East Africa’s Agriculture Sector is Blossoming. Really!

Another development ag Wednesday from our fantastic partner, Christine Freak direct from Grass Ceilings. Check out her impressive bio here.

Agriculture has been on top of the development agenda in East Africa for decades. Many organisations such as the United Nations and World Bank had focused on staple crop production to reduce hunger and improve food security. So it now seems rather peculiar that some of the major agricultural products coming out of East Africa are coffee, chocolate and… flowers? If only these were the staples!

But, whilst products like these are sure to fill a special someone’s heart, they are not exactly what comes to mind in filling the stomachs of some of the most malnourished and food insecure regions of the world.  So, why are countries such as Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya producing flowers instead of flour?

This week’s Development Agriculture article will take a snapshot look at the Floriculture industry of East Africa! We will see how the shift to producing cut flowers is a high-tech, modern, knowledge based, and economically viable form of agricultural diversification, and the impacts it has had on the agricultural sector and farmer’s livelihoods more broadly!

There is a long-standing debate about what farmers in developing countries should be producing. Some argue that farmers should focus their resources on subsistence production and staple crops. These people argue that local food security is best met if the community themselves produce the food they need. Exports are then restricted to whatever supplies are left over. Others, on the other hand, argue that farmers in developing countries should focus on producing cash crops (such as coffee or cacao) and exporting these to foreign markets. These people believe that if farmers can earn enough revenue from their exports, they can then purchase food with the greater income. Initially, it seems somewhat odd that people who lack a stable and consistent supply of food would produce luxury foods such as coffee, chocolate and flowers. But, the additional weight of this argument is that exports also bring foreign exchange earnings, which allows farmers the capacity to import machinery to enhance their productivity in the long-term, and also reach larger markets with higher value crops.

Many developing countries are also located in tropical zones, which gives them a niche (or comparative advantage perhaps) in many products. Arguments aside, it seems some of the most food secure regions of the developing world have been able to manage local production alongside exports of high-value crops such as flowers.

Prior to 1990, the major cut flower producers in the world were the Netherlands, United States, France and Germany. Only 5 years later, many developing countries had overtaken these world leaders as key exporters.  Countries across Africa (particularly, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa) and South America (Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador) budded onto world markets. Exports from Tanzania to Europe increased by 700% in volume! Exports from Kenya also increased significantly by 173%, and from Ecuador by 155%. This was largely due to favourable tropical growing conditions, and access to cheap labour (given cut flower production is very labour intensive). Growers traditionally based in the US or Europe began investing in farms in developing countries, who could produce high quality flowers at lower costs.

Countries such as Tanzania and Kenya now have a larger floriculture production capacity than many developed nations!


Snapshot of Tanzania

The cut flower industry of Tanzania began to blossom in 1986. Each year Tanzania exports 6000 tones of flowers. The main growing region is located in the mountains to the North, in the Arusha and Arumeru districts (not too far from Mt Kilimanjaro). The area is very favourable to floriculture, given low temperatures and high altitudes, which allows production year round. Another attractive part of this location is the proximity to Kenya, and two international airports to reach foreign markets. Kenyas Nairobi airport even has a dedicated terminal for flowers and vegetables!

The cut flowers (and planting materials) are cultivated in plastic greenhouses. There are now over 36,000 square meters of greenhouses located in the Arusha region. It is common for the flowers to be grown in soilless culture, including coconut peat and volcanic turfs.

One study found that a facility in the Arusha region produced 3.5million flower stems per hectare per year – 10 times higher than the production rates of most European countries. The Arusha region exports an average of 50 tones of flowers each week.  Roses contribute over 75% of this amount.


Flower Power in Kenya

Kenya is seen as a leader in the region for cut flowers, and has even been described as “the garden of Europe”. Kenya is the third largest exporter of cut flowers, accounting for 35% of all EU sales. Floriculture is also now Kenya’s second largest source of foreign exchange earnings, making it crucial for the whole economy! Floriculture employs over 500,000 people in Kenya, which means around 2 million people depend on it for their livelihoods. The main flowers produced are: roses, carnations and Alstromeria.

