The year 2020 has presented unforeseen challenges around the world. But if we want to see the glass half-full, we also should remember our blessings—and maybe in hard times like these, we have a special obligation to recognize the good in our lives.
Granted, 2020 was tough. This was the year when we discovered that no matter how bad things became, they still could get worse.
We suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic, economic shutdowns, and political turmoil.
Yet we also live in an era of miraculous technology: Less than a year after most of us first heard the word “coronavirus,” help is on the way. Vaccines are being delivered. Previous generations enjoyed nothing like this. They suffered as diseases ran their deadly course.
Personally, I’m thankful that my family is healthy, including my parents.
I don’t mean to diminish our difficulties. Here in Argentina, we’ve had to severely limit our interactions with family and friends. The conditions of permanent uncertainty and fear are concerning. All the schools closed with no proper education for our children.
On our farm, we’re dealing with a drought that makes it hard to grow corn and soybeans. As we try to plant our crops—it’s springtime in the southern hemisphere—we’re coping with rainfall at 60 percent of its normal level and temperatures that have soared above 40 degrees Celsius (which is more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit). The problem is more complex by the fact that we’re coming off seasons that also have been dry.
At least we’re able to work. The COVID-19 lockdowns haven’t affected the basics of what we do on the farm. Governments around the world have forced many businesses to close or reduce their activities. In Argentina, with a personal permit, farmers continue to work, however. Food production must go on because we all need to eat.
That’s another thing to bear in mind: For all of this year’s challenges, which have included disruptions to the food industry’s supply chains, our fundamental resilience has allowed us to maintain an essential level of food security. Things could very easily be a lot worse. History is full of famines.
No-till farming has helped our situation in Argentina. Because we don’t follow the traditional agricultural practice of plowing our soil, we’re helping it retain the moisture and nutrients needed for planted crops to grow and mature. That means we’re much better off than we otherwise would have been in an earlier era.
One of my personal goals as a farmer is to share the strategy of no-till agriculture with other farmers. As a member of the Argentinian No Till Farmer Association, whose acronym in Spanish is “Aapresid,” I’ve worked for several years to introduce this concept to African producers. In Aapresid we say and believe that nobody knows more than we know all together.
Although the pandemic has prevented us from traveling across the ocean, as we have before, we still communicate with farmers and technicians in Ghana, Guinea-Conarky, and South Africa. I don’t know anybody who prefers virtual meetings to in-person gatherings, but we all should be glad to have technologies that make the distance shorter and allow us to keep learning from each other.
It’s important to remember that Argentina and Africa aren’t the same. Just because something works in the Pampas doesn’t mean it will work in the savannahs. Yet I continue to believe that some of our approaches to farming can make a difference over there, pointing Africans toward economic and environmental sustainability.
They certainly can learn from our mistakes. As Africans consider adopting no-till agriculture production and cover crops, I like to tell them about all of the blunders we made during our history as we took up these strategies and refined them over the years. This exchange of information and experiences makes us all better producers of food—even in a year like 2020.
Going to Africa is a permanent learning! African people say: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, let’s go together!”
The opportunity to see Africa’s challenges in first-person—learning about their culture, thoughts, and times—makes me mindful of what we have in Argentina and in the developed world, where safe drinking water, electricity, and wifi are ordinary features of life. In Africa, they are not. And sometimes when I start to look at 2020 with a glass half-empty, I’ve had to stop and remember that others aspire to enjoy the advantages we have today.
And I also tell myself that 2021 will be here soon.
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