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Monday, 2 March 2009

ACF / FSRP Information

ACF/FSRP has have now posted all the presentations and background information distributed at the Agriculture and Parliamentary Committee briefing that ACF/FSRP completed last week at Ibis Garden. They have also posted for our listening pleasure, the Radio News Summary on "Proposed Fertilizer Reforms": Sunday, 22 Feb, 2009 (ZNBC Radio 4).


  1. Cho,

    They have also posted for our listening pleasure, the Radio News Summary on "Proposed Fertilizer Reforms": Sunday, 22 Feb, 2009 (ZNBC Radio 4).

    What gets me is that they are approaching the issue on a peacemeal, reductionist manner. The mr. Webber identified the lack of extension services to farmers, specifically education on the use of fertilizers.

    Fine. However, why not take a holistic approach to agrarian reform, and work on:

    - extension services, like farmer education
    - infrastructure, such as roads and storage facilities
    - local government and decentralization, empowering local government with budgets to run an extension office in every council
    - marketing and sales, to identify the best price for the farmer
    - land reform, so every farmer has enough land to be commercially viable and has security of tenure
    - mechanisation, so larger pieces of land can be worked.

    I was reading two interesting little books, called The American Farm Book, by RL Allen, first published in 1849, and Handy Farm Devices - And how to make them, by Rolfe Cobleigh, first published in 1909.

    All the devices in the book can be made locally, plus I don't think the designs have changed very much. They are very basic, but a fun read and inspirational. Also, most of these devices use no fossil fuels. There are also descriptions of a lot of crops and their basic growing conditions.

  2. Indeed Prof. Webber (sp? title? sounds ohio river valley/great lakes industrial corridor by accent, but that's just me, Michigan State maybe?) stands out not only as a voice of clear reason, but also as outside consultant. Throughout his statements runs a clear effort to communicate a desire for ends over means, because the means are out of his hands. It is clear to him, as it is to us, here on the sidelines of the Zambian playing field, which methods are objectively more worthwhile to invest in than others. "Something like the Fertiliser Support Programme is needed. That is not at issue here . . ."

    He cannot condemn the choices made by the popularly or ritually selected leaders of the people he is trying to help, because this is democratic aid. The very instant he can prove that it isn't, well then all bets are probably off (if not him than some other academic, with narrower financing). Writ large, with enough people, with enough pull, really ticked off for whatever personal reason (hey, if you don't think personal is the same as important I am not sure where you live but I may want to move there), well then you get Zimbabwe. Sorry MrK, but Zanu picked that fight and knew that they were doing so. I personally think that they were beat before they started, because they were already in bed with the powers that they eventually turned on (it might have worked, with a clean slate to start with, often the problem with political philosophy). Nobody that I know gave them a snowball's chance from the start because they had not apparently stockpiled anything or otherwise prepared for a credit shutdown. [This is a lot of why Saddam was politically vulnerable where Myanmar, Venezuela and Cuba are not (N. Korea is different, that situation is entirely dependent on the PRC and has been since the war.]

    Okay here is where I am responding less to this original article about FSP reform, which appears really headed in the right direction finally (short term, I still have long term issues ;), and devolve into discussion about other countries. I apologize, but I don't know where else to put them.

    MrK, I strongly urge you not to buy in to the Zimbabwean view of the DRC. They have veterans who shed blood there in a questionably sanctioned SADC mission (To my knowledge only Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe actually were present when the unanimous decision to intervene was made.) This may help explain why it was also only those same three countries which subsequently sent military units and assistance, while nations like Zambia, Botswana and South Africa consistently claimed that it could not be a SADC mission because they had not been consulted. That said, their view of the internal reality of the DRC is about as good as an US GI in Vietnam, they weren't sent there to learn about the locals. The rural people of former Zaire are not being any better served by this Kinshasa administration than by any other in history.

    Look, there was a lot of exhaustion following the Rwandan/Burundian genocidal massacres. It all happened relatively quickly I know, but it didn't seem that way at the time. I was only here in the States, experiencing the horror long distance, but unlike most who live here, the very first signs out of Burundi were apparent in my morning newsfeed. To this day I still marvel at the fact that Americans can't keep two country names in their head at the same time, no matter how small or closely related (they all know Rwanda = Genocide by now, but Hutu and Tutsi are Greek to them, and nobody has any clue where Burundi is). When one american ice skater's boyfriend broke the knee of another american ice skater, it got several thousand times the coverage in the US mass media as the whole 100 days of killing (This has been definitively measured since, but it was painful at the time. I lost friends by taking out that frustration on them, I can only plead youth, I was wrong from their perspective.)

    Once the media realized what had happened, oh then my phone rang, and I like others who had sat, or screamed, or cried through it had little to say. What do you say? You dropped the ball? You abrogated everything that you have ever claimed to live by because you ignored this one situation which was obviously unforgivable and clearly preventable if you had only given a damn? I find it hard to forgive Clinton even as he acknowledges that he failed those of us who believed in America's Vow Against Genocide. No wonder we all laughed when the Bush administration finally admitted that Sudan has something to answer for whether or not China wants their oil.

    So anyway, the killings had backfired, in as much as they had drawn apparently unanticipated support from Tutsis in all neighboring states, whose support in an international vacuum was more than enough to overwhelm a Hutu majority administration who had squandered its draft capacity on civilian death squads and financially opportunistic road blocks (in areas with less than 2% tutsi ethnicity, the death toll nevertheless ran into double digits).

    Much like Hitler's troops at the end, the government forces had been ordered to maintain a static line at all costs. When it broke, the civilian militias panicked, and organized resistance to the invading rebels ended more or less completely. Hutus, both military and civilian, fled en masse toward the only remaining friendly border, that with then Zaire under Mobutu.

    Then, and only then did the cowardly French choose to speak up (and unlike Clinton, they have not apologized and remain unforgiven for their racist hypocrisy), and indeed placed armed troops between the fleeing Hutus and pursuing Tutsis, which might have been well and good if not for the murderous thugs they failed to root out of the refugee mix, who for decades thereafter have by all accounts terrorized and tortured that same civilian refugee population beyond the limits of tolerance. The single largest organization of such humans is known internationally as the FDLR.

    When I first heard of Nkunda and his exploits, I was repulsed. I will admit that when I found out he was trying to kill FDLR members, I kinda shrugged and said, "Well that's different then." I am not proud of it, but I am not one to prefer the devil that I know on the assumption that another will inevitably take his place. I guess I'd like to believe that eventually we may not get an angel, but at least a recognizably sympathetic human in the job instead. Suffice it to say that the current mess is a result of improper resolution of the last mess, and I suspect that if Nkunda's arrest led to the current military operation wreaking havoc on the FDLR power base, then he is one happy prisoner.

    Anyhow, the French could only get away with intervening in that fashion by utilizing Mobutu, perhaps the last time that any western power would be able to do so. All of the Angolan, Namibian, Zanu and Kabila Sr. apologists seem to ignore this bit of colonialism prior to their intervention, preferring instead to try and paint a grand conspiracy by tiny Rwanda and war-torn Uganda to together conquer the continent and exploit it in the name of western masters. What I remember was a rather grand coalition of all the Eastern Provinces, with Kabila as the accepted figurehead because he did not represent any significant number of actual people. Poor naive Zaire, Kabila quickly made promises backed by mineral resources not in areas under his personal sway, not only to western powerhouses like Bechtel, but also millions of dollars in military procurement contracts to Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Angola.

    The Easterners were furious, Kabila thought that he was safe in the fortified heart of Kinshasa (a belief which ultimately proved false at the hands of his own bodyguards), and thumbed his nose at their objections. That was the moment that the rebels truly astonished me. They used unarmed passenger jets, exploiting the lack of air defense in the huge, ungoverned nation which was nevertheless cutting multi-decade mineral contracts, to fly troops clear across the country and seize not only the limited port facilities, but also to march inland and seize the hydro-electric infrastructure of the nation. It was with this strategic and tactical stranglehold in place that the ersatz pseudo-SADC military intervention began, with Namibian and Zimbabwean fighter crews establishing air superiority and Angolan tanks rolling in from north and south to cut off any retreat to the coast. Eventually still they had to cut a deal allowing the retreat back into the interior in exchange for not going scorched earth (see: Sherman's March to the Sea for the prototype) on the hydropower infrastructure.

