Diversify crops to keep your family healthy

    | December 1, 2008

    Download this story

    This week’s news story about Ivorian chicken and rabbit farmers illustrates one reason to diversify farm production – to protect your family’s income and food supply in case of an outbreak of livestock disease. But there are many other reasons to diversify livestock and crops. A farmer who plants many crops has greater assurance that he or she will have some food, even if one or more crop fails. That same farmer will have a better chance of earning a decent income, even if the market price of a particular crop falls dramatically. The following script looks at yet another reason to diversify – to ensure that your family can eat a varied and nutritious diet, even if money is scarce. This script can be found online at: http://farmradio.org/english/radio-scripts/65-1script_en.asp.

    Notes to broadcaster

    If you’re looking for story ideas for farmers on one way to survive the difficulties of the export market and meet the nutritional needs of their families at the same time, talk to them about the benefits of diversification (i.e., planting a variety of crops). In your programs, emphasize that one of the benefits of crop diversification is the variety of foods produced. Different kinds of foods provide different nutrients, all of which are needed for good health. It is especially important for infants and children to eat a variety of foods. Talk to extension agents and farmers to learn about alternative crops and cropping patterns that farmers in your community can use for diversification. (These may include traditional crops.) Compile a list of these alternative crops. Interview local farmers who successfully grow several crops to meet a variety of needs.

    In this story, Monica and her husband grow one export crop – coffee – and some maize. In bad times when coffee prices are low, Monica has limited income and cannot buy enough nutritious food for herself and her family. As you will see, her health suffers. Another farmer, Tandi grows two export crops. In addition she grows local vegetables, fruits and two different cereal crops. By diversifying, her family has enough food to stay healthy.

    Other radio broadcasts on this topic that you could produce are:

    * The ups and downs of growing crops for export
    * How to establish a fair trade cooperative to export cash crops
    * The benefits of growing traditional crops in addition to modern crops
    * Ten alternative crops for small-farm diversification in our community



    Host: Many farmers grow crops for export and depend on foreign markets for their income. These farmers often don’t grow food for their families any more. The drama “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket” shows what can happen when farmers only grow crops for export.

    Monica and Tandi: Women farmers
    Winston: Monica’s husband


    Monica: (breathless) Oh my goodness, Tandi, it’s hot today.

    Yes it certainly is, Monica.

    Monica: (groaning) Ohhhh …

    Tandi: (worried) Monica?


    Monica, are you all right?

    Monica: (weakly) What happened?

    Tandi: You fainted. You don’t look well, Monica. Have you eaten today?

    Monica: (hesitant) Umm…no, I haven’t.

    Tandi: You haven’t eaten? No wonder you fainted. Why didn’t you have some breakfast?

    Monica: (hesitant) To be truthful, Tandi, we don’t have much food in the house these days. But I really don’t want to talk about that right now. You know, I think I should get back to the house.

    Tandi: All right, let me help you up. If you lean on me, we can walk home together.

    MUSICAL BREAK (3 seconds).

    Winston: Monica! Are you okay? What happened to you, my dear wife?

    Tandi: She fainted in the field. Let’s help her to sit down.

    Winston: Oh, this isn’t good. Monica, didn’t you eat today?

    Monica: No, there wasn’t any maize meal left after I fed the children. Oh, Winston, what are we going to do?… I’m so worried that

    Winston: (interrupting and whispering) Shhh … shhh. Let’s not talk about it now.

    Tandi: Winston, Monica has already told me that you’re having problems. But I know that your harvests were good last year. What happened this year?

    Last year, coffee prices were high – we received a lot of money for our crop. So this year we decided to put all our land into one crop – coffee. But, then coffee prices dropped. We received almost nothing.

    Tandi: What about your other crops?

    Winston: We didn’t grow any other crops. We used all the land for one crop – coffee.

    Tandi: Well that explains it. Winston and Tandi, I know that farmers are being encouraged to grow for export. But when farmers grow nothing but coffee and sugar cane, what is the family going to eat?

    I know, I know. I especially worry about the children because they need more variety in their diet.

    Tandi: They certainly do. You all do. That’s why you are so weak Monica – you need to eat more than just maize to stay healthy. You need a variety of foods.

    Winston: Well tell us, Tandi, how do you survive? You have the same amount of land as we do. But you don’t seem to suffer.

    We saw that many people made money growing coffee the last few years. But we didn’t want to put all our land into coffee. It seemed like a big risk. After all, the prices can be high one year and low the next.

    Um hmm.

    Tandi: So we decided to lower our risks by planting a variety of different crops.

    (curious) How did that help?

    Tandi: We grow several crops at the same time to give us security. Two crops are for export, but we also grow local food crops. Growing different crops is called diversification. If any crop fails, we always have something else to eat or sell.

    Hmmm. And this way you are not dependent on the overseas markets. Yes! No matter what events happen in distant countries, you always have food to eat.

    Tandi: Exactly!

    Winston: But how do you grow so many crops on a small plot of land?

    Tandi: I can show you how. When Monica is feeling better, why don’t you both come and visit my plot? I’ll show you how we do it.


    Here is where we grow our coffee. Some of the trees that shade our coffee provide us with fresh fruit. So, we have two crops from one piece of land!

    Do you grow other crops for sale?

    Tandi: Yes. I don’t depend on just one export crop – too risky. So I grow medicinal plants too. But now, come over here and I’ll show you our plot of maize.


    But there’s much more than maize growing here!

    Tandi: Exactly. With the maize we intercrop two or three vegetables, and beans or pumpkins. When we harvest one crop, we plant another in its place. Sometimes there are four or five different crops growing here! This variety of grains and vegetables provides a good diet for the children.

    All this food on a small plot of land. You are a farmer who deserves congratulations Tandi.


    Host: You’ve been listening to “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Insert name of performer was Monica. Insert performer’s name was Winston, ___________ was Tandi. As their story shows, the export market can be rewarding. But it has ruined many farmers who didn’t understand the risks. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify! Take care of your food needs as well as your need for money.

    – END –


    * Contributed by Vijay Cuddeford, Toronto, Canada.
    * Reviewed by Peter Rosset, Co-Director, Food First/The Institute for Food and Development Policy, Oakland, California, USA.

    Information Sources

    * Unequal harvest: Farmers’ voices on international trade and the right to food, by Lauren Posner. International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, 1001 de Maisonneuve Blvd. East, Suite 1100, Montréal Québec, Canada H2L 4P9. E-mail: ichrdd@ichrdd.ca
    * The banyan tree: A textbook for holistic health practitioners, Volume II: Bringing Change, edited by Sister Carol Huss.
    * A synthesis report of the Africa Region – Women, agriculture and rural development. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome 1995.
    * The multiple functions and benefits of small farm agriculture in the context of global trade negotiations, by Peter M. Rosset, 1999. Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, 398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618 USA. E-mail: foodfirst@foodfirst.org.
    * Agriculture in developing countries: which way forward?, by Aileen Kwa. Focus on the Global South, c/o CUSRI, Wisit Prachuabmoh Building, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok 10330 Thailand.
    * Small Farmers and the Need for Alternative, Development-friendly Food Production Systems, by Aileen Kwa. Focus on the Global South, c/o CUSRI, Wisit Prachuabmoh Building, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok 10330 Thailand.
    * Trade and Hunger: An Overview of Case Studies on the Impact of Trade Liberalisation on Food Security, by John Madeley, 2000. Forum Syd, Box 15407, 104 65 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: +46-8-506 370 00, Fax: +46-8-506 370 99. E-mail: forum.syd@forumsyd.se.