14 images of Africans building a better ag future

14 images of Africans building a better ag future

Amid devastating poverty, smiles and a keen interest in learning new farming methods

Last year I was fortunate to meet with farmers in Ghana and Malawi, part of a fact-finding mission sponsored by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

The foundation supports and encourages sustainable agriculture and training to ramp up agricultural production in some of the poorest countries on earth.

In both countries I met with several farmers who are learning how no-till can help save soil and improve yields, enabling them to increase incomes and send their kids to school. I also met families and learned about daily village life. Here are a few lasting images from the trip; to read more, see the March issue of Farm Futures.

14 images of Africans building a better ag future

In the village of Amanchia, these school kids were marching and singing Ghana’s national anthem in anticipation of Independence Day. On March 6 the country will mark 59 years of independence from the British. Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African nation to declare to independence from European colonization.

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Faces of Africa

Dr. Kofi Boa teaches no-till practices to thousands of Africans who visit his No-till Centre outside Amanchia, Ghana. "It is my dream that the whole of Africa will know how to sustain the productivity of a piece of land," he tells a group of seed growers. “We must do this for food security.” Hundreds of African farmers have already adopted his methods and more flow in to learn each day.

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Faces of Africa

Dzoole and son Mariko Bonongwe farm near Chatambala, 18 miles northeast of Malawi's capital city of Lilongwe. He hopes to improve farm income and build a modern house with an actual sheet metal roof – something of a luxury in this part of the world. He also wants to buy a corn grinder to make meal and start a processing business. The village leader, Bonongwe is part of a group of no-till farmers who formed a club to learn from each other. "In a group you inspire and encourage each other,” he says. “If someone is lazy, the club encourages them to do something." 

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Faces of Africa

It may surprise westerners to learn that over half of African farmers are women. That includes Akua Abrafi, who, after seeing positive results from no-till, is planning to triple acreage this year. She's confident the new techniques will expand her income too. "I want to take care of my six kids, so that when they grow older they can take care of me," she says.

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Faces of Africa

Joseph Mateche farms with his wife Liviness in Malawi, one of the poorest countries on Earth. Last year he tried no-till and more than tripled his corn yield compared to conventional fields, so now he’s trying it in soybeans. "With the extra income we paid school fees for two of our kids, bought a goat for meat protein and bought sheet metal to put a new roof on our house,” he says proudly. Agriculture here is mostly rain fed and subject to droughts, so conservation farming is a necessity. Joseph notes that his fields with residue will conserve soil moisture when drought strikes. "We've also seen that when it rains, the soil here will not wash away like tilled fields," he adds.

Faces of Africa

These palm nuts and ‘garden eggs’ (a kind of African eggplant) are grown by Obiri Yeboah, a 52-year-old farmer in Amanchia, Ghana. Yeboah also farms 8 acres of palms, which take three years to grow before first harvest. He followed traditional ‘slash and burn’ farming before venturing into no-till in 2014.  “After practicing no-till I can see the soil is healthier,” he says. “The burning made the soil hard because it was exposed to direct sunlight, so I had to wait for it to rain to plant. But now with no-till I can plant regardless of rains because the soil is moist, thanks to the mulch. I can really see that it's working.”

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Faces of Africa

Cocoa is a mainstay cash crop for many African farmers. Here farmer Daniel Asamoah and Akua Adowaa dry cocoa beans the traditional way – by hand. It will take a week for these beans to dry. The beans will be sold to the government.

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Faces of Africa

This young man will likely grow up to be a farmer like his father near the village of Chatambala. Malawi is known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ due to its friendly people and central location. However, prospects are daunting here, with a life expectancy of 39 and annual GDP per capita of $600.

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Faces of Africa

Trying something new takes courage – especially in high risk, food-insecure countries like Malawi, where most farmers have an eighth-grade education. Christine Salubeni believes no-till is a way to keep soils from degrading while improving yields; that’s why she joined a no-till peer group where she could share ideas with others, then take those ideas and put them into practice on her own farm. 

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Faces of Africa

The hand hoe is to African agriculture what the tractor is to U.S. agriculture. What they lack in financial resources, they make up for with plentiful, cheap labor. The International Fund for Agricultural Development says it is the most important tool for Africa’s women farmers. 

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Faces of Africa

Malawi farmer Kamanga Lyton, here with his 10-year-old grandson Kondwani, is intercropping corn with tephrosia, or ‘fertilizer trees,’ a common practice in Malawi. Tephrosia is a shrubby legume with leaves rich in nitrogen. Their biomass is incorporated into the soil before the next growing season. Research shows this practice boosts corn yields while reducing erosion and nutrient leaching. 

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Faces of Africa

Drink up: This happy young man has a plastic pouch full of drinking water, sold for pennies everywhere in Ghana. In this country alone, 3,000 children under age five die each year from waterborne illnesses transmitted through contaminated drinking water. More than 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa still drink bad water.

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Faces of Africa

Between interviews I happened across some women frying plantains, a staple food in the tropics. If you haven’t had a fried plantain, I highly recommend it.

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Faces of Africa

Children of the corn: Money may make people happy, but I didn’t see much evidence of that in Ghana or Malawi. In fact, the kids seemed perfectly content to follow mom or dad around the farm and play with their friends. Sounds like the good life to me.

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