today’s farmers also face many of the same challenges and can learn much from one another. Read the full interview with Beatrice and Jean below.

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Erik Chavez: A New Approach to Building Climate Resilient Supply Chains

In this guest blog post, Erik Chavez introduces the WINnERS project, a new initiative developing weather-index based risk services based at Imperial College London.

Did you know that more than 50% of disruptions to food and fibre supply chains are caused by storms or droughts? As extreme weather events become more severe and frequent, the challenges to operating supply chains that meet global food security needs are only expected to multiply. Demand for food, feed and fibre already outpaces supply and will only increase with population growth, rising incomes and shifts in energy resources to biofuels. Continue reading

Dennis Odera: Providing Information, The Cornerstone of Agribusiness

In this guest post, Dennis Odera, Africa Business Coordinator for WeFarm, outlines the importance of getting agricultural information to rural entrepreneurs and how WeFarm delivers on this.

At face value, food security and unemployment are words that have very little in common. If you look at the words through an agricultural lens, however, similarities start to pop up.

Africa currently has two resources that are available in abundance – land and people. With the rise in world population, there is a steady high demand for a certain commodity – food. How then can Africa make the most out of its abundant resources to fulfil a world need? Continue reading

“Let us Choose What Works for our Farms,” Say Farmers about the Tools and Technologies Needed to Tackle Climate Change

At last week’s World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, a panel of five farmers from four continents discussed how they are responding to the challenges which global climate change will pose to their farms. (Read the Reuters Alertnet coverage of the event here; see the full event programme and video here.)

The panel was chaired by Julie Borlaug, granddaughter of the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, who said in her opening remarks, “If there was any panel that my grandfather would be most interested to attend, this would be it”. Dr Borlaug was the main catalyst in launching the green revolution in the mid-20th century.

Coming from Africa, South Asia, Latin America and Europe, the five farmer panelists all discussed the ways in which more erratic and extreme weather as a result of climate change is affecting them and the need for new approaches to farming.

santiago del solar

Santiago del Solar, an Argentinian farmer, illustrated this by discussing recent rainfall on his farm over the past decade. “There’s no such thing as average rainfall,” he said, referring to the wide variation he is seeing from year to year. “In 2009, we received only 672 millimetres of rain – a big drought,” he said, “but in 2012, we received 1451 millimetres, a big flood.” In response to this and other challenges, he mitigates this and other impacts by using no till agriculture, crop rotation, GM seeds, crop protection products and precision agriculture. No till practices alone, helped him save 33% in fossil fuel use and reduce soil erosion by 70%.

gabriela cruzMeanwhile, the expectations being put on farmers by governments are increasing, said Gabriela Cruz, a fourth generation Portuguese farmer. “What does Europe expect of me?” Cruz asked herself in her presentation. “To be a superwoman” she said, “by producing safe food and reducing water and energy consumption while remaining profitable.” With Europe expected to experience even more drought and heatwaves in the future, Cruz has responded by changing her irrigation system (from flooding to centre pivot), practicing Integrated Pest Management (IPM), rotating crops and maintaining biodiverse pastures.  However, to reduce her water consumption further, Cruz called on Europe to improve access to better genetics through GM crops, which will enable her to reduce inputs further and better adapt to a drier climate.

vkravichandranEach farmer had his own story to tell and a unique set of responses which worked for their farm. But across the panel, each farmer called for the ability to choose for himself the range of solutions which worked for them and their farms. “Our farmers created history [during the Green Revolution] by transforming India into a self-sustaining agricultural nation, but we still face challenges”, said Indian farmer V.K. Ravichandran. He mentioned shrinking arable land area, depleting water resources, erratic rainfall and lack of young people becoming farmers, among others. “We should look into the possibility of cultivating other types of crops, different than conventional ones, that would fit into the new environment,” he said.

dyborn chibongaDyborn Chibonga, who heads the National Association of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi (NASFAM), reiterated this view. “Our farmers take farming as a business,” Chibonga said, “but they are still not producing as much as they should from any given area of land” because they are dependent on rainfed agriculture, shorter duration of growing season, more droughts and floods, resurgence of pests, weeds and diseases and lack of access to processing and markets.  He also argued for further innovation to be identified and rigorously tested – “new technologies such as genetic modification, cloned livestock or nanotechnology”– while also ensuring “open and transparent decision-making” and “respect[ing] the views of people who take a contrary view”.

gilbert arap borA farmer from nearby Kenya, Gilbert Arap Bor, discussed the state of agriculture in his country: only 20% arable land, a population often food insecure and frequent need for food imports from other countries.  He argued that farmers need to use technology to diversify their crops and organize themselves better to adapt collectively to the changing climate.  Bor also noted that the Kenyan government had set up a task force to perform a biosafety review of GM crops to be grown and imported in Kenya, based on a review of recent field trials.  He is optimistic he will soon have access to the technology

During the question period, the Tanzanian Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food Security observed that the issue of whether African countries allow GM crops is no longer about science but about political will.  And he said that European activism was influencing how African policies were being written because of the fear of losing Europe as an export market (only four African countries currently allow the growing of biotech crops).

Watch our World Food Prize video compiling the views of the five farmers from this panel and others attending the World Food Prize:

The farmer panel event was part of a three-day series of panel debates at the World Food Prize, broad centred around the theme “Biotechnology, Sustainability and Climate Volatility”. Other speakers included Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister, President Grímsson of Iceland and

Cardinal Turkson of Ghana who has served as the President of the Roman Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace since 2009.