Flower production in Kenya is rather high-tech, with technology and scientific expertise being led by developments in the Netherlands. Some of these technologies include: drip irrigation, fertigation systems, temperature controlled green houses, pre-cooling, fertilizer recycling systems to prevent waste, artificial lighting and refrigerated facilities.

Check out these videos for a glimpse into the floriculture industry of Kenya.

And a brief snapshot of Ethiopian roses too!

Rose coloured glasses? What are the challenges?

But not everything is as rosey as it seems. There are concerns that the growth in floriculture is not environmentally sustainable, and there have been concerns raised about workers’ rights. One of the big challenges of floriculture, particularly roses, is the huge water requirements. Roses can’t go more than 24 hours without water, otherwise farmers risk having imperfections which can result in losing the entire crop. Roses need irrigating 7 times a day, so a constant water supply is essential. The soil is irrigated, rather than the plant itself, to prevent fungus outbreaks. Farms in this area ensure they have at least 2 times the water supply required, having large reservoirs, boreholes and rivers.

With the blooming floriculture industry of East Africa, farmers have seen their incomes increase, and food security, overall, has also blossomed. So next time you decide to spoil a special someone with a sweet bunch of roses, remember the gift that agriculture and floristry is to many parts of the developing world, providing jobs, incomes, food security and economic growth through a high-tech, advanced, and world leading industry – which also challenges many common perceptions of agriculture in developing countries!





The First Farmers

The world’s oldest grindstones dating back to 30,000 BCE, plentiful harvests as far as the eye can see and rolling pastures of green straight out of a golf course. An idyllic image bringing up the idea of an ancient civilisation straight out of the cradle of civilisation. But this isn’t some distant people and land. This is an Australian story, one of indigenous agriculture right here in Australia – the oldest story of agriculture and baking anywhere in the world.

National reconciliation week runs from May 27 to June 3 every year. It marks the two historic moments in indigenous history – the 1967 referendum recognising indigenous and the Mabo case. 50 years has passed since the 1967 referendum and now 25 since the Mabo case, so in light of these significant milestones, it makes sense to revisit the incredible and unrecognised large scale agriculture that persisted for millennia.

When Europeans first painted the Australian landscape it was and is still claimed to be romanticised. However, in recent books unearthing old writings of early explorers the idea of a green, rolling ‘gentleman’s garden‘ (seen below) is one not of romanticism but of reality. Moreover, the indigenous people were regarded by the European settlers as having a sophisticated and adept use of plants and animals in ways that would sustain large populations.

Early European depictions of the Australian landscape (source)

Completely understandably, the newcomers from England brought with them animals and plants they new how to cultivate and species they knew were edible. Yet it is quite clear that the conditions in England – the soil, the weather, the age of the earth, are so very different to the soils and climate in Australia. The land management techniques, intensive cultivation and plant species did not suit the fragile and extremely old soils of the landscape. Much like the English that are frequently found looking like lobsters on our beaches, the species were out of place.

Hard hooved animals like sheep and cows compacted large areas of earth where early explorers had previously observed bountiful harvests of yams grown by local indigenous people.

Farmers noted the alarming drop in productivity over a mere handful of years as sheep ate out the croplands and compacted the light soils. ‘In Australia thousands of years of grass and soil changed in a few years. The spongy soil grew hard, the run-off accelerated and different grasses dominated.'”

– Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu

As a brief pause – while there is a clear tale of colonial Australia subjugating the evidence of widespread indigenous agriculture in order to maintain and ‘colonisation’ narrative, it is important to celebrate the agriculture that existed and ensure that it continues to exist, rather than focus on the negative actions of these first European arrivals.

When Europeans began classifying regions and civilisations they set out five key points that defined developed agriculture:

  1. Selection of seed
  2. Soil preparation
  3. Harvest of the crop
  4. Storage of surplus crop
  5. Large populations and permanent housing

The thing worth sharing, one which is often put to the wayside, is that the indigenous people displayed all five of these characteristics of developed agriculture. Take for example the first hand evidence provided in the diary of explorer and surveyor Major Thomas Mitchell.

