Back to Nature
- Some Believe That Farming Should Be Semi-Natural
The Daily Monitor (Addis Ababa)
September 13, 2006
Posted to the web September 13, 2006
By Berhe W.aregay
Dan Charles, author of several books on the cutting-edge aspects of modern agriculture, posed the following in a journal: "What is the worst thing that farmers do to their environment? Use pesticides?
Plant genetically engineered crops? Not even close?
It is the simple act of clearing land, draining water from it and ridding it of unwanted biodiversity, commonly known as weeds. Whether cleared by hoe, plough or chemical herbicide, farmland is an ecological sacrifice.
No argument. The business of farming is one of mankind's paradigm shifts in his life's journey so far. A simple act of visiting supermarkets, even here, clearly indicates that the Malthusian theory was never one to hold candle to modern, scientific agriculture. If agriculture didn't clear land, drain water and killed weeds, how would you feed the 6 billion people, even if one-sixth of them go hungry still?
Nevertheless, that there has always been a conflict between farming and nature is an open secret. Why is that? At macro level, there is the competition for land. Forestlands, grazing lands, wildlife habitats, wetlands commonly give way, to a smaller or greater degree, to farming. This is mainly because of population pressure.
At micro level, every farming becomes an ecological sacrifice. It gravitates towards homogeneity. Any other plant in proximity becomes a weed and has to go.
Farming even conspires against the very soil on which it depends to produce abundantly. Overzealous farmers in their attempt to produce more, irrigate without worrying about the long-term effects of salinity to their land. Many farmlands the world over have been abandoned because the land had become too salty due to faulty irrigation.
The act of plowing itself, when one too many, and there is no doubt that is the case in farming in Ethiopia, gradually renders the soil more prone to erosion and aridity and kills off much of the helpful micro-organisms in the soil.
Tef farming is the most notorious in this respect. Tef farmers follow an age-old myth that this crop can only grow in fields that have been plowed to complete smoothness. A good farmer is the one who plows fields the maximum number of times.
In the end, what you will be left with is tef fields that are eroding and whose life-support system is fragile. Tef farming, and its cultivation requirements, whether myth or not, has been more responsible than any other crop in accelerating soil erosion in the country.
Conservation farming or minimum tillage, attempts to give remedy to this conundrum (too many plowings) in conventional farming. This approach is based on the premise that less is more. It slashes off the number of plowings to even zero, in some countries.
Minimum tillage is vastly spreading in many African countries; including in the eastern region like Tanzania and others. In Ethiopia, conservation tillage has been introduced several years back, particularly in the western parts of the country. The attempt was basically on trial basis, but after so many years of pilot activities, it can be said that this technology is hardly off the ground and that it is "a road not taken."
So it has always been business as usual. Everyone, farmers, agricultural experts, extension workers and officialdom, all act in a manner as if soil erosion is not an issue in the country.
As a whole, it is regrettable that we see in our rural areas less and less of semi-natural landscapes such as hedgerows, wetlands and grasslands. Wetlands in particular seem to be a thing of the past in most areas in the country. They are the first casualty whenever rural administrators need an extra piece of land for whatever purpose.
Wetlands were created for specific purposes: They serve as the first line of defense against flush floods by acting as sponges to water coming in. And when wetlands occur alongside river banks, they protect communities by acting as natural embankments.
Their other usefulness is as wildlife and bird habitats. Migrating birds need some place of succor in their journeys. One such place is a wetland. We might think, in our haste to fast-track towards food self-sufficiency that we should bulldoze everything for crop production. That might be self-defeating in the end.
Stay in the know. Pulse on the new Yahoo.com. Check it out.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- <Nevertheless, that there has always been a conflict between farming and nature is an open secret. Why is that? At macro level, there is the competition for land. Forestlands, grazing lands, wildlife habitats, wetlands commonly give way, to a smaller or greater degree, to farming. This is mainly because of population pressure.
At micro level, every farming becomes an ecological sacrifice. >
i appreciated this article explaining the root of the problem being in our way of thinking farming rather than specific technics used .
i see this specialisation in landscape and compettion for use as the problem, may be even a cause for overpopulation.( allowing artificial high yields temporarelly).
there is a way of meeting our needs where food productive lands are at the same time forests ,grazing lands , wildlife habitat , wetland , gardens and habitat for humans ( or humane habitat) . no separation !
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]