Many people and communities around the world still produce their own food or derive their income from agriculture practices- read our introduction (Are Agriculture Strategies still Relevant?) for more information. It is common for families to grow their food and produce a lot of the goods they need (fiber for clothing, wood for building materials, etc.). They find ways to produce food to eat and then the “extras” are sold for cash to purchase non-farm items or bartered for the said items.
As community development practitioners, there are several ways we can help family farms worldwide.
- Small but sustainable increases in the food they already produce. These options don’t introduce a big change to their system but bump up production for a little more food and potentially more income to the family:
- Find locally available soil fertility enhancers. Introduce natural or organic options that are available locally such as animal manures, use of nitrogen-fixing plant biomass, simple composting, rotation of crops, etc.
- Improve plant selection, increase the plant varieties farmers are already using, or introduce some simple pest and disease control.
- Introduction of new and improved varieties. This method is a little more risky. It introduces improved varieties of things they are already growing or even new types of plants.
- The ideal is to make sure the introduced plants are open-pollinated (e.g. easily reproducible on the farm) and not a hybrid that would force farmers to annually have to buy seed from a seed producer.
- This method is often combined with a seed production and improvement course that helps farmers continue to improve their germplasm over the years.
- Introduction of new cash crops that could occupy unused areas. If food and income basic needs are being met, sometimes an additional cash crop might be a next step. This moves from a subsistence form of agriculture to a small-farm agribusiness. It is another step up in risk level for vulnerable farm families but can be a good option as the farm family progresses in development. These new crops might include:
- fruit tree species
- forestry tree for local construction or selling
- a plant that has potential cash generating potential
- Introduction of new technologies that increase production per unit and ability to produce on more acreage. Some examples are:
- Introduction of mechanical solutions to reduce labor time per production such as a mechanical corn planter instead of planting by hand. This allows more to be produced and thus more food/income available.
- Systems that intensify production on smaller units with higher potential income. For example, mushroom production that takes up a relatively small area but requires technology know how and inputs.
I hope you grasp the fact that as you move down these options, we see an increase in potential production (food and income) but an accompanying risk increase as well. My experience has been that most subsistence/poorer farmers are not adverse to change; they are, however, cautious when there is a risk factor involved to their traditional, proven ways of survival. The easier to adopt changes are usually the low-risk, lower production bump. But they are generally more palatable to the farmer/farm family.
Next time on the blog, we learn why animals are great!