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Agricultural Spectrum:Gambian micro-finance firm vows to help farmers

Jul 3, 2012, 1:57 PM | Article By: Sainey M.K. Marenah

Reliance Financial Services, a Gambian micro-finance institution, has vowed to assist Gambian farmers in setting up small businesses to help them be more self-sufficient. The pledge was made by Ismaila Faal, the company’s executive director, at the National Farmers Conference held in May.

The news comes as farmers throughout the country sow their crops for the beginning of this year’s farming season. Memories are fresh of last year’s crop failure which has contributed to the ongoing food crisis in the Sahel strip.

We understand that Reliance has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations for the scaling up of its successful food security and commercial agriculture pilot program. 

It was also announced at the farmer’s conference that Reliance is seeking support from multilateral organisations and development finance institutions to promote sustainable agri-business.

Speaking at the conference Mr Faal said: “Reliance, the Government of The Gambia and the national farmer’s associations all share a common mission, which is to improve and positively impact the lives of Gambian people.”

“Apart from being a Gambian owned and led initiative, Reliance has a specific focus on serving Gambians at the bottom of the pyramid who are living on less than a US$5 per day.”

 Over the past five years, Reliance has opened affordable savings accounts for more than 55,000 people, disbursed more than D700m in loans to small, medium and micro-enterprises and has created employment for more than 300 young Gambians. For many of its staff, Reliance is their first financial employer. The company has a network of 22 branches countrywide.

Reliance has been working on a strategic plan to provide integrated financial services for rural farmers.

Mr Faal said: “There exist numerous synergies between the government of The Gambia’s medium term development plan, the farmer’s associations and Reliance Financial Services, as all of us are working tirelessly to improve income levels, employment opportunities and wealth creation for small, medium and micro-enterprises.”

He reaffirmed his company’s commitment to working with and supporting those at the bottom of pyramid in their joint efforts to achieve the development objectives enshrined in the Gambian government’s Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE), and the MDGs by extension.


Conventional, organic and sustainable farming practices: An overview

What is conventional farming and what are some problems associated with it?

Conventional farming systems share many characteristics: rapid technological innovation; large capital investments in order to apply production and management technology; large-scale farms; single crops/row crops grown continuously over many seasons; uniform high-yield hybrid crops; extensive use of pesticides, fertilisers, and external energy inputs; high labor efficiency; and dependency on agribusiness. In the case of livestock, most production comes from confined, concentrated systems.

Philosophical underpinnings of industrial agriculture can include the following assumptions:

“a) nature is a competitor to be overcome; b) progress requires unending evolution of larger farms and depopulation of farm communities; c) progress is measured primarily by increased material consumption; d) efficiency is measured by looking at the bottom line; and e) science is an unbiased enterprise driven by natural forces to produce social good.” [Karl N. Stauber et al., “The Promise of Sustainable Agriculture,” in Planting the Future: Developing an Agriculture that Sustains Land and Community, Elizabeth Ann R. Bird, Gordon L. Bultena, and John C. Gardner, editors (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1995) p.13 NAL Call #: S441 P58 1995]

Negative effects of current conventional farming practices across the globe can include the following:

           Decline in soil productivity. This can be due to wind and water erosion of exposed topsoil; soil compaction; loss of soil organic matter, water holding capacity, and biological activity; and salinisation of soils and irrigation water in irrigated farming areas. Desertification due to overgrazing is a growing problem, especially in parts of Africa.

           Pollution. Agriculture is the largest single non-point source of water pollutants including sediments, salts, fertilizers (nitrates and phosphorus), pesticides, and manures. Pesticides from every chemical class have been detected in groundwater and are commonly found in groundwater beneath agricultural areas. Eutrophication and “dead zones” due to nutrient runoff can affect rivers, lakes, and oceans. Reduced water quality impacts agricultural production, drinking water supplies, and fishery production.

           Water scarcity. In many places, water scarcity is due to overuse of surface and ground water for irrigation with little concern for the natural cycle that maintains stable water availability.

Other environmental ills include insects, mite pests and fungal pathogens that have become resistant to one or more pesticides; stresses on pollinator and other beneficial species through pesticide use; loss of wetlands and wildlife habitat; and reduced genetic diversity due to reliance on genetic uniformity in most crops and livestock breeds.

Agriculture’s link to global climate change is just beginning to be appreciated. Destruction of tropical forests and other native vegetation for agricultural production has a role in elevated levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Recent studies have found that soils may be sources or sinks for greenhouse gases.

What are organic farming practices?

The US Department of Agriculture has defined organic farming as follows: “Organic farming is a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives. To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insects, weeds and other pests.”

“The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole. Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water. Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”

What are sustainable farming practices?

Sustainable agriculture describes farming systems that are “capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to society indefinitely. Such systems… must be resource-conserving, socially supportive, commercially competitive, and environmentally sound.” [John Ikerd, as quoted by Richard Duesterhaus in “Sustainability’s Promise,” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.]

The term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

           Satisfy human food and fiber needs;

           Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;

           Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;

           Sustain the economic viability of farm operations;

           Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

Today, sustainable farming practices commonly include:

           Crop rotations that mitigate weeds, disease, insect and other pest problems; provide alternative sources of soil nitrogen; reduce soil erosion; and reduce risk of water contamination by agricultural chemicals.

           Pest control strategies that are not harmful to natural systems, farmers, their neighbors, or consumers. This includes integrated pest management techniques that reduce the need for pesticides by practices such as scouting, use of resistant cultivars, timing of planting, and biological pest controls.

           Increased mechanical/biological weed control; more soil and water conservation practices; and strategic use of animal and green manures.

           Use of natural or synthetic inputs in a way that poses no significant hazard to man, animals, or the environment.

Sources: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/nosbinfo.htm

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