Why Many African Farmers Choose Not to Engage in Development

Russian Comfrey for Fertilizer, Feed and More

Living Mulch under Maize

Risk Aversion and Diversification


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Risk Aversion and Diversification

Harry van den Burg wrote in response to the EDN 121 article about: …the extent to which risk aversion may have been and even is overestimated, at the expense of hunger and exhaustion, as a leading limiting factor on agricultural productivity.

“Whereas I certainly think that the argument has merit…I do not think that risk aversion should be relegated to insignificance as yet. While it is certainly true that small farmers in developing countries do take risks, all the time, that does not mean that they like it, and that they will not try to minimize them whenever they can, as most of us will do. I would like to share with you a very instructive example from Swaziland.

Why Many African Farmers Choose Not to Engage in Development

Joel R. Matthews

There is no doubt in my mind that West African farmers want development if that means, among other things, more productive farming. Of course they would rather harvest seven than three sacks of sorghum per hectare. If that is so, why do so many choose not to engage in development projects that are designed to increase productivity? Dick Tinsley offered an explanation in his article “Rethinking a Basic Assumption in Agricultural Development,” in EDN 121. His argument makes sense when the innovations require more labor than what farmers are already doing, because many subsistence farmers have run out of food by planting time and are short of the calories needed to implement labor-intensive innovations. But what explains the decision not to participate in an innovation that promises higher productivity but requires less labor than what farmers are already doing?

Russian Comfrey for Fertilizer, Feed and More

Dawn Berkelaar

Comfrey is a unique perennial plant that requires minimal maintenance after planting and that can give high, sustained yields of nutrient-rich leaves for use as fertilizer, animal feed and more. It is high in potassium (K) and other micronutrients, and seems to improve fruiting and disease resistance. It is most effective when applied to solanaceous [e.g. tomato and potato] and leguminous plants, as they are potassium responsive.

Cowpea: Living Mulch under Maize

Melissa Miller and Tim Motis

EDN 122 highlighted multi-purpose cowpea varieties with spreading vines that cover the soil. Below is an ECHO research update from South Africa relating our experience so far with a spreading cowpea variety intercropped with maize grown in a Foundations for Farming (FFF) system.

“Living carpet” and “green manure/cover crop”—these are terms used to describe the practice of maintaining a plant-based mulch to protect and enhance the soil. But why bother to intercrop maize with a legume if the maize plants will shade the ground soon enough? First, plant growth is influenced by soil temperature. Maize, for example, has optimal root growth between 23-25°C. Soil temperatures above 26°C restrict root and shoot growth of maize seedlings. In the warm tropics, therefore, the cooling effect of an early-season “living carpet” would be beneficial to maize. Secondly, leaf litter from the legume crop decomposes over time, resulting in an organic mulch layer that conserves soil moisture and enhances nutrient retention and microbial life. Legume rotations are now being widely promoted throughout Africa in attempt to reverse the rapid decline of biological activity and soil organic matter. Lastly, cowpea grown with maize helps suppress weeds and provides the farmer with a food source before maize harvest.