    In my opinion there is no REAL DRC, no history of central governance beyond Belgian or Mobutu's oppression. That potential died along with Patrice. Much like the Kurds or Pashtun in Asia, so-called Yugoslavia in Cold War Europe, the nations are there, just not on the map. We all know that none of the borders on the continent make any kind of real sense (americans who have served in the military or have geographical educations sometimes ask me about how Zambia lost the Pedicle, and I have to admit that I am at a loss to explain it, because there was no battle that I know of, and no military commander would be satisfied with that lay of land), but the UN is dead set on static borders for the sake of global peace, except in extraordinary circumstances (whatever that means).

    Africa needs many many East Timors, or a few more Zambias. Around here on the Pacific Rim the Tribes that have done the best over the long run are those who bargained for mountain-to-river watershed control, even if the depth cost them breadth (of riverside prime farmland). In retrospect top of the waters and largely ignored by the colonial powers may turn out to have been a good place to be for Zambia. It is probably too late to change the entirety of what the Europeans call the Congo into a single Zambia-like state of relative Tribal harmony. There have been too many guns, too many arbitrary killings, and too many stolen children. Those who can cope with all that and still encompass a working political whole cannot be hamstrung by the transport and communication deficit most profound in those areas of DRC that need it most. Healing will require intimacy, if it happens at all.

    I mean absolutely no ill will to the government in Kinshasa when I say that they do not have sufficient mechanisms in place to adequately represent and serve their Eastern populations. I applaud their admittance of joint, international military operations on their soil to finally eradicate the pseudo-states run by the FDLR, LRA, and so-called opposition armies which employed similar tactics to achieve their popular resistance. It is however a sad fact that for a decade now these brutal regimes-within-a-regime could operate with virtual impunity not only within the DRC but in neighboring states (where in fact most such entities began) largely because of the impotence and/or corruption of the Kinshasa directed military in the region.

    The area and peoples currently designated as the DRC either need a federal system which fully recognizes the economic potential of eastern provinces, or they will fragment into locally governable states. The UN can continue to try and prevent this (Successfully thus far, due to priority of neighboring states on extinguishing the LRA and FDLR pseudo-states), but without significant concessions from Kinshasa the regional voices and arms will rise again. First and foremost has to be a thorough review of the actions of national army officers with regard to illegal mining and subsequent export from these same eastern provinces. [MrK, if you will, see what you can find out about the planes going in and out of Wali Kali everyday. They are apparently using a stretch of highway that runs through the town to export high grade tin ore, but I don't know who "they" are yet.]

    Back to the rural Zambian farmers who are at the center of this whole debate, everything I can find tells me that this soil has been worked over and over and over (even if it went fallow/wild for a generation or two, it was exhausted before that), and most crucially started from a chemical basis different from the European or American soils on which much of the decisions in previous generations of farmers were made, in ignorance. Until we know what the real chemistry of a given field is, we really can't help them (if the Gates Foundation had not announced their initiative to fund testing of all African cultivated land over the next four years, I would be pushing harder, as it is I am mixed between not believing them, and wanting to figure out how we convince them to do Zambia first and not last as always seems to be the case with Continental projects).

    Thankfully the current advice being given to the government with regard to the FSP seems to be at least trying to communicate this not obvious fact to persons who have not studied agriculture at all. "Fertilizer" as such can also be "Poison" without an accurate baseline of what is already there in the soil. Additionally relatively tiny amounts of metals like, hello, copper, can have significant impacts on the nitrogen uptake potential of plants (there are even lifeforms, shellfish mostly, which use copper instead of iron in blood, trust me it is compatible enough to get in the way). The tailings left by mining companies may be even now leaching just enough copper into critical watersheds to negate much of the subsidized fertilizer distributed in those areas. We don't know because of a one-size-fits-all approach to agricultural support that focuses on one crop and assumes that all soil and water is the same in spite of reporting agricultural statistics in five distinct groupings based on weather and soil for all other reporting or market comparison purposes.

    On the whole mechanisation thing you are spot on, MrK. New innovations are coming from the G8, out of the smaller scale family farms which are most analogous to the Zambian circumstance (envy the hundred-thousand hectare Kansas agribusiness farms all you want, Zambia cannot reproduce them in this generation, and frankly you don't want the associated problems either, please trust me on that). Still much larger than the typical Zambian farm, much of their additional income is consumed maintaining their western lifestyle, which desirable as it may be, is not the standard by which a rural subsistence farm need be measured. With access to all the best information in the world, they determine that the hardest thing to undo is soil compaction. The two single greatest causes of compaction are machinery and rain. They solve the latter with cover crops, that stop the rain from hitting the soil to begin with. They solve the former by building smaller machines that need to cross the ground less often (modern combine harvesters weigh 20 tonnes or more, where they go on modern farms on the most fertile soil, nothing will grow for decades (because not enough water gets in for life)).