The grass is pulled … and piled in hayricks, so that the aspect of the desert was softened into the agreeable semblance of a hay-field … we found the ricks or hay-cocks extending for miles.”


… the seed is made by the natives into a kind of paste or bread. Dry heaps of this grass, that has been pulled expressly for this purpose of gathering the seed, lay along our path for many miles.”

On villages and huts Major Mitchell estimates that a population of over a thousand would live in the area and notes:

… some huts being large, circular; and made of straight rods meeting at an upright pole in the centre; the outside had first been covered with bark and grass, and the entirety coated over with clay. The fire appeared to have been made nearly in the centre; and a hole at the top had been left as a chimney.”

There are numerous diary entries of these early explorers explaining their bewilderment at finding signs of permanent residence and agriculture. Remember they had been led to believe that either no one was here, or that the only people here were uncivilised and described as savages.

Continuing the evidence of cultivation, explorer George Grey in Western Australia found wells and large fields of yams in the Gascoyne.

We now crossed the dry bed of a stream, and from that emerged upon a tract of light fertile soil quite overrun with warran plants [yams – Dioscorea hastifolia], the root of which is a favourite article of food with the natives.”

George noted that:

… indeed we could with difficulty walk across it [field of yam holes] on that account whilst the tract extended east and west as far as we could see.”

Later on the next day:

After crossing a low limestone range we came upon another equally fertile warran [yams] ground … and next day passed two native villages, or as the men termed them towns … they were evidently intended for fixed places of residence.”

An early drawing of a yam.

A sketch by Andrew Todd in 1835, a guard of stores at Indented Head in Victoria, shows two women harvesting the yams from their cleared field. In fact many other depictions, diaries and stories by early settlers and explorers detail the extensive harvest of yams and grains by the indigenous people.


The records of grains production, not just yams, were so widespread that Norman Tindale compiled a map of the indigenous grain growing region. The dotted lines in the image below indicate the current major grain growing belt. Based on research into these early accounts, Bruce Pascoe concludes that yam production occurred in the high rainfall coastal plains, while grains were grown in the drier climates. Moreover, grain was treated as a commodity traded between different communities and gifted to relatives for important events in parcels.

Aboriginal grain beltWalter Smith, a bush worker and cameleer, described the careful hand casted sowing and irrigation practices of the indigenous people he observed while working in the bush. Logically, the science of grinding grain for flour and baking was associated with grain production. Richard Fullagar (Australian Museum) and Judith Furby (University of New South Wales) found grindstones at Cuddie Springs in western New South Wales. These grindstones were used to grind seeds more than 30,000 years ago rendering Indigenous Australians the oldest bakers known to man by almost 15,000 years. Just consider that – Australians predating the Egyptians as the most advanced civilisation in the world by 15,000 years. The find wasn’t even a one off. Archeologists also found a 25,000 year old grindstone in Kakadu.

grinding stone e49213 - lar.jpg
Grinding stone used to mill grains for flour locate at the Australian Museum. Fragments of a similar stone were found dating back to at least 30,000BCE (source)

On a final note, in case the above information left you wanting more, I’ll leave you with primary evidence from Captain Charles Sturt. He described the bountiful harvests of grain the Indigenous people enjoyed. A well known man with both a university and plant namesake (to name just two), Sturt said he saw:

“… grassy plains spreading out like boundless stubble field, the grass being of the kind from which the natives collect seed for subsistence at this season of the year … large heaps that had been thrashed out by the natives were piled up like haycocks.”

Further analysis of other entries leads to the conclusion that the grass described by Sturt is in fact Panicum decompositum, otherwise known as native millet or barley grass.


Unfortunately books from which the above evidence is drawn, are frequently cast to the wayside in spite of their well received awards and critical acclaim.

“But it hardly caused a ripple – from then till now – in dislodging common assumptions long held by many Australians, first learned in the classroom and often trotted out since.”

Profession Marcia Langton, University of Melbourne

Is it not something we should all celebrate? That Australians have the oldest millstones in the world, that indigenous Australians were not subsistence, nomads as so frequently taught in schools and believed throughout Australia. We should celebrate the incredible indigenous culture that we all share as Australian people and be incredibly proud of this unique land and its heritage.


