Nelly Bassily | October 9, 2012
Specialization in agriculture has allowed for the massive increases in global crop yields experienced over the last centuries. Large areas of single-species cropping (monocultures) and concentrations of one breed of animal can increase harvest efficiencies, and ease market access and husbandry techniques. However, these gains have come at the expense of biodiversity. Specialization has led at times to massive crop failures and animal losses through disease, and soil degradation to the point of desertification. Reliance on one crop or animal can increase the potential for catastrophic failure, market saturation and financial ruin – for small-scale farmers as much as large-scale.
Simply put, a farm with several different crops and an integrated animal system has much less to lose if one of the enterprises fails. By having a wide range of marketable goods, and the opportunity to reuse plant and animal residues in other parts of the farm, farmers can create an effective insurance policy against both economic and environmental factors such as a glut in the marketplace, low yields and unexpected weather patterns.
Pineapples are becoming more popular throughout the world, especially the fresh fruit. They offer the opportunity for producers to investigate juicing and drying as a way of adding value to their bulk crops. Examples of such enterprises include this one in Uganda: http://www.agriterra.org/fr/stories/58004/pineapple-production-practices-in-uganda
Cassava has many uses as a food for both humans and animals, and beyond to glues and fuels. Tips on production can be found at: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/CropFactSheets/cassava.html#Production%20Practices
An excellent place to start on the subject of crop diversity is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crop_diversity A more involved look at biodiversity in Africa can be found at: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Biodiversity_in_Africa
Browse some scripts and stories related to these topics from previous issues:
-“Uganda: Organic certification allows farmers to tap export market” (FRW #68, June 2009)
-“Nigeria: Cassava “waste” is good food for goats” (FRW #54, February 2009)
-“Niger: Onion producers suffer from market glut” (FRW #202, May 2012)
–Hints for the small farmer (Package 41, Script 3, July 1996)
Think about producing a program looking at the benefits and drawbacks of specialization versus biodiversity for small-scale growers.
Do farmers in your village or region focus on one crop?
How does this affect what appears in the market?
Does this in turn affect prices?
And what about the effects on-farm?
A farmer may become a specialist in one crop, but how does it affect his soils, for example, when the same crop is grown each year? How diverse are the majority of small-scale farms in your region?
You could ask an extension worker to join the program and give his or her impressions, concerns and opinions.