    This brings me to Animal Traction. Much maligned by the modern farmer. Who wants a messy buffalo when they can have a nice clean John Deere Tractor? Well anyone who wants a bit of gratitude that's who. Because the buffalo is alive, it has a stake in all this too, it wants to work if that's what leads to being fed, and it certainly wants to breed. This new machinery, that is so focused on the first world farmer's fear for the one thing he cannot undo, compaction, is also small enough to bring animal traction back into the forefront. The weight to be moved is smaller, removing the engine makes it smaller still, and the buffalo makes more buffalo and requires no imported fuel. %$*& John Deere, he thinks diesel is cheap.

  3. Yakima,

    [MrK, if you will, see what you can find out about the planes going in and out of Wali Kali everyday. They are apparently using a stretch of highway that runs through the town to export high grade tin ore, but I don't know who "they" are yet.]

    What I have found on Walikale in North Kivu, is that the 85th Brigade is mainly involved in mining operations, that they are 'off the agenda for MONUC' and seem to be protected by someone in higher political/military circles. And that a leaving by the 85th Brigade is 'greeted with relief' by Kivu Resources.

    Behind the Numbers: Suffering in the Congo
    By keith harmon snow & David Barouski

    Recent interventions by the armed U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo (MONUC) have concentrated on disarming or eliminating the Forces for the Democratic Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a rebel group that opposes Rwanda, and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group that opposes Uganda. (Note that the Rwanda military has partnered with its erstwhile ÒenemiesÓ—the FDLR—when necessary to secure resource plunder; Uganda has its own patterns of complicity with its ÒrebelÓ enemies.) The removal of these rebel groups will effectively clear the eastern Congo for large–scale multinational mining. The Mai-Mai militia, whose stated goal is Òto protect Congo from Rwandan and Ugandan invaders,Ó has committed documented human rights abuses, yet they appear to be off the agenda for MONUC. The Mai-Mai operate in northern Katanga (Shaba) province.

    And yet it are former Mai-Mai rebels who constitute the 85th Brigade which is active in Kivu-Nord province on the Ugandan border.

    Guns, sweat and tears in North Kivu’s tin ore mines
    Nicholas Garrett in Goma drc

    Hoping to profit from high world tin prices, armed groups in North Kivu still manage to control the mining of the metal and its movement to world markets The Congolese army’s nonintegrated 85th brigade, made up of former Mai-Mai militia fighters, co-exists with the FDLR-FOCA in Walikale and is most directly involved in mining operations. It controls the Bisie mine and the transport routes from the mine to the nearby Kilambo airstrip.

  4. Yakima,

    An answer in two sections.

    I have two points, maybe coincidences, that I sort of arrived at independently, certainly no one from ZANU-PF helped me along the way to these facts.

    1) Laurent Kabila was assassinated exactly 40 years to the day after Patrice Lumumba was assassinated.

    This use of anniversary dates seems familiar (former CIA associate Osama bin Laden apparently used this for 9/11 2001, the very same year Laurent Kabila was murdered). This would imply that the same persons who killed Lumumba, also killed Kabila, and wanted the world to know it. The person most associated with the US/CIA at the time was Maurice Tempelsman, who is today a contributor to the Democratic Party, and specifically Hillary Clinton.

    2) The sponsors of ZDERA - Bill Frist, Russ Feingold, Joe Biden, Jesse Helms and Hillary Clinton

    This is a very odd combination of people. I know little about Russ Feingold, but I find it odd that any prominent Democrat would have anything to do with Jesse Helms. (See the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001)

    The only connection between Zimbabwe and Hillary Clinton I can think of, runs through the DRC to Maurice Tempelsman, one of her contributors, and family friend.

    Interesting dates:

    Jan 17, 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba

    Jan 16, 2001 assassination of Laurent Kabila

    Mar 8, 2001 Introduction of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001

    Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, Laurent Kabila was flown to Zimbabwe for treatment.