Source: Cover image

The information for this article was found in Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia. Both are fantastic reads.

If you see anything that needs correcting or adding please get in contact at: agrieducate@gmail.com. And remember if you have a story about agriculture to share get in contact too!

How the Uber of Agriculture is Changing Nigeria: Hello Tractor

On a farm in Nigeria and need a tractor – just get an Uber! (Well, sort of…). Another development ag Wednesday by our fantastic partner, Christine Freak, from Grass Ceilings. Check out her impressive bio here.

Nigeria has around 35 million smallholder farmers. In the 1960s, Nigeria was self-sufficient in food, but is now a net food importer. This is despite having over 80million hectares of arable land, where only 40% is currently cultivated. Whilst there are many factors that contribute to this, major factors include labour shortages and low agricultural mechanisation. In particular, Nigeria is estimated to have a shortage of tractors – short by 73,000!

Not only do many farmers lack the machinery to scale up production, but financing a loan can be extremely difficult and costly (think interest rates over 30% – yikes). This means that many farmers resort to traditional agricultural practices which are simply no match for what modern mechanised agriculture has to offer for both quantity or quality. This is where innovation and technology comes in!

The app Hello Tractor allows farmers in Nigeria to request a tractor from nearby tractor owners. Just think of Uber for tractors! This means farmers can increase both production, and their income, leading to improvements for food security and livelihoods generally.

When a farmer is in need of a tractor, they send a request through the Hello Tractor app, which identifies nearby tractor owners, who can respond to the message request. The tractors are fitted with a GPS to make things easier. The farmers pre-pay on their phone, and once the work is completed, this money is then sent to the tractor owner.  A fun fact to remember is that more people in many parts of Africa have access to a mobile phone, than they do piped water.

The app uses Smart Tractors (valued at US$3,500) which are equipped with a GPS for tracking, and are adjusted to suit smaller plot sizes. The Smart Tractors can do 40 days worth of manual labour in just one day!

Hello Tractor costs one-third of the price of hiring manual farm labour, even considering costs for fuel, maintenance, repairs and loans.  This is mostly since tractors are estimated to be 40 times faster than manual labour. The app benefits both tractor owners who receive around  $75/hectare, and the small-holders whose profits increase from around $5 (with manual labour), to $25.

Since 2014, farmers have seen yields increase by 200%. This has had huge impacts on food availability and incomes in the region. The program is now also expanding into Ghana and Kenya.

Calestous Juma, a researcher with Harvard University and from Kenya himself, has found that Africa overall has a shortage of tractors. Globally, on average, there are 200 tractors for every 100,000 square kilometres. Yet, across Africa, this average is only 13. This suggests one contributing factor to lower agricultural production in the region. But the solution isn’t as simple as getting more tractors. Tractors are expensive, and banks rarely loan to smallholder farmers. Accessing parts and repairs is difficult, has time lags, and also expensive. Plus, tractors are also rather controversial in many rural communities as they are seen to take away local jobs.

Using technology to address these challenges can have vast effects. Hello Tractor has already received much traction, even being positively acknowledged by Barack Obama, and receiving funding from USAID, and IFAD.

Hello Tractor is just one example of some of the incredible initiatives across many parts of the world which combine technology and agriculture to make a real difference.

Part 1: Is Pokémon Go a Step Away from Virtual Animal Management?

Part 1 of our series investigating youth in agriculture and how to attract more people into the industry.

The frequency of Google searches for specific keywords is often used as a barometer on rising issues or new internet fads. Take for example Pokémon Go. It made news across the World as thousands of people roamed the streets looking for Pokémon on their phones. There was even a stampede in Taiwan. Naturally, Google provides a very clear indication of its rise in popularity and subsequent decay (approximating an inverse relationship):

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.02.04 AM

It’s not hard to work out that the augmented reality, rejigged classic was released in selected countries on July 12 2016.

Apply this analysis to many internet fads, real life events, important discoveries, and it becomes clear that what we search on the most popular search site is very closely linked to our interests and concerns.

