Smallholder farmer sustainability (AgricultSURE)

Nici De Beer

By Kobus Hurter
Business developer and trainer
AgricultSURE and Laeveld Agrochem

Food production is fundamentally linked to the availability of fresh water and therefore global food security depends on irrigated agriculture, which contributes 40% of the world’s food, but occupies less than 20% of all cropped areas. Of the estimated 301 million ha irrigated worldwide, 38% is irrigated with groundwater and represents 43% of the total consumptive use.

The contribution made by small farmers or smallholder farming is often questioned on the African continent, and this is very much the case in South Africa and its region.

Since smallholder farming on the subcontinent has not yet been properly formalised, it is often quoted within a politicised context or regarded as a subsistent practice and not recognised as an agri-business with a commercial focus.

When all other connotations are muted and the reality strikes that smallholder farmers of the region are achieving tomato crop yields of over 100 t/ha, only then it is noted that high margin crops have the potential to take farming communities to a new level.

The question in hindsight is often then: “Why and how is this overlooked?” The answer to that is more complicated, since commercial farming requires a special mindset and skills, which are mainly transferred from generation to generation.

All generations in the line of duty in a commercial family farming setup are important, but the first individual who deals with cashflow, cost and production per unit issues, and who is prepared to live by the rules of crop and/or livestock income in an open climate and society, should have a special commitment to back themselves to lay the foundation.

In the case of establishing smallholder farmer businesses, this is the same – even the same set of resources apply for small and large commercial farmers.

The selection of these resources would be initiated with the process to identify an agricultural commodity or commodities which are in demand, and which would have an economic value to sustain the development of a farming production unit.

In some of the suburban parts of large metropoles in Africa such as Windhoek, Luanda, Dar es Salaam and Lusaka, the latest technology is applied to locate high-carbon monoxide emissions in the late afternoon in order to spot taxi ranks. There is an unmistaken correlation between taxi ranks and informal food outlets, and once the commodities on hand (as well as the volume and pricing) are determined, then the economic potential to produce these commodities can be assessed.

Cashflow is always a challenge and dedicated small farmers will almost without exception start their career by buying and selling crops. Once enough money is available, the first crops are planted and it would normally be leafy crops – simply because they are sooner available to be harvested in order to overcome cashflow strains.

New small farmer entrants soon understand that close to a 100% plant population is vital, and that filling in the gaps of dying and under-performing plants on a continuous basis, is as important as is the quality of the seedlings and the ability of a variety to perform in kilograms or units per plant, as indicated by the breeder’s acclaimed genetic potential.

A simple calculation of X plants per area multiplied by Y kilograms or units per plant, multiplied by R (Z) per kilogram or unit, does not entertain much room to be beaten around the bush. It is a downright, straightforward calculation and all about making double sure that the required quantity and best quality of everything is applied on time – the rest is history and hard work.

In China it is claimed that about 100 million impoverished residents were lifted out of poverty during the period from 2010 to 2020, covering more than 800 counties and 128 000 villages, all through smallholder farming ventures. The African continent has even more natural resources on offer than what is available in China and by applying the same focus, the smallholder farming sector can be used to cluster groups of small farmers to form large commercial farming units.

Once being equipped with the best application equipment and direct crop inputs, these farming units can become extended production facilities for larger companies. Once the net yield return of clusters of smallholder farmers stabilises and offers a lucrative flow of income, the opportunity exists to extend the life of products through processing, which normally will upscale entire industries in a sustainable way.

Laeveld Agrochem recognises the plea to support smallholder farmers and welcomes the opportunity to engage and participate in synergies to assist with formalising the industry on the subcontinent.

For more information, contact: kobushurter@laeveld.co.za