    On farming, soil compaction and draught power

    With access to all the best information in the world, they determine that the hardest thing to undo is soil compaction. The two single greatest causes of compaction are machinery and rain. They solve the latter with cover crops, that stop the rain from hitting the soil to begin with. They solve the former by building smaller machines that need to cross the ground less often (modern combine harvesters weigh 20 tonnes or more, where they go on modern farms on the most fertile soil, nothing will grow for decades (because not enough water gets in for life)).

    Soil compaction is easily streated in several ways. One, there are rippers available, even in the Keyline system, which are very friendly to microbial life, especially earthworms. Ripping needs to be done only once, and can be followed by no-till farming.

    By watering soil, the water is able to penetrate deeper into the soil and thereby stimulates soil life deeper in the soil, allowing plant roots to penetrate to a greater depth. Secondly, the use of composts or vegan fertilizer stimulate microbial activity, which loosens the soil from the inside out. The microbes expell gases and make soil very loose and easily penetrated by plant roots. I have seen that using potting soil.

    The weight to be moved is smaller, removing the engine makes it smaller still, and the buffalo makes more buffalo and requires no imported fuel. %$*& John Deere, he thinks diesel is cheap.

    I think for a long time, the obstacle to using animal traction in Africa has been cattle diseases. But if those were eliminated, obviously there would be ample future for animal traction. I don't know how much land can be cultivated that way though. Usually, they make cultivation of much smaller plots of land possible.

    By the way, on the issue of Keyline, this 1,550 hectare property was developed for $23,209, putting the cost per hectare at $14,97 and the cost per 100 hectares at $1497.

    Also, a 50 ML dam irrigates 100 hectares per fill, meaning that it would water 50 hectares (per farm) twice, making 2 harvests possible.

  5. MrK,

    Thanks very much for those responses. The information on the 85th brigade is extremely helpful, and your elaboration on the circumstances surrounding Laurent Kabila's murder does raise some interesting questions.

    I'll admit that I assumed that the date was chosen because the anniversary of Patrice Lumumba's assassination created a situation whereby Kabila's personal movements were entirely predictable. I had not thought that perhaps it was a part of the message being sent to the public, an intriguing notion. Certainly the declassified history of the US CIA indicates that assassination of foreign heads of state is not something that they have shied away from trying in the past.

    I dug around a bit for some background on US military action or support in the DRC and came across this report. Doesn't mention Lumumba's assassination, but rather illuminating bit of historical analysis nonetheless.

  6. MrK,

    Indeed, you are correct that largely treatable or avoidable livestock diseases have hamstrung the use of animal traction. Let us hope that support programs like those described by IPS, Livestock Vital to Rural Livelihoods, will be effective. I still think that over the long term the livestock will prove a better investment for the smaller and more isolated Zambian farmsteads than tractors. At least until such villages are flush with spare parts, biodiesel inputs, and people who know how to use them.

    Specifically for Asian Water Buffalo, most of the bovine diseases are potentially a problem. Unlike cattle herds however, traction animals tend to range less and have less contact with other animals, which greatly reduces their exposure to potential disease vectors. Diseases carried via parasites can be avoided (e.g. tsetse fly traps, tick dips, avian insectivore habitat) or mitigated by timely interventions (e.g. immediate de-worming following heavy rains, quarantines, even eradication of infected animals). Great care should be taken to ensure that animals are venereal disease-free prior to breeding.

    Ideally, Zambia can be aggressive and achieve disease free without vaccination status for most diseases, which will be both the least expensive for livestock owners over the long term and improve the profitability of animal product exports. A decentralized network of rural veterinary services needs to be established, with resources and decision-making powers sufficient to contain disease outbreaks at the earliest possible point of intervention.

    On a separate note, the Keyline project described is useful as a benchmark, however needs to be updated for 20-odd years of inflation as well as consideration for differences in existing infrastructure between rural Zambia and Australian development around Brisbane. You are quite right about soil-ripping as an intervention for highly compacted soils, but as the name implies it is an intensive and disruptive activity which can be avoided using modern no-till practices. As with diseases, on balance prevention is far cheaper than cure.

  7. Rodale Institute provides free design plans for single pass no-till crop rollers capable of being pulled by a small tractor or animal team. This is an opportunity for a Zambian manufacturer as there is zero intellectual property cost associated with the technology.

  8. Pastured poultry may be the best way to sustainably increase poultry production without high impact on maize for human consumption. Mobile coops allow the birds to graze on a different patch of pasture each day, effectively reducing the need for extra feed, insect populations, and evenly spreading guano across the field.


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