What becomes troubling then are the implications of the graph below. Comparing the relative search frequency of farming and food shows an ever increasing search frequency for ‘food’. On the other hand, the search for ‘farming’ or ‘farm’ has been declining since a peak in November 2014.

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 11.58.12 PM

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 12.14.39 AM.png

Perhaps, the graphs could be read that as people become increasingly concerned about the food they consume, there is fading concern and interest for the way it is produced. Aside from the trend, it is intriguing that the relative search frequency for ‘food’ is more than 20 times greater than ‘farming’ even when comparing peaks.

The distance between food consumption and food production is continuing to grow. There are more signs of this occurring, as Australia moves towards a 90% level of urbanisation and agricultural science graduates remain low (although showing positive upticks in popularity).

Whatever may be the case, it paints an interesting scenario that only serves to redouble the efforts of agricultural communicators (such as ourselves, Thank a Farmer), those reconnecting consumers and kids with agriculture (George the Farmer), and other groups encouraging more young people into farming (Cultivate Farms) to name a few. There must be a concerted effort to turn the trend around, beginning locally before moving to national and international scale.

While the numbers on Google may be concerning, the calls to encourage youth into agriculture are coming from a range of areas. In a submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Foreign Policy White Paper, the Crawford Fund noted that:

“we need to encourage younger people and early career researchers into modern agriculture with opportunities in its digital and international dimensions”

Crawford Fund

Within the industry, the Australian Farm Institute, the National Farmers’ Federation and the Agriculture Institute Australia (to name a few peak bodies) are all calling for similar goals in expanding the number of young people in agriculture.

After all, if an augmented reality game about chasing fictional animals in the real world can receive 500 million downloads in 10 months, imagine the possibilities in using virtual reality to conduct animal management tasks remotely, or even drones to target weeds and disease. Imagine the rewards if you really did catch ’em all in your paddock.

Part 1 of our series investigating youth in agriculture and how to attract more people into the industry.

Seeing the Farm for the Trees: Agroforestry in Developing Countries

As global population increases, and global food demand rises to match, efficient land management and sustainable agricultural production is becoming increasingly important.

Agroforestry intentionally blends agriculture and forestry to increase productivity, maximise land use and enhance environmental standards. While your first thought may be an image of clear felling forests only to replant with trees, the reality is rather different. Simply:

 Agroforestry = Agriculture + Forestry

Agroforestry is considered climate-smart, combining initiatives towards improved livelihoods with strategies to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Agroforestry systems include:

  • Silvopasture – combines trees and livestock to provide timber, fruit, shade and shelter
  • Alley Cropping – planting crops between rows of trees, to provide income as trees grow
  • Forest Farming – farming under a forest canopy to integrate farming with the natural ecosystem
  • Windbreaks – provide shelter for livestock and crops
  • Riparian Forest Buffers – shrubs and trees alongside a river which filter runoff water before it enters the waterway improving water quality and river health.

As with all various farming techniques there are both upsides and downsides to the approach. However, in agroforestry the negatives are relatively minor. Trees take time to grow, so the solution is certainly not a quick fix. Further, the knowledge required to successfully grow trees and ground-based crops in the same area is highly sought after.

On the other hand there are a multitude of benefits to agroforestry.

Environmental benefits
Agroforestry ensures efficient land-use, which is vital in areas with a limited capacity for agricultural land or farmers access to land rights. This also reduces the need for deforestation. Agroforestry thus reduces major causes of climate change, but also builds resilience in adapting to its effects. This can include carbon sequestration, better soil nutrition management, providing shade from harsh sun and creating microclimates, filtering and storing water, improving soil structure and preventing erosion, protecting biodiversity and reducing need for pesticides and fertilisers.

Economic benefits
Agroforestry diversifies farmers’ incomes. A farmer can plant smaller crops to gain an income whilst larger trees mature, acting as a safety-net for long term investments. Crop diversity is also important when crops are affected by a disease or pest. In such an event, monocultures would fail and remove any hope of an income. Similarly, if crop prices fall, or experience frequent fluctuations, agroforestry provides a more stable income. In essence, agroforestry spreads risk and improves the bottom line.  Improved nutritional diversity also increases community health, leading to long term increases in productivity.  By-products provide a means for additional revenue, or personal usage, such as wood for fuel.

