Competition in the Farm Place

Think of a farmer. Maybe you are a farmer. Maybe even think of a farmer in Kenya. Maybe your grandpa or grandma farms. Imagine their sun-stained face. Imagine the dirt under their fingernails. Imagine the long hours spent in the field and the relationship they hold with the land providing for their crops.

Now ask yourself “Why do they farm?” While reading the rest of this post, hold on to the answer you find. And be ready for many more questions, let’s discuss.

On Friday morning we were observing some push-pull plots. Like always I was amazed with the technology. It actually took me back to Nebraska, it reminded me of some visits that I had done with some impressive seed companies during my time as a Nebraska FFA state officer. So I started comparing the two: both have incredible agronomic solutions, both connect farmers to scientists, both increase yields. However, only one shares their solutions no charge, only one puts the health of the environment as a number one priority, only one works on farming methods specific to both men and women. And on the other hand, only one competes in the farm place.

 

ME WITH MAIZE
Joseph and I checking out the maize in a push-pull plot!

 

The ICIPE employee that was showing us around on Friday was Joseph, a farmer who has a passion for talking about his faith. He told us that ICIPE has made one thing obvious. For whatever problems are found on farms in Africa, God created a solution. Read that last sentence again. I asked Joseph if ICIPE ever charges farmers for the solutions they find. He looked at me as if I were crazy! He said that they were improving the security of food available to farmers and farmers’ families across Africa – how could they charge someone for that?! It is the basic right of all!

I’ve done some thinking. I agree with Joseph.

I believe that farming is the most important lifestyle across the world. Period. But even more valuable, are those who farm and teach. The combination of these two life-saving and under-rated professions is unmeasurable in potential.  I think that farming without teaching pays. I think that farming alongside teaching feeds. Feeding must come before the paying. If paying starts coming before the feeding, then farming loses its value. I am posing the question: what value does a farmer have if he or she does not first, feed?

Sometimes I think we forget what the connection between farming and food is. I worry that even the big agronomic companies might be missing the point. It’s not enough to say this hybrid improves food insecurity. It’s not enough to send pivots to third-world countries. It’s not enough to send checks to charities in countries that are fighting famine. It’s simply not enough if we want to keep the connection between farming and food alive.

I have recently heard a lot of talk about the agriculture industry – the farming industry – losing its relevance. “Oh, a machine can do that.” “Tractors drive themselves these days.” “There’s an app for that.” These things all pay. But do these things feed?

If we want this lifestyle and occupation to live on we have to go back to find where it all began.  I know the value of competitive genetics in corn and soybean seeds. I know why there are apps that show you yield, precipitation, and hybrid per square foot. I even appreciate these things! These things pay a great deal and create a relevant, fast-paced game. But imagine what these technologies could do in the hands of someone who has the future generation of hungry agriculturalists and their families in mind. What I mean is someone who is protecting the soil to preserve its producing abilities for years to come. Someone who has the mindset of feeding the future.

So how do we determine if we are farming for the pay or farming to feed? Go back to my original question and your original answer. What did you find? I’m guessing many of your answers are somewhere along the lines of “family” or “tradition.” If this is the case, then you have some digging to do. Why did your ancestors begin tilling the ground, praying for rain? My guess is they were farming for the same reason the farmers in Kenya are: to feed.

Lastly, I’d like to clear something up. Across the world NGO’s, scientists, philanthropists, and professors are finding a theme in this food security business. That secret is this: Feeding people pays. It pays in food on the table, it pays in education for children, it pays in clean water to drink, it pays for living a life full of life’s most valuable and critical things.

So what about this competition in the farm place? I believe it was never really about competing anyways. If we want to keep this lifestyle and industry relevant, we must remember what it’s all about. How about feeding in the farm place? That sounds about right.

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