19 November 2008

Existence Farming

This morning while cycling with Elmo, Beauty and Merel to the primary school MICS, the air was full of noises of people working in the fields. Men cheered their oxen pulling the plough, and children joined their mothers and grand mothers in working with the how in the fields. Holes are being made, seeds are dropped, holes are covered and prayers go up for good rains and affordable fertiliser.

Yesterday afternoon the first good rainstorm hit Macha. And thus today people plow and plant. Last week we brought 1,200 kg of seed maize for the workers at Building Activities from Choma to Macha. Then all was still very, very dry. Today looks different, with muddy paths and messy roads. One big rain storm makes all the difference. People working in the fields, quickly doing their work in the fields from sunrise till going to work in the hospital, the schools or the mainy works at Macha. Any piece of land is being used.

The encyclopedia defines: "Susistence Farming: form of farming in which nearly all of the crops or livestock raised are used to maintain the farmer and his family, leaving little, if any, surplus for sale or trade." We might have to define 'Existence Farming' too.

This morning I turfed at least four power outages of the electricity grid, and electricity is gone since 05.45 hours. I am writing this blog while on generator. There are no banking facilities in Macha, and business loans are not readily available for people in tribal lands like Macha - hardly for anybody in Zambia actually. Heavy machinery and other production assets can only be bought in major towns, hundreds of kilometers away from Macha. Fuel and other consumables are not readily available. Most supplies needs 'imports' from other clusters of activities like towns. And transport is hardly available, and if so very expensive. So much for technology.

On the other side, the perils of the economic trouble in the world are hardly known to people in Macha; Its effects noticed only when taking a long term view on the future, which is not something kin to the local culture. It is all going by as an iceberg in the far distance. An analogy is climate change; Africa is the region where the impacts of climate change on agriculture are predicted to be the most severe. Well, a few in rural Africa know, will observe, and try to play part in preparing. Hopefully we become empowered to be through it all and be part of a solution.

About 20 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP is generated by agriculture. In many countries, agriculture is the main source of employment. Our next chiefdom Chikanta, with very poor infrastructure, no electricity what so ever, and even being further away from centers of activity, is reknown in Zambia for its production of maize, yes, maize for sale also!

Unfortunately, food production in most of sub-Saharan Africa has not kept
pace with the population increase over the past four decades. Lack of access to markets constitutes a binding constraint to the agricultural sector in most of the continent. [Source: United Nations report "Trends in Sustainable Development, Africa Report 2008-2009"]. Previously harvested maize produced the seeds for next year, now we need to buy genetically modified seed and thus have cash at hand. One has to evade this gloom picture and continuously go farward.

Well, this day people are planting again, in fields that were used by their ancestors and their ancestors. Given by the chief to the family in the oral tradition of the land. When we will be blessed with good rains, then we will harvest, and eat. Whatever happens or not happens with the electricity, heavy machinery, bank loans, buildings, and fuel, we will eat and live. Thus, there we go: early morning, digging and planting. And later early mornings: weeding. We will eat, understanding the works of our own hands, like our ancesters did.

I look forward to innovations in the area of agriculture. When we start planting oil crop for local and small scale production of bio-fuels, growing a diversified economy. When knowledge will emerge on new crops like sunflower and soya beans, indirectly stimulating crop rotation and thus yield of the land. To supply for local production of healthy, High Energy Protein Supplement foods, especially for those affected with HIV. It is about the 'human measure', the collective to understand and comprehend, to align with and preserve local culture. It is all about continuity of existence. Today people farm for their existence. We want and will be part of it. Let's put our hands at the ploughs.