If still more productive topsoil is lost, it will affect food production and food security, increase food prices and potentially dispatch millions of people into starvation and poverty. Loss of soil quality is a very real problem for those who see it happen on their own farms, and see crops turning out smaller than they used to be.
Luckily, it is possible for nearly all poor farmers to grow food in a sustainable way, while simultaneously seeing their crops increase.
Inefficient agriculture with poor methods is an important reason for the very low yields achieved by many poor farmers and for the soil degradation on their land. The main reason why there is so much poor agriculture is that there is a great lack of knowledge among the world’s poor farmers. Most have no other agronomic knowledge than what they have learned from parents and neighbors.
A central component in much of the Development Fund’s work is to provide training for farmers. When they learn how nature functions, how to “play on the same team” with it, they may increase their crops without exhausting the resources on which they are so dependent. Sustainable agriculture, with few input factors, is well suited for poor farmers, who have no opportunity to purchase large quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Thus, it is useful to focus on simpler methods for increasing production, for example fertilizer from domesticated animals and groundcover.
Through the Development Fund’s work, farmers learn, inter alia, how to increase the nutrient content of soil. For example, much nitrogen is bound in the soil when legumes are grown, and thus crops are increased. We also help to build protection against flooding, and water reservoirs to help carry the farmers through periods of drought.
Variation in the field – an important component of sustainable agriculture – offers the farmer an insurance policy. By cultivating some plants that tolerate drought, some that tolerate heavy rain, some that tolerate pests and some that tolerate fungal attacks, the farmer ensures that she/he will get a crop – almost no matter what. Besides, the variation ensures a more varied and healthier diet.
In our work to help farmers make use of new cultivation methods that give larger crops and avoid environmental damage, we have a number of local enthusiasts on our side. A small number of dynamic farmers with particular commitment to change are supported by the Development Fund as model farmers.
Model farmers cultivate their land in conformity with modern sustainable agricultural methods, and use their own farm and their own experience as a point of departure for advising other farmers on how they also can achieve increased crops while taking care of the environment. When the neighbors see for themselves the sprouts coming up on the model farmers’ land, it is easier to understand how their own crops may be increased. They learn from each other. In this way, knowledge is spread to many.