The future of farming
“Agricultural productivity is one of the most basic things that can help the poor move to a more prosperous life,” Bill Gates stated in a new video released to coincide with Earth Day (April 22). In The Future of Farming Gates showcases ways in which technology, new techniques, and the transfer of technical knowledge can transform farming even in the world’s poorest countries.
Technology is transforming farming throughout the world – and as part of this movement forward, Canadian Feed The Children (CFTC) works to help smallholder farmers move towards greater prosperity. In CFTC’s CHANGE, RESULT and MILEAR projects – food security and agricultural development projects in Ghana and Ethiopia – innovative tactics to increase yields for farmers have been a keen focus.
“There’s no doubt that a combination of better seeds and better inputs, including fertilizer, can raise African agricultural productivity,” Gates explains.
Introducing drought resistant seeds, fertilizer, and other techniques like proper plant spacing and planting in rows, have helped the farmers CFTC supports triple and quadruple their yields. In places like drought-ridden Ethiopia, CFTC has also constructed irrigation systems that have helped bring water to regions most affected by extreme dry conditions. In total, over 21,000 farmers received seeds, tools, plants and other farming basics from CFTC in 2015.
Gates says that technology “is like a lifeline to all of the expertise that is out there.” Cellphones, computers and radio can all be sources of critical information for farming like weather forecasting and learning of market prices.
In a partnership with Farm Radio International, the CHANGE project connected farmers in northern Ghana with information systems through radio broadcasts and shared radio listening groups. Smallholder farmers were able to learn weather forecasts, hear about tips and techniques to increase yields, and work together to solve problems.
And while growing more food is critical – particularly in places facing extreme drought like Ethiopia – CFTC knows that additional support and work is required to empower women farmers, create market linkages, and work within a climate change adaptation framework to truly fight food insecurity.
3 ways CFTC is taking the future of farming one step further:
- Empowering women farmers
Building sustainable and improved livelihoods for farmers is dependent on strengthening women’s economic empowerment and leadership. CFTC’s food security development projects include a specific focus on the constraints that prevent women from participating in farm-based economic development activities, and support women’s self-empowerment to contribute to improved food security.
Projects target female-headed households and women in male-headed households to ensure that women are adequately represented in project activities and outcomes. Special attention is given to the equitable participation of women and men in the management of assets and project guidelines ensure that assets are assigned jointly between men and women, or to women alone.
With more women finding their voices and actively participating in matters affecting their family and larger community, their quality of life is enhanced.
2. Market linkages
It is not enough to just grow more food – in order for farmers to lift their families out of poverty they must know how to grow high-value crops that are in demand by the markets, and they must have access to those markets. CFTC works to increase farmers’ market access through training and by using demonstration plots to teach farmers how to grow in-demand crops using inputs like fertilizer.
When farmers can move beyond subsistence farming – that is, eating only what they grow in their fields – and move to agriculture and alternative incomes linked to markets, families are able to earn an income and afford food for their children year-round.
3. Climate change adaptation
The effects of climate change are hitting countries that depend on farming for food and income hard. In many of the communities in which we work around the world, unprecedented changes in rainfall patterns have created extreme weather conditions – extended periods of drought following by intense rainfall on desertified land that destroys crops.
Farmers can no longer rely on traditional farming knowledge passed down by generations because the environment that they must farm in has changed. CFTC integrates climate adaptation training into food security programs so farmers can learn climate-smart practices like mulching, ploughing plant material back into the soil, mixed cropping, and using animal manure as compost. These soil conservation measures, in combination with new techniques for water conservation and irrigation, reduce the likelihood of total crop failure even if the rains are late.
Ninety two per cent of farmers involved in the CHANGE project in northern Ghana reported their knowledge in climate adaptation measures had increased as a result of CFTC-supported training.
CFTC has been encouraged by the transformation of the communities we work in – farmers who have benefited from our programs have become more resilient and better able to feed their families despite the barriers they face. As part of the international community moving towards the future of farming CFTC will continue to respond to challenges through innovation and emerging best practices.