Farming in a changing world: critical skills, critical questions

Taruvinga Magwiroto

Farming, be it livestock production or crop husbandry, is changing fast. Consumers’ tastes and preferences for food are changing. The world’s perception on food production is changing too. So how does that impact an A1 or A2 farmer in Zimbabwe today?

Firstly, there is a growing concern for sustainable production. There is a drive towards abolishing the the old “productonist” paradigm of endless chemicals, pesticides, inorganic fertilisers and drugs because of the environmental pollution and other negative consequences that those practices bring.

For the individual farmer, it is critical to note that the land is the primary resource for your livelihood and profits. So it is definitely in your interests to preserve that resource. Livestock’s primary food is the veld: if the veld is gone, your primary resource is gone.

There is a trend towards organic food: food grown in an environmentally friendly way. Less chemicals; growing more locally adapted animals; mixed cropping to take advantage of different crop characteristics; cultural pest control; small grains etc.

It is slowly being (re) discovered that indigenous foods and diets are intuitively or instinctively balanced for all the required nutrients. While urbanisation and the modernisation imperative has been driving Africa towards fast foods, fried chips etc, studies in developed countries are showing that these diets result in “hidden hunger” (energy-dense but low in essential micro-nutrients), non-communicable diseases etc.

The implications for the African farmer are not so clear-cut. As long as food security in Africa is still fragile, it can be argued that the productionist focus is still necessary. For feeding the urban masses certainly, mass production is still necessary. I don’t think organic farming has developed to the extent of meeting national needs for food. However, there is certainly a consumer willingness to pay for good quality products produced in a wholesome manner. There is a niche market for indigenous chicken, small grain meal, and goat meat.

For the individual farmer, the choice is difficult. Either way, there is a case for the development of skills for sustainable, profitable farming that balances the needs for profits and the necessity for conserving the productive resources.

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