The dialogue was held in conjunction with the World Food Prize Laureate Ceremony, where three leading plant biotechnologists were honoured: Dr. Marc Van Montagu, Dr. Mary Dell-Chilton and Dr. Robert Fraley.

Effectively harnessing the tools and technologies needed to advance sustainable and productive agricultural practices is one of the great 21st century challenges, and it will span the scientific spectrum from research, education, extension and enterprise.

TV show is ‘shaping-up’ Kenya’s farms and rural livelihoods

Shamba Shape-Up is a new reality TV programme in Kenya that visits shambas (Swahili for small farms) across the country and aims to give both farmer and audience the tools they need to improve productivity and income on their farms.

The programme, hosted by African actor Tonny Njuguna and Naomi Kamau, focuses on increasing farmers crop productivity by providing expert advice on livestock, crops, soil fertility and storage. Typically the film crew will spend 4 days with one household, allowing enough time to build any improvement structures and invite the experts in to offer advice.  Experts include veterinarians, soil analysts and specific crop specialists from partnering companies in Kenya.

In the first episode the Shape-Up team visit George Mungai’s farm. George has a variety of problems from low yielding potato crops to a lack of light for his children’s study. Dr Jane Ininda, a Crop Improvement Officer at AGRA, visits the farm and suggests that George changes the seeds he uses to adapt to the increasing amount of drought in the area. The seeds Dr. Ininda gives George offer a much shorter maturing time, enabling George to access the food in five months instead of seven.

The farm is then ‘shaped up’ by providing George with fertilisers and improved storage facilities which help decrease crop waste and enhance food production. George’s family is also provided with solar powered lights. As Paul Njuguna,  Brand Manager of D.light explains:

For reading, ordinary kerosene lamps are not bright enough. Their eyes will deteriorate in the long term and they will tire very quickly

But the helpful tips don’t just benefit George and his family, throughout the programme viewers are encouraged to access all the information and advice via text message – an innovative method of educating Smallholder farmers across Kenya.

David Campbell, the show’s creator and director, comments on the shows innovative approach to informing farmers:

We have a potential 5.6 million rural audience but there is no agricultural information on TV. We want to establish a series that gives farmers information in an educational and entertaining way.

The show partners with many of the global leaders on effective and sustainable farming such as AGRA, Syngenta and IFDC. These organisations are often desperate to spread the simple advice that could increase agricultural yields and Shamba Shape-Up offers them an ideal platform to reach their intended audience in an informative, yet entertaining, manner.

From the show’s viewing figures it is evident that this entertaining programme is an effective way of reaching Africa’s Smallholder farmers. Shamba Shape Up’s estimated audience in the first series was around 7 million, with this number rising to 11 million by the end of series 3. As the show’s organisers explain:

If even just 10% of the viewers of series one adopt new practices as a result of the show, that’s 700,000 farmers who’s sustainable livelihoods have become more informed and productive.

All the episodes can be viewed online:

For more information about the show visit:

Digital Green: Agricultural Extension Goes Viral in India

Agriculture accounts for between 50-60% of the workforce in India. India is also the country that dedicates the second largest workforce to agriculture extension, employing more than 100,000 people to share knowledge on best agricultural practice.

Yet several barriers have hindered adoption of best practice in India, from illiteracy levels in rural communities, to lack of access to cost-effective technology and the limited mobility of extension agents. In 2006, US born Rikin Gandhi set up an organisation that would significantly break down these barriers for the first time. Six years later, his platform Digital Green has reached nearly 118,000 Indian farmers.

“We like to say that Digital Green is essentially American Idol for Indian farmers”, Rikin smiles. This means that Indian farmers are coached to ‘star’ in their own videos that demonstrate an agricultural practice that is relevant to their local area, in their local language. These videos are then shared, by the numerous extension agencies that Digital Green partners with. The extension agents use a low-cost, battery operated pico projector, that is able to work in areas with limited electricity. Since the programme’s inception in 2006, over 2,000 videos have been produced.

“The aim is to improve the efficiency of the existing extension agencies that we partner with”, Rikin comments. Digital Green now works in six states in India, across 1200 villages, reaching well over 100,000 farmers. Video content produced varies greatly, given that the challenges that face farmers across India vary with each region. Rikin commented that the most popular video on Digital Green is one teaching farmers about the cultivation of Azolla. Azolla is an aquatic fern that when fed to cattle can boost their milk production by up to one litre. “This practice started off in one corner of a state we worked in about six years ago, and now we see it all across the six states we work in.”

This example video demonstrates the key aspects of all Digital Green videos. Videos are recorded in local languages and dialects, making them easy to understand, and local farmers are the ‘actors’, meaning they are by farmers, for farmers, of farmers. The reconnection with local communities is the defining feature of this extension model; as the farmers that watch the videos feel inspired by fellow farmers in similar circumstances. Statistics available on the Digital Green website are testament to the success of this model, showing that of the farmers adopting new agricultural practices, over half had seen a Digital Green video in the last 60 days.

The Digital Green revolution is growing, with an average of 80 videos shown to farmers daily. To find out more, visit, or follow @digitalgreenorg on Twitter.