So you think you can farm?

 

Very few people would find it odd for an inexperienced and untrained person commits to become a commercial farmer. But they will imagine that a person is insane if they want to be a doctor or a lawyer without any training or experience. There is a general appreciation that one needs dedicated years, if not decades of experience, before they can open a surgery or a practice. Besides, you do not get accredited to practice if you do not have the requisite qualifications in medicine and law. It is that accreditation which is the currency they use to gain the trust of their clientele, who in turn, pay a premium as a vote of confidence in their expertise and ability to deliver a service.

But why is farming not viewed in the same light?  Why is it an exception? There is a general lack of appreciation that agriculture is as extremely complex and technical an activity as medical science or law. But the truth, however, is that it is much more technical than what many of us would like to believe. What makes farming unique is that it is both a science and an art – it is inter-disciplinary in nature, and in many instances, a farmer running a typically mixed enterprise has to be an economist, an animal scientist, an agronomist, and an entrepreneur at one and the same time.

Given the multiple skills set that is required by a typical farmer, how many years of training and experience do you imagine a farmer would need?  Yet farming in general, and smallholder farming in particular, is not viewed as a highly sophisticated field of technical expertise, but rather, as a mundane activity that defines our way of life. It is not lifestyle farming in itself that is a problem, but the emerging complacency that has led to a misplaced view that because of a person’s rural upbringing, they do not necessarily need to embrace many of the technical aspects that make farming a sophisticated science and an art form.

And due to this flawed way of thinking, there is a prevailing rationale – especially within smallholder agriculture – that anyone can be a farmer, and one only needs a piece of land and funding – without any advanced education, nor training, nor business acumen. But which investors, if any, will place trust in this type of new and emerging farmer?

The reluctance to invest money in the emerging farmer is not only restricted to the banks and financial institutions, but also extends to the farmers themselves. I have encountered prospective farmers who expect others to invest in ideas and farming projects that they themselves are not prepared to invest in, using whatever meagre resources they may have at their own disposal.

** A version of this article was published in the Farmer’s Weekly of the 10th June 2017

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