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Farmers Today brings international knowledge to farmers

By Marc van der Sterren  |  Farming Africa

Dutch agriculture differs significantly from African agriculture. The costly highly technologized agricultural system may seem too different for many small-scaled African Farmers to learn from. Stephen Dradenya however gives it a try with his magazine Farmers Today.

farmers_today_title_pageLooking at agriculture, The Netherlands may seem the opposite of an African country like, Uganda. The delta of Netherlands has fertile soils and a friendly climate. With the harbour of Rotterdam it has a history of relatively cheap access to all kinds of inputs like feed ingredients.

Dutch agriculture is an international leader in innovation. Not only because of the possibilities but also out of necessity. Despite the many advantages, food production in The Netherlands became rather expensive. Farmland prices are amongst the highest in the world and labour is very costly, mainly due to high social welfare. Above that, this densely populated country with critical citizens has high production standards regarding animal welfare and environment, which make farming an expensive profession.

Those possibilities and necessities made this small country the leading agricultural country that The Netherlands is today. With all its technological and economical knowledge, a liberal politically stable climate with willing politicians and ambitious agricultural business, the Netherlands became the world’s second largest agricultural exporting country.

It is in this country where Stephen Dradenya, a prominent Ugandan journalist, publishes his magazine Farmers Today. He has a team of about twenty Ugandan writers who write the Ugandan on-farm stories, which enable farmers to share their practical knowledge on farming and marketing.

Farmers Today can become an important tool for Ugandan farmers as an instrument to increase food production and food security. The knowledge provided in Farmers Today has the possibility to pull many subsistence farmers and small-scaled farmers out of poverty and help them to become small or medium-scale profitable enterprises. But also, in my opinion even more so, it will make them independent farmers who make the right decisions.

Preparing a vision on farming and taking the right decisions may be the biggest task of most farmers in the world. Whether they are large-scale, high profitable exporting businesses in the west or small-scale subsistence farmers struggling to find a way out of poverty.

With this mission in mind, the magazine Farmers Today may be a big help for farmers. Stephen Dradenya describes the objective of Farmers Today as ‘to encourage farmers to love their job and trust that they are in the right course of jumping out of poverty.’

This pursuit however, is more difficult than it seems. Simply because, for a farmer, there is not just one course out of poverty. There are many ways. And farmers and experts around the world don’t agree on which agricultural system is the best.

Farmers are urged to produce food for the growing population and there is an increasing demand for quality food. In 2050 there will be 9,6 billion people in this world. In 2020 the middle class will be doubled from 2010 numbers. In 2030 it will even triple. This means a vast increase in the demand of quality food.

In Africa the figures are even more extreme. But so is the potential. On this continent, only 15 percent of all food is produced. It however uses only 20 percent of its capacity.

Farmers around the world are urged to increase food production. All parties and stakeholders agree on this. And of course, farmers should. But most of all, a farmer himself should be able to choose the right direction. There is not one method to increase the production, the world knows many, sometimes conflicting farming systems.

Most farmers in the world, especially in Africa, produce on small traditional scale. While increasing their production, the big, highly mechanised farms might seem a model to strive for. Those farming companies, which are mainstream in the Netherlands, are based on a system of high inputs of chemicals, energy, fertilizers and even monocultures and genetic engineering.

This system may be more profitable for some farmers, if everything is perfectly carried out. Farmers however should be aware of the high costs of input and the huge risks that may come along. Although the production may be controlled to the utmost; weather and market prices can still ruin the farmer’s income.

There is a lot of money involved in this farming system. Farmers should realise that companies who produce those farm inputs, even banks that provide loans and companies offering insurances, make the biggest profits. The Netherlands is not only a success story. Many of the farmers are in deep debt and lots of small-scale farmers go bankrupt.

Still, the big companies can be very insisting and encouraging about a high-input farming system. It may even become difficult for farmers to keep on realizing there are also alternative farming systems. Especially for the small-scale farmers who don’t have the means to invest in a high-input agricultural system. Organic farming, permacultures, agroforestry and agroecology don’t require that much investment and can be as productive as high-input agriculture. In the long run, they can even be more profitable, because consumers are willing to pay more for this food.

Of course, those farming systems require much more labour. Take for example, weeding. It needs more physical effort and if one wants to use the full capacity of his farmland, requires as much knowledge as high-input farming. Costs however are much lower and so are the risks.

For example, in the first edition of Farmers Today, Dr. Jetse Stoorvogel, professor on Wageningen University, states that Ugandan farmers may be constrained because of lack of money to purchase fertilizers and herbicides.

Dutch farmers easily produce ten tons of maize per hectare. Ugandan farmers hardly produce three tons. Stoorvogel is right when he says that Ugandan farmers can produce the same amount. Uganda also has fertile soils and even a better climate for maize.

The easiest way to reach this production is, as Stoorvogel mentions, an investment of nitrogen and other fertilizers. Dutch farmers use on average 200 kg’s, As well, they spend a lot of money on herbicides and other pesticides.

He, however, doesn’t explain that it’s also possible to increase the production without those expensive inputs. On the same university there are professors who tell a completely different story. Pablo Tittonell for example. He is professor in ecological farming systems and states that increasing food production should be done by utilizing the knowledge of nature, knowledge of traditional agriculture and knowledge of local farmers and conserving biodiversity. And all this, combined by using the latest knowledge and technology.

Who’s right? Within Wageningen University there are professors on agriculture with a completely different point of view. As well as big international organisations like the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

The world of agriculture is a complex playing field in which only farmers themselves can decide best what choices to make. For this, they need to be aware of the contradictions in farming.

It will be hard to find choices that are more difficult to make then the ones farmers are facing. Gladly there are tools to help them make the right decisions. Like Farmers Today, which promises to become an indispensable instrument for Ugandan Farmers. With success stories of farmers in Europe as well as in Africa, can show farmers this contradiction.

Farming Africa wishes Stephan a lot of success with this publication.

Farmers Today

Farmers Today is the only agricultural magazine of Uganda. The first edition was published in August 2015 with a circulation of 3.000 copies. With this publication chief editor Stephen Dradenya has proven to have all the skills, the network and possibilities to publish a professional independent agricultural magazine.

The first edition is published without any income from advertisers or subscribers. At the moment he is looking for advertisers and other funding to publish his second edition.