Social benefits
Agroforestry systems have been known to improve women’s access to agricultural work, validate indigenous knowledge and improve livelihoods in rural areas.

Case Study: Tanzania
“Kihamba” is a traditional agroforestry system on the southern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, covering 120,000 hectares. The system maximises available land with several layers of vegetation and significant biodiversity.

The multi-tier agroforestry system (similar to the canopy layers of tropical forests) includes over 500 plant species (perennial trees, bannanas, coffee, vines and annual crops). These are grown on small plots (Kihamba) and irrigated with traditional storage ponds (Nduwa).

The UNFAO states:

“Without undermining sustainability, it has been able to support one of the highest rural population densities in Africa, providing livelihoods for an estimated one million people”.

The high biomass and sustainable farming practices are essential for the ecosystems of Mt Kilimanjaro and surrounding areas – the mountain itself functions as a watertower for nearby regions.

The system has operated effectively in the region for over 800 years, but the introduction of coffee production presented significant changes to local agricultural practices. Production relied on harmful levels of pesticides, chemical fertilisers, and a monoculture that challenged traditional agro-ecological methods. Yet, coffee production has also provided great economic benefits, which people needed for cash incomes. So effectively integrating coffee production that can generate significant cash incomes, with ecologically sustainable methods, is vital.

Adjustments include planting trees at a required distance, using natural manure and pesticides (such as cow dung and urine), replacement of monocropping, and the the Shimbwe Juu community have become certified as organic coffee producers to reach niche markets.

The restoration of the Kimamba agroforesty system is an example of a success story of climate-smart agriculture and shows the great benefits traditional farming systems have to offer modern agriculture.

60% of the Nepalese population depend on agriculture and forestry for their livelihood. Nepal is also the 17th poorest country globally, has a population 41% malnourished, and nearly half of the districts are classified as food insecure.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) are currently working on a project to enhance Nepals food security from agroforestry. The projects objectives are:

  1. To enhance the capacity of small-holder forestry systems
  2. To improve the functioning of community based forestry systems
  3. To increase the productivity and access to under-utilised agricultural land


Peruvian Expertise in Agriculture

There are many common misconceptions about development agriculture. It’s important to acknowledge that many of the traditional agricultural practices all over the world are highly complex, based on thousands of years of local knowledge, and even inform modern farming methods.

Understanding the qualities of traditional farming methods, knowledge, and crops, have been essential in creating the modern agricultural systems we know today, and are said to be vital for ensuring future food security.

One example comes from the Incas, who designed terraces to prevent erosion from high rainfall, and create microclimates to diversify food production in their local area. Further, domesticating the local grain Quinoa has aided food security and income generation in many parts of South America, whilst also appearing on plates world-wide.

See how Peru’s rich agricultural heritage is reviving the efficiency and productivity of Peruvian agriculture.

Budget 2017

#BudgetNight 2017 is here! So what does it mean for farmers and those living in rural areas? 

Inland Rail – as suggested the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will receive $8.4 billion in funding for the 1700km freight line between Brisbane and Melbourne. Lower freight costs for Eastern farmers sending bulk commodities to port.

Landcare – Landcare is all about managing environmental issues in local communities and helping farmers sustainably manage their land to ensure it is available and arable for generations to come. Programs range from tree planting, feral animal and weed control, helping manage soil with the aim of ensuring environmental and farming resilience. They have received successive funding cuts but the #Budget17 promises at least $1 billion annually over the next few years with a once off $100 million top up negotiated by the greens to get the backpacker tax through.

Quarantine and Biosecurity – no extra funds to see here. Most of the costs incurred by the recent pest outbreaks are to be borne by the industry.

Farm Household Allowance – the program will continue indefinitely, but farmers doing it tough will only be able to collect the same payment for three years. At the end of the three years the same farmers will have new access to concessional loans.

Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) – will receive $4 billion over the next four years and will centralise concessional loans as well as the $2 billion for water infrastructure projects already allocated.

