Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Letters from Africa...  

The following are dispatches from a man I am proud to call my friend, Wallie Hardie from North Dakota. Through a serendipitous chain of events starting with a daughter who is a nurse-missionary in Mozambique, he has somehow proceeded to start a farm there AND then buy 100,000 acres in Tanzania.

On top of it all is his admirable motivation of truly helping those most in need of help in a way only a great farmer could. The following are his recent letters.  I will add more and any pictures when they arrive.

The land...
The landscape of central Mozambique is stunning to a dirt farmer like me.  Gently rolling dark soils of mainly silt loam textures.    Out of nowhere these huge hills with steep granite facings pop up perhaps 20 acres in size with heights up to 300 ft.  Some are shaped like a football on a tee, others have very irregular shapes with the largest mass at the top, like a natural water tower.

The name of the farm here is Rei do Agro, king of agriculture.  Our intent is to convert these soils into highly productive producers of soybeans, wheat, barley, sunflower, and corn.  Our game plan is to clear existing trees, plant a single crop in December for two years, then install an irrigation system using SDI subsurface drip irrigation or center pivot on the third year.  The water will come from small reservoirs created by dams installed on seasonal streams that are abundant here.

Coming from the cold North Dakota tundra, the temps here are heavenly.  It is winter and the sun arcs across the northern sky from east to west.   It is 65 degrees at sunup with a high about 80.   Summer here (december) is 80 to 100, but that is also the rainy can get a 11/2 inch rain and be farming the next day!  After analyzing temp and rainfall data it is becoming quite clear we should plan on a triple crop, no till system that starts with a 1.5 to 2.0 maturity soybean that is planted in December and comes off in April.  Immediately followed by barley and wheat no-tilled into the soybean stubble.   The barley would be harvested in late July, the straw would be baled and later maize varieties would be planted with liquid fertilizer based no till systems.  As the wheat comes off, earlier varieties would go in.  This system would prevent the tendency for these soils to bake in the tropical sun.

The demand for all of these crops here is huge.  Soybean processors, barley malt producers, bakery's, and chicken producers have been in constant contact hoping to get some of our production because they cannot source enough to meet growing nutritional needs here in Africa.

All for now.  Next time I will share about the people here.     

The people...
The only word that comes to mind when describing the status of the people of southeast Africa....heartbreaking.  Less than 15% have jobs as we know them.  A large majority of the children are malnourished.  Almost everyone receives a three year maximum education and is functionally illiterate.  As we drive through the countryside we pass through countless villages where masses of people walk along the roadway, the women carrying stuff on their heads, all with perfect posture.  The men usually aren't carrying anything--"where are they going" I ask my partners, "who knows" is the reply.   I am struck by the homogeneity of the culture--everyone equally poor.

How is it that these folks seem stuck in a twilight zone of 40 year lifespans and hardscrabble living in this modern world?  Some Africans will tell you part of their problem has to do with good intentioned people giving them stuff & taking away the motivation to EARN a living.  Even our "Farmers feeding the world" program launched a few months ago is a quarter turn off.  Farmers should be about mentoring their African counterparts to feed their own continent with the incredible resources they have right here.

There is a remote village about 5 miles west of our farm that needed a source of fresh water.  We had a well drilling company doing two holes for our needs and it was not hard to spend an extra 12K to help them get a great well, of course pumped by hand.  Now they need some kind of business activity to get them on the first rung of the economic ladder.  Our plan is called the hub--outgrower model that involves a large farm at the center that has its own production systems, but also provides the infrastructure for small local farmers to access the knowledge base, inputs, machinery, and most importantly the transparent market to thrive in their own right.  We have our own Extension specialist on staff to implement this process.

An example, we are planning to install a small-scale ethanol production facility as a first step in our sustainability model.  This plant provides the engine for all kinds of good things to happen.  The feedstock will probably be cassava, a root plant that is essentially all starch and can be easily grown by small farmers on poorer soils.  Hundreds of farmers will have a new market for this crop.  The energy source will probably be wood chips.  With the thousands of acres of trees needing to be removed to build out the farm, this is a ubiquitous energy resource that employs many people.  Getting diesel and gasoline into the farm is difficult and costly.   Making our own fuel is a no brainer.  But running an ethanol plant requires highly skilled operators.  Finding and training these people won't be easy, but is the pathway that some will gladly take to break out of a cycle of hopelessness.

All for now,  next time I will talk about opportunities and threats.  
 Godspeed and safe travel, Wallie.

1 comment:

From Virginia said...

Great book to read on helping the poor: