Research & Development
The Foundation: 10-Acre Farms
While irrigation can dramatically increase incomes, it is an intervention that is overlaid on existing land tenure models.
Currently there are two models of agriculture that dominate farming in most of Africa, both of which leave the majority of the population impoverished.
The first type of farming you see in Africa accounts for the majority of agriculture in the continent today. This is the one-acre plot of land that is farmed by a single family. All the labor is done by hand, generally using a hoe to plant, weed, and harvest. It is extremely labor-intensive, and very vulnerable to fluctuations in weather, market prices, and crop blights. It often requires an entire family to produce just enough to survive on. This type of farming cannot produce enough surplus to last even one season, so there is very little opportunity for anyone to pursue education or do anything except work exhaustively.
The other common farm model in Africa today is the ex-patriot mega-farm. Mega-farms are owned often by non-Africans, and are factory farms that produce cash crops for export. They rely on genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers which must be imported, and are farmed using expensive petroleum fuel-powered tractors. Very little of the profit from these farms ever goes back into the local community; the majority of the wealth goes to the single farm owner. The rest of the profit goes overseas during the transport and sale of the crop, and to international agribusiness to purchase more seeds, equipment, and fertilizer. Though this type of agriculture may increase the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it leads to little or no improvement in the quality of life for the majority of the population.
Creating Middle Class Farmers
A solution we are experimenting with is the 10-acre farm.
A one-acre plot that is farmed by hand with irrigation will produce $1-2,000 per year for a farmer. While this is much better than the $100-200 the farmer can make without irrigation, we think we can do better. A farmer working 10 acres can generate $10-20,000 per year.
The Key Is Ox Power.
It is physically impossible to farm 10 acres of land by hand, which is why most African farmers are limited to a few acres or less. To farm 10 acres requires either the use of machine or animal power. As machines require high levels of capital and good infrastructure not available to most African farmers, we think animal power and in particular farming with oxen is the best hope for a scalable model of 10 acre farming. Oxen were the engine of agricultural development in Europe, Asia, and North Africa for thousands of years, and are by far the most cost-effective means of farming 10 acres today.
Ox based agriculture is the fastest growing method of farming in Africa today, despite almost no support from governments and NGOs. We are experimenting to see what is necessary to successfully introduce oxen at scale in the Ruzizi Valley. Our belief is that the 10x increase in incomes made possible by irrigation, combined with the 10x increase in incomes made possible by oxen, can completely transform rural life in Eastern Congo.