Wednesday February 24 2016

Farming to be for the fittest

By Michael J. Ssali

The mind-set of the smallholder farmer will have to change if we are to increase agricultural production under the rapidly changing circumstances. Not all our farmers have a clear understanding of the magnitude of the effects of climate change on their work or know what to do to build resilience to them.

It will not even help to call upon them to work harder without helping them appreciate the need for fewer children. Big families often require more food than what small farms can produce, which results in food insecurity and malnutrition.
Uncontrolled population growth forces people to settle in wetlands and to cut down forests leading to harsher climatic conditions.
Talk about challenges of feeding a growing population should be matched with family planning measures.

It requires more than leaders donating inputs such as hoes or seeds to the farmers. Agricultural extension services should go hand in hand with birth control programmes—where farmers are enlightened about advantages of smaller families. They should produce the number of children that their small plots of land can support since it is on that land that entire households depend for food and income.

In their groups the farmers should be taught about modern agricultural technologies, improved seeds and fertilisers, how to improve crop and livestock productivity, access to market information, post-harvest handling—clean processing and storage—and irrigation.
They should also teach the farmers about nutrition and how to use their farms’ produce to curb malnutrition—what to eat, when to eat it and how much of it to eat to live healthy and productive lives.

This was the gist of the FAO conference, held 15-17 February, on “The role of agricultural biotechnologies in sustainable food systems and nutrition”. It focused on a broad range of biotechnologies that could result in yield increases, better nutritional qualities and improved productivity of crops, livestock, fish and trees to benefit family farmers and their food systems, nutrition and livelihoods. Food security has to be addressed together with nutrition and family planning.