From Subsistence to Profit


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From subsistence to profit: Transforming smallholder farms

There is not usually much harvest to sell or trade, and what surplus there is tends to be stored to last the family until the next harvest. This is the most widely used method of agricultural farming in sub-Saharan Africa, and the majority of the rural poor depend on it for survival.

It also means the family is self-sufficient in terms of food. Ideally, nothing needs to be purchased or borrowed from another source. If there is a drought, if there is a flood, the harvest is severely limited that year.


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Meaning there might actually not be enough to feed the family. Subsistence farming works when everything goes right — but it rarely does. And even then, there is no profit generated. Subsistence farming is a deterrent to development in rural Africa, because it has no possible upward movement. Unless it switches to a semi-commercial model it will continue to prevent people from generating income. What are we doing about it: At Africa Development Promise, we believe that the principals behind subsistence farming are great.

We work with agricultural cooperatives because rural farmers already have a solid foundation from which to start.

From subsistence to profit: Transforming smallholder farms

In the southern slopes of Amlaren sub-division, land belongs to the few clans or as they would like to call them, the jamindars. Only few clans in the village owns large tracts of agriculture and non-agriculture land and people have to depend on these clans for their land needs. People in these villages are compelled to live in a joint family system because of the non-availability of land to construct new houses.

A survey on the livelihood portfolio of the households in few villages pointed to the fact that almost all households are engaged in multiple livelihood activities — which is not a surprise. Unlike the salaried class or labourers in service sectors, farmers do not have a permanent or stable income that they can rely on. They can only have security by engaging in multiple livelihood activities, so in case one crop fails them or one activity fails to take off then they still have other activities to rely on.

In a typical village one would find that a household would normally grow one major crop depending on the region and few minor crops. For instance in West Jaintia hills the major crop will be rice and minor crops will be vegetables, ginger, turmeric and fruits which are seasonal. In War Jaintia area arecanut and betel leaf are major crops and pepper and some fruits are minor crops. Apart from that a family would perhaps rear one or two pigs and few chickens; some keep goats and cows. And animals are reared for particular reasons.

Pigs and chicken are with the intention of selling them off during Christmas or New Year when the demand for the animals is high. The point is that in spite of the fact that there is a huge demand for meat in the state, the farmers still do not involve in commercial farming of animals. Apart from these multiple livelihood activities, during lean seasons farmers would also migrate to other places or commute to the nearest town and cities to engage in labour activity.

This is broadly the kind of livelihood activity that a typical household in the village would be involved in. Therefore the entire livelihood activity that the farmers are engaged is like a vicious cycle and if the farmers continue with this same practice it will be difficult, if not impossible for them to get out of the shackles of poverty.

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The vicious cycle will go on from grandparents to their children and continue to the grand children till they decide to stop it. Now very few people keep animals.

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And by the way, instead of protesting against the illegal supply, why not look at the brighter side of the issue. The state government can then promote commercial cow rearing which of course is not an unfamiliar activity to the locals and we all know how huge the market is, considering the dietary habit of the majority of the people in Bangladesh.

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To help boost the economy of the state the need of the hour is to help the farmers improve their production and the only way we can do that is to bring an attitudinal change in the farmers. The farmers need to change their mindsets from subsistence farming to a more prosperous kind of agriculture and allied activities.


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It is important to help the farmer get out of this vicious cycle and one of the ways to do so is to help improve that particular activity and upscale their production. Instead of engaging in the activity for subsistence only the farmers need to be encouraged to work on their favourable activity and try to improve and upscale it. Rural economy depends on agriculture so the emphasis should be on agriculture and allied services.

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It is important to help them identify livelihood activities which are not only conducive for the region but also have market potential to enhance their income and improve the economy of the village and the state at large. It is important to help them identify where their strengths are and work on their strength to help enhance their incomes and build the economy of the household. The economy of the state will only improve if the people in the rural areas also prosper.

To achieve this goal the state government needs to take proactive steps to reach out to the famers and more importantly work on the area where their strengths lie and build on those strengths.

From Subsistence to Profit From Subsistence to Profit
From Subsistence to Profit From Subsistence to Profit
From Subsistence to Profit From Subsistence to Profit
From Subsistence to Profit From Subsistence to Profit
From Subsistence to Profit From Subsistence to Profit

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