TRANSFORMING AGRICULTURE IN AFRICA
following the Brazilian farming phenomenon
In less than 30 years, Brazil has turned from a food importer into one of the world’s great breadbaskets. It is the first country to have caught up with the traditional “big five” grain exporters (America, Canada, Australia, Argentina and the European Union). Brazil stands out from these big five temperate producers as the first tropical agricultural giant.
Brazil’s increase in farm production has been phenomenal. Between 1996 and 2006 the total value of the country’s crops rose from US $11.5 billion to US $54 billion. It is the world’s largest exporter of poultry, sugar cane and ethanol and - since 1990 – soya bean output has grown from 15m tonnes to over 60m. Brazil now accounts for about a third of world soya bean exports, second only to America.
Brazil’s successful strategy.
Brazil’s success was achieved through new farming practices and technologies optimized for the country’s agronomic conditions. Innovation in farming practices and technology improved yields throughout the country but, most notably, unlocked the vast savannah areas. Prior to technological advances in Brazil, the acidic savannah was considered unfit to farm. Four key developments transformed this savannah area from unusable to prime agriculture land:
- Application of industrial quantities of lime to reduce acidity levels in the soil.
- Introduction of the African grass brachiaria, cross-bred for local conditions, that produces 20-25 tonnes of grass feed per hectare, making pasture land more efficient.
- The development of a tropical variety of the soybean, an otherwise temperate crop.
- The development of techniques like " no till" farming. This means the soil is not ploughed. After harvesting, the stalk and crop residue remain on the soil surface and are left to rot into a mat of organic material. Subsequent crops are planted directly into the mat, retaining more nutrients in the soil.
The plant remains are left to rot into a mat of organic material. Subsequent crops are planted directly into the mat, retaining more nutrients in the soil.
The ‘next Brazil’ – the Congo.
The best hope for feeding our growing world is to reproduce the gains achieved in Brazil through research, innovation and trial and error. The place where this can be achieved will resemble Brazil in its abundance of land, water, and sunshine. The single most analogous country is the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Like Brazil, the DRC has the key traits to become a tropical agriculture superpower, including water, climate, vast available land and very similar savannahs. Leveraging the methodologies developed in Brazil over the past 30 years, the DRC has the potential to achieve similar success for African agriculture - and do so in a far shorter time frame.
Feronia is employing no-till farming in the DRC in tropical savannah areas where there is ample rainfall for rain-fed agriculture. The areas were previously deemed unsuitable for intensive farming due to the acidic nature of the soil. Feronia is correcting acidity levels through the application of lime, as in the Brazilian savannahs.