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This report, compiled by Professor Emeritus of Colorado State University, examines the operational feasibility of smallholder farming innovations in extensive detail, ensuring also the conclusions can be drawn from several different angles in order to provide a definitive conclusion, such as agronomics (agricultural biology), economics and sociology.
Interestingly, though upon further reflection, rather unsurprisingly, the limits of innovation stem from the limits of labour. In this instance, it is in regards to the availability of calorie-efficient food and modern farming technology; one simply cannot work for the number of hours a day necessary to farm one’s land to an adequate extent without suitable nourishment, which in this case amounts to approximately 4000 kcal. Similarly, it is essential smallholding farmers in developing countries have access to modern, lower-intensity, farming techniques, such as irrigation and mechanisation, so as to circumvent the problem posed by the inability to consume the necessary intake of 4000kcal.
However, there are, of course, several rational compromises for the famers to make. There are several simple yet effective ways in which smallholding may be able to improve their crop yield and its quality. For instance, an emphasis on earlier crop planting goes a long way; the longer planting takes, the quality and quantity of the yield decreases daily. Additionally, another compromise would be to focus on the amount of land being cultivated rather than the density of the crops planted within it.
Moreover, it is imperative the knowledge of the farmers is such that they are able to effectively implement the techniques they may be taught. However, it is important to keep in mind these are not novice farmers but experienced individuals who have managed to sustain themselves in harsh environments - it would be rather unbecoming to see the training provided by disaster relief organisation degenerate into patronising the farmers rather than supplementing their knowledge.
If one can only take away a snippet of information, it should be that to develop low-intensity yet efficient farming technology in developing countries within South East Asia and Africa is of paramount importance. The decision of many Asian farmers to transition from water buffalo to individually-owned mechanised equipment, such as power tillers, has been met with substantial success. Combine harvesters are also used, however those are not individually owned but available on contract. Among other things, this report also suggests the careful introduction of operational loans for smallholding farmers to buy the necessary equipment, as well as potentially moving toward a private sector role in which they could become a supplier of their local communities.