In a World of Conflict, Farmers Collaborate to Grow More Food

yellow banana fruits

In a world of fierce competition, agriculture is very often about collaboration. Neighbors help neighbors. Co-ops join resources for mutual benefit. Commodity groups promote the good of their members.

Farmers also reach across borders to solve problems, as we discovered in what might appear to many to be an unlikely partnership.

Sudhanshu is a farmer in India and Patience is a farmer in Nigeria. A little more than two years ago, just before the pandemic, we met in Mexico at a meeting hosted by the Global Farmer Network.

We don’t appear to share much in common: We live in different places, deal with different climates and soils, and use different technologies.

As farmers, however, we’re animated by a spirit of cooperation. We look for reasons to come together rather than excuses to keep us apart.

We also both grow bananas, and one of us needed the other’s help.

Sudhanshu is an experienced producer, growing maize, wheat, and more in the northern Indian state of Bihar. He’s a strong advocate of technology, including irrigation, mechanization, and genetic modification. Yet he faces a mundane challenge of agriculture: His cereal crops provide income for five or six months, and it is beneficial to have an income year-round.

Bananas offer a solution because they can generate income as soon as 11 months. When Sudhanshu decided to grow them, he needed to learn what to do. He consulted with other farmers in his region, taking advantage of their knowledge and their willingness to share information and advice.

Ever since, he has tried to help farmers who can benefit from his expertise. In the last three years, for example, about 3,000 farmers have visited his farm to learn about his techniques. He also posts instructional videos.

Patience took up bananas more recently. She sought to diversify her farm in the middle of Nigeria, where she also grows maize, cowpeas, and cotton.

When we met, Patience was facing several challenges. Some of her banana trees were wilting. Others were very prone to wind damage and were falling over. She worried that her decision to grow bananas was a costly mistake.

What we discovered in Mexico is that we were growing the same variety of bananas, even though thousands of miles separated our farms.

Sudhanshu understood Patience’s problems—and he helped save the young banana plantation.

To stop the wilting, he suggested that she move the fertilizer farther from the roots of the trees. He also recommended irrigation. These two steps made an immediate difference in the health and vitality of her bananas.

Yet there was another difficulty. Patience’s trees sagged beneath the weight of their fruit, threatening to break and collapse. She propped them up with bamboo sticks. Although this method worked, it was expensive and time consuming. It solved one problem, only to create new ones. She needed an alternative.

Sudhanshu knew what to do. He told Patience to create a support system for her banana trees by tying them to other plants with nylon tape. He shared a video from his farm and followed up on the phone. His approach allowed Patience to give the trees the strength they needed to survive and thrive.

Farmers of course are used to working across international boundaries: Many of us depend on global trade for our livelihood. That’s why we’re always trying to promote trade agreements, as we seek to reduce the artificial barriers that interfere with everyone’s ability to exchange goods and services.

Without international trade, in fact, Patience might never have started her banana plantation: Her goal is to boost her income by selling her bananas to customers in other countries. What’s more, she bought her banana trees from an Israeli company that had grown them in an Indian lab.

Even before she met Sudhanshu, her banana plantation was the result of international teamwork.

We live in a world of division. While Russia’s war on Ukraine dominates the news, our own nations suffer from conflict: India struggles in its relationship with Pakistan and Nigeria is beset by banditry.

With so many things going wrong, it’s nice to see something go right—and in a world facing a growing challenge of food inflation and insecurity for many, it’s exciting to learn with and from farmers collaborating to grow more food.

Onyaole Patience Koku

Onyaole Patience Koku

Patience Koku is serving the GFN as Regional Lead: Africa. Patience's farm is located on the Jere Azara irrigation scheme, Kagarko Local government, in Kaduna State Nigeria. The farm produces two crops annually under center pivot irrigation. They grow mostly seed corn and corn grain for major food processing companies in Nigeria, like Flour Mills of Nigeria. She is the recipient of the 2019 Kleckner Award from the Global Farmer Network and 2018 Cornell Alliance For Science Farmer of the year. She also serves on the Cornell Alliance For Science advisory board. In her time as a member of the GFN, she has advocated on major stages.

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