Farmer's Diary: Making the most of small-scale farming
Posted Wednesday, February 20 2013 at 00:00
Averagely, 80 per cent of Uganda’s farmers may be described as smallholder farmers. Any one working on less than five acres can be categorised as such.
With increased population, land has become more expensive and it is now harder to buy a large piece of land for agriculture.
According to many African inheritance traditions, when a man dies, his land is divided up and shared among his children. This has resulted in land fragmentation and smaller farms.
Thus, to increase production, the smallholder farmer has to make the most of the little land that is available.
One advantage about small farms is that they are easier to operate using simple tools commonly found in most rural households.
Nearly all the work on a small-scale farm can be carried out manually and it is therefore easier to practice environment-friendly farming practices, such as the use of organic manure, the application of mulch to control weeds and even carrying out simple irrigation of crops such as vegetables.
Smallholder farms are easy to inspect and the farmer is better positioned to effectively monitor the growth of crops and animals. It is possible to practice biological control of pests and to physically fight off rodents without undue recourse to using chemicals.
A small farm presents an excellent opportunity for the farmer to focus on maintaining soil fertility, practising water conservation, and preventing soil erosion as well as minimising the use of inputs bought from shops, thus reducing overhead costs.
A farmer may grow a variety of crops in the same garden, which reduces the risk of food insecurity--when one crop fails the other crops may not.
The application of modern farming techniques on smallholder farms will lead to higher yields per unit of land. It could be the best approach to reducing poverty in the rural areas, where farming provides employment for the majority of the population.
One drawback, however, about small-scale farming is that machines such as tractors cannot be efficiently used and most of the work has to be carried out manually.
Pregnant women and the elderly or the ill (perhaps living with HIV/Aids) may not be in a position to engage effectively in the rather rigorous physical activities that small-scale farming entails.