This week’s guest blogger is Dan Wiens, coordinator of Food Security and Livelihoods for Mennonite Central Committee. Dan is himself a farmer.
I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa early this morning–October 16, World Food Day–to begin a three-week agricultural tour of southern Africa. The air this morning is crisp and the sky a brilliant blue. I left autumn weather in Canada and arrived here in the southern hemisphere to the freshness of spring.
The purpose of the tour is to visit farmers, researchers, and others involved with conservation agriculture (CA). Conservation agriculture is a farming model that protects and builds soil health using the three principles of minimum soil tillage, maintaining ground cover (mulch), and using crop rotations to build soil fertility. The information I’m gathering here in Africa will help MCC, in collaboration with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, design a pan-African conservation agriculture program.
African farmers are in trouble. Soil health has been on the decline for decades and productivity is steadily going down. This situation contributes to keeping over 239 million Africans chronically hungry. Finding a low input and sustainable agricultural solution is critical. CA is a proven farming model, especially in the semi-arid regions that characterize much of Africa. Farmers practicing CA have seen as much as three-fold increases in crop yields in just a few years. This has lifted many farmers and their families out of poverty and hunger.
Another exciting part of this story is that CA requires only inputs that are readily found in the farming communities. Organic ground cover or mulch (often grass) is one example. There is no need for expensive outside inputs such as chemical fertilizers. The only significant outside input that is required is knowledge.
The general idea we have for the upcoming CA program is to vastly increase the number of African farmers practicing CA. Promotion of CA will be done by the many African community-based organizations that have strong relationships with farming communities. These organizations are in partnership with MCC and other CFGB member agencies and they are uniquely positioned to promote CA.
On this beautiful World Food Day morning, my hope is that over the next three weeks I will find the information required to develop an effective CA program. On this World Food Day, I can’t think of a more appropriate or exciting task for an MCC agriculture worker.