Livestock Global Assurance Program (LGAP) – the second iteration of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) will receive $8.3 million over four years

Milk Price Index – will receive $2 million to finance its development.

Indigenous jobs – the government is trying to bolster Indigenous employment rates, through a $55.7 million commitment. More than $30 million will be spent helping Indigenous people get jobs, while almost $18 million will help Indigenous prisoners find work after they are released.

Regional health – the government will also spend $50 million to establish research fund to help close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health and employment. There’s also $9 million allocated to improve psychological services through telehealth in rural Australia.

Continuations from previous budgets:

Asset write-off – from 2015 this project allows farmers to write-off up to $20,000 for purchasing new machinery.

So who and what has lost out?

There’s no new money for a key issue impacting the productivity, efficiency and safety of farmers – mobile phone blackspots. Nor is there any money to address the widespread data drought. Sadly $2 million is also being taken away from regional student relocation scholarships for tertiary education.

So that’s the majority of the changes directly impacting our farmers and regions as a quick summary of two ABC Rural articles.

Staying afloat: Farmers innovative response to climate change in Bangladesh


In rural villages of Bangladesh, which are dependent on local agriculture for both income and food, excess water can be devastating. Melting snow caps in the Himalayas are causing rapid increases of water levels in tributary rivers, encroaching on already limited agricultural land space. Bangladesh is covered by over 230 of the world’s most unstable rivers, and flooding is becoming more common. Traditionally, flooding was predicted in the monsoon season for around 2 months, allowing crops to be grown for the remainder of the year. Recently, however, flooding has intensified and soils remain waterlogged for most of the year. This makes common agricultural practices nearly impossible.

The case study of rural villages in Bangladesh (such as Charbhangura) shows the importance of adjusting agricultural practices to changing climatic conditions, and adopting innovative solutions in response. So what’s the solution here – floating farms!

Floating farms (or ‘dhap’, meaning soilless farming) provide a platform for crops to be grown that adjusts to changing water levels. They are usually made from organic matter such as bamboo, hyacinth, soil and cow dung, or can be floated with empty oil drums.  It is essentially similar to hydroponics, but uses locally available materials. The plant bed size varies, but is usually 15-50m in length, 1.5-2m wide, and 0.6-0.9m thick.

Many varieties of vegetables and spices are already being grown on floating farms, including beans, tomatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, carrots, ginger and radishes. Floating farms are also used for poultry, such as ducks. Plant beds from the previous harvest can also be re-used as fertiliser in the following season.

How to make a floating farm

1) A raft is made by overlaying hyacinth (this is a weed in many parts of the world that clogs waterways) with bamboo poles. This process is repeated, and weaved together, until the raft is thick and buoyant.  The bamboo rods are then removed.

2) A week later as the initial hyacinth has begun decomposing, more hyacinth is added to reinforce the structure.

3) Mulch, soil, compost and dung are added on top for the plants to be grown in. Azola is a good nitrogen fixing plant used at this stage.

4) Seeds are sown. The recommended technique involves rolling a couple of seeds into a ball of compost (commonly the organic fertiliser Tema – or decomposed water hyacinth), and leaving them to germinate in a shaded area. They are then planted as seedlings onto the raft.

Floating farms have been incredibly successful! Papon Deb, Project Manager for the Wetland Resource Development Society, states “the productivity of this farming system is 10 times higher than traditional land-based agricultural production in the southeast of Bangladesh”.

For more information, and to see floating farms in action, watch this video from the United Nations Environment Program.

Caged or Free Range? The Ethical Dilemma.

The recent unveiling of new reggulations for free range eggs by the federal government has reignited the public debate about cage or free range. The new definition of free range as 10,000 hens per hectare (10,000 sqm) or about 3.1 per queen size bed has also come under fire from Choice and other consumer groups. The RSPCA, Choice and the ACT Government have campaigned for a limit of 1,500 hens per hectare, hen-ce their disdain at this recent announcement.

But aside from the politics and definitions, what is really in a decision between free range, barn laid and caged eggs? Are people that buy caged eggs