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Simple & Modern Methods With Great Impacts

Smallholder farmers produce 70% of the world’s food, but they are particularly vulnerable to climate disruptions and economic shocks. With many living from one harvest to the next, a poor harvest and loss of currency purchasing power have catastrophic effects. The solution is to intensify and diversify smallholder farms, but for that to happen, investment is needed. This is why we believe in innovative business solutions that will bridge both worlds and create a significant impact.

Crop diversification, alternative training, and encouraging investors to invest in social businesses, are some key factors to tackle climate change, empower smallholder farmers and encourage more people to start their own permaculture designs.
 

Diversification is essential because it reduces farmers' losses if climate or other factors affect certain crops. It  protects the soil from erosion, builds a more complex underground root system that is far healthier and superior to monocultural crops, and creates an ecosystem of beneficial insects that aids in pest control. But the beneficial steps that are taken towards achieving diversification are being hampered by governments and businesses that encourage dependency on fertilized animal manure and pesticides which is in complete contrast to the proven superior system of permaculture.

Strategy 

Our objective was to build a demo training base that connects the Faculty of Agriculture provided by the University of Gondar with farmers. The goal was to accelerate the transition in farming towards permaculture amongst different communities. In 2015 we launched our program which focused on water conservation, earth bag building, food gardens and composting. We were surprised to know that farmers only grew certain types of cereals and then sell their yields to buy food with the money they have earned.

Empowering Smallholder Farmers

Diversification

Single Crop 

Building with earth bags

Adding plaster from mud and straw

Smallholders are very knowledgeable on how their ancestors took care of their lands, but things have changed nowadays as time has become critical. Composting is the first step towards a healthier soil and the root base of fighting climate change but in this case, the challenge doesn't lie in the ways of how to process the compost but in managing and collecting food scraps. This is where we started to contact the most known restaurants in Gondar city, Ethiopia. Many tourists and locals visit famous restaurants to have lunch and dinner but coffee in particular has attracted our attention as the drink is very popular in Ethiopia, and at the same time it is well known to be a good compost with many nutritious benefits for the soil.

The first step we took was giving our selected restaurants and coffee shops some polypropylene bags - about 5 big bags to be filled with waste in a single day. We particularly got help from a famous local restaurant called The Four Sisters that gave us big amounts of coffee waste.

 

We asked the businesses to add vegetables and fruit scraps  without mixing them with meat waste, and we picked them up every two days. We used local methods of transportation, which was either by a horse or a public mini bus that could fit ten bags on its roof while picking up passengers. It is important to choose a land not too far away from the restaurants you deal with in case of a higher production, but for our demo test it wasn't an issue to pick them up a bit further since it was a small scale project and on the direct route of the mini bus.

Trainings began after the first results surprised the neighbouring farmers that acknowledged the speed of the decomposition between the food scraps, straw, animal waste and coffee waste. The compost had a pleasant smell and were given to the farmers as a result to show and train other smallholders.

In the making of quality compost

Farmers are used to make their own compost by digging a pit, then placing animal waste with straw and water until decomposition takes place. It is usually risky for the excessive methane gas that the animal waste produces with time and the process can take up to 2 months to be ready for use. The soil needs constant nutrients and it is not enough to just rely on animal waste and straw. A simpler way was to make the compost under a shaded area to protect it from the sun so it won't dry out and stay moist, then we added the materials layering them like a sandwich until it piled up.

The pictures below explain how it was done:

Pormoting square-foot food garden, companion planting, applying compost

We started promoting the potential of the compost by applying it on a square foot garden, and emphasized the importance of mulching while growing food to keep the soil cool and moist. The idea was to encourage smallholders to be self-sufficient by creating their own mini food gardens so they can have healthier diets from the vitamins that herbs, fruits and vegetables can provide them with. It was sad to realize that, for locals, strawberry is a luxury fruit to eat even though it can be easily grown in their own land, so we planted some strawberries without using pesticides as a way to show that it does not cost much and does not need much water thanks to mulching! Compost can play an important role in repelling predators by attracting insects that feed on other insects. We also promoted companion planting as a way to repel unwanted insects such as growing Rosemary, Basil, Lavender, Mint etc..

Adding herbal seeds

Adding compost over the seeds

Adding dry grass after watering

Healthy young strawberries

THE VALUE OF COMPOST

Building a nursery for deep rooted trees and fruit tree seedlings

Compost is the food of the soil, and trees are the nitrogen fixers that strengthens the soil. Planting trees can fight soil erosion,  and are great contributors to fight climate change when planted densely, they enrich the soil with nitrogen which positively impacts on the productivity of crop yields. In order to do that effectively, we've built a multifunctional seedling nursery, a rain water collector nursery and energy saviour. The water tank is lifted from the ground to make drip irrigation easier.

Water tank 20,000 L

Funnel shaped greenhouse nursery

Water tank elevated from the gorund

Diagonal gutters

Covering the walls

Final

In the centre where the water tank is placed, was kept as the base of the nursery's structure - when the rain falls, all the water will eventually meet in the centre, and as the water tank gets elevated from the ground, it becomes easier to use the tap water. 

How to create a sustainable business model in arid, semi-arid regions with smallholder farmers using low cost methods

Bio-diversity is the key to fight climate change, drought, food insecurity and soil erosion. The only challenge is creating an effective system which can be used with and by the local residents, as well as finding a third party that can effectively bring the project together.

 

We are focusing on arid and semi-arid areas because this is where communities need alternative and progressive solutions in order to withstand the dangers of climate change. When communities start applying these methods on a massive scale - this is where real change happens.

The importance of fog catchers in arid areas

Fog catchers have been practiced in several places as an alternative way to harvest water. Many communities have benefited from the technology and saw their lives being transformed.

One large fog collector, with a 40 m2 collecting surface, will typically produce an average of 200 L per day throughout the year. On some days no water is produced, and on other days as much as 1000 L could be generated, the variability depends on the site. Choosing an appropriate site is of utmost importance, there are both day to day variations in fog-water production as well as seasonal variations, as is the case with rainfall.

Fog collection can be a sustainable water supply for as long as the village and the local NGO maintain the system. This could be 10, 100 or 1000 years. The durability of a project will depend on the human component. The meteorological conditions that produce the fog are determined by large scale circulations in the atmosphere that change little over long periods of time. Fogquest.org

Growing herbal gardens, temperate fruit trees, indiginous trees beside smallholder's food crops

Growing large canopies can protect food crops from the harsh sun and heavy winds, meaning that less water is needed for the soil due to the shadows created from the large canopies which can decrease the evaporation of the water from the soil.

 

On the other hand, chilling temperatures of the semi arid regions offer an unique potential for the production of temperate fruit trees. Fruit trees have plenty of economic, social and environmental benefits:

  • They preserve water by slowing down evaporation and increasing moisture

  • Fix the soil and prevent its erosion

  • Increase soil fertility and thus other crops' yields around

  • Offer a perennial source of income

  • Add vital nutritive values to food diets

  • Provide habitat for wildlife and gives nectar to bees.

Growing herbs next to food crops have many benefits too, playing an important role in repelling unwanted insects without the need of using harmful pesticides, they attract pollinators, are a good source of medicine, offer good coverage for the soil, help by decreasing evaporation, and provide more income for smallholders.

Strategy in brief:

 

  • Reach universities and NGO's that are active in such areas to study the scale of the project and to know what are the first things to invest on;

 

  • In order to begin, it is better to purchase 2 water tanks 20,000L filled  with water to start with planting large canopies and fruit trees;

 

  • Purchase temperate fruit tree and large canopy seedlings from other local nurseries; 

 

  • Contact restaurants, coffee shops, carpenters and livestock farmers to get food waste, coffee waste, straw and dung. Then hire a driver to transport the material every 3 days or once a week to the site you locate your project;

 

  • Build a greenhouse and use the water purchased for the crops that are grown inside by using drip irrigation, the water will be then recycled from condensation that appears in the early morning from the roof and can decrease the need of purchasing water by 50%. The greenhouse will be able to collect rain water as well;

 

  • Build fog catchers if possible for safe drinking water and irrigation if the location is suitable;

 

  • Make a site for training smallholders in compost making, maintaining the greenhouse, water conservation practices and biodiversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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