Farming fails: attempt 2

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I crawled out of the fetal position, shook off my frustration, drank some jasmine tea, prayed a little prayer of perseverance, and dived into mission farming cooperative, take two. Early 2015. The group chose to stick with the familiar and plant maize again, rather than embark on a new crop.

What did we do differently this time? Essentially, 3 things:

  1. We got brutal. Remember, in attempt 1, farmers with far flung farms failed to bring their produce to the central store- transport was too costly and tricky. This time, we set a boundary of 5km. Any farmers with land beyond the boundary had to rent land close by, or leave the group. Rough, I know. We whittled down to just 7 farmers.
  2. Secure good seeds. This time round, we approached a big company ourselves. I got seed samples early, planted them in little boxes and tested the germination rate. I made the company sign an agreement to compensate us if their seeds failed to germinate as well as their sample.
  3. Simple training No need to sit looking at diagrams on a blackboard. We just got some rope, some hoes, some seeds and went out and practiced measuring spacing between seeds, between rows, and seed depth. Easy. We emphasized the main thing was working together- planting together, committing to bring the crop for collective storage and sale.

 The results?

Well, we got a brilliant seed deal, that’s for sure. The correct hybrid variety seeds arrived on time, they germinated perfectly. We bargained a great price. No complaints there. But when it came to the crunch, would our farmers bring their produce for collective sale?

*failed computer game sound effect*

Nick faithfully brought his maize- and brought a lot of it, having decided to experiment with upscaling his farming hobby. He brought 20 sacks. Another member, Margaret brought one plump sack. What about the others? It was hard to get a clear answer. Transporting produce was no longer a factor. But ultimately, farmers were still tempted by short term benefits- immediate food, and immediate sale in small amounts to go towards household needs, school fees. Its understandable. But the farmers who sold it immediately got 400 Shillings (20 NZ cents) per Kg. We stored Nick and Margaret’s maize for four months, and sold it for 800 Shillings per Kg. Thats a huge difference in profit margin!

The ultimate sinking realization from attempt 2:

If the goal is making better profits for farmers don’t farm something that can be eaten, or sold easily on the local market like beans, maize, or millet. Its just too damn tempting to sell it early, even if it compromises the groups whole plan. Go for something that is not eaten in bulk locally. Something a bit pricier, sold elsewhere in bulk to other parts of Uganda, Kenya, or beyond. Such as:  chili peppers, ginger, onions.

Next installment: attempt 3.

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7 Responses to Farming fails: attempt 2

  1. Ross McKerras says:

    Your blogs break new ground — of honesty in missionary reporting!

  2. Sharyn and Steuart says:

    This is a gripping saga! Cannot wait for installment 3 😃

  3. Ryan Jones says:

    So interesting!! I love what you’re doing and how you’re sharing it with us. Keep it coming… and then write a book. 🙂

  4. henry says:

    Great posts.

    If the price is so predictably better when selling late vs. selling early, why not set up a business buying for 700 shillings early and storing until the price is 800 later on?

    Some of this is kinda like a microcosm of socialism vs. capitalism. Collectivism feels good and seems like the right thing to do but often markets end up doing a much better job.

    Eagerly awaiting installment #3.

    • ntlaing says:

      Yeah Henry that’s basically what people do, except they don’t need to buy it at 700, so they buy it at 400 instead (or even lower sometimes) when people are desperate for school fees and other small things. Also there is some risk involved, its not like the prices are the same season to season. Last year price only went up to 700 max, and this year it might reach 1000 in may when the food shortage is at its worst. Storing maize also costs a bit as you need a store, and either fumigate it or add some kind of short-term poison.

      In a way its socialism vs capitalism, but in a way its just the poor getting screwed by a messed up capitalist system. If you don’t have the money to transport or store your produce, only the rich can take advantage of supply and demand, the stalwart of capitalism. The poor get none of the benefits. As is often the case, the market itself often doesn’t help the really poor people, just the middle man. Sure let the markets do their job, but at least we should let the poor take advantage of those markets with the few resources they have!

      Oh this is Nick by the way lol.

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