Let s praise the courage of the peasant farmer
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Saba Gana, Andrew. 2001. Let?s praise the courage of the peasant farmer. Spore 94. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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Let s praise the courage of the peasant farmerFarming is a risky venture, a very risky venture indeed. Unlike almost any other business enterprise, the inputs required for production are subject to natural factors, out of the control of the person...
Let s praise the courage of the peasant farmer Farming is a risky venture, a very risky venture indeed. Unlike almost any other business enterprise, the inputs required for production are subject to natural factors, out of the control of the person in charge of the means of production. The success of the harvest, for example, depends on the interplay of climatic factors of rainfall and solar radiation and favourable weather conditions. It is this inter-active combination of climate, adequate inputs and added managerial skills that makes the difference between one farm and another. Over the years, experience has shown that farmers can have to deal with multiple extreme problems in the course of the same cropping season. In Nigeria, rain-fed lowland rice farmers can experience droughts and floods in the same field in the same year. These two factors can result in 80% to 100% crop loss, and on top of these can come outbreaks of pest and disease. One fatal case was in Eastern Nigeria in 1988 when an outbreak of African Rice Gallmidge was reported, destroying about 80% of all rice fields. So much trouble Other recurrent problems can be the destruction of farmland by Fulani cattle, which is a frequent occurrence especially in Northern Nigeria. There many farmers have lost their lives in fracas that have taken place when they were protecting their farms from Fulani cattle rearers who are usually armed. Indiscriminate bush burning is also widespread, often destroying farm lands and farm stored products in the process. What interests me is how the peasant farmers, who constitute about 70% of the occupational population of Nigeria, have been able to sail through these problems and still remain wedded to their farms, literally til death do us part . I have watched with keen interest how some wealthy men, such as retired military men and influential rich men including village chiefs, have packed up their bags and gone from the farm after just two to three years of cultivation. They have brought in and used heavy-duty equipment for land clearing and other farm operations, and the effects are easy to see. As you move along the roads, it is plain to the eye how their lands have been exposed to erosion. The remains of the structures build either as sheds or for storage purposes can be seen left in abandon in the bushes. One wonders if such buildings have not in fact been built for wild animals! Well, that might be a favour coming from above for the wild animals to enjoy what their domestic counterparts cannot enjoy. There was a time when there was an upsurge in these types of farmers in Nigeria. They probably just thought that when you plough money into the soil you just watch the harvest come, and reap millions, but Alas! most of them were disappointed. They failed to recognise that farming by itself needs hard work, taking risks, determination and involvement. Peasant farmers, on the other hand, are faithfully wedded to their farms come rain, come shine. Their courage in continuing in the face of their numerous problems is worth rewarding. The lack of rain in one year cannot deter them from continuing the next year, which is why often times you hear of rain makers. These are the people who are involved in praying for rain, especially when the planting season is being delayed. In some parts of Northern Nigeria, crops like rice are raised in nurseries for a month or so in anticipation of rain. Sometimes water is fetched from far away streams or almost dried-out ponds. Farmers there cultivate short season crops like millet and cowpeas. When one looks at the variety of food products in the markets and discover that most of these are produced by peasant hands with their hoes and cutlasses, one can have nothing but praise for their efforts. It is these farmers who change gear from producing only for consumption when they want to create surpluses and be able to send their children to higher school. This has become more competitive than ever before. They also want to have motor vehicles for conveying their products to their homes and markets, but these too demand resources. Wanting more it is these farmers... A new lease of life is being brought to these farmers by the present rural electrification programme which has been embarked upon by the present government of Nigeria. The farmers will soon want to acquire household accessories like television sets and video machines. All of these desires will feed the expansion of their farmlands, but this will be hampered by the fragmentation of their lands due to the land tenure. Yet another challenge to overcome! We need to give a lot of encouragement to these categories of small farmers for their immense contribution to global food production. Providing them with small-scale infrastructures and subsidies of their farm inputs would help a lot, but at the end of the day, their future is in their hands, and in the hands of factors we cannot control. [caption to illustration] Andrew Saba Gana is a rice breeder in the rice research programme of the National Cereals Research Institute in Nigeria. His research activities bring him in contact with farmers across various agro-ecological zones of his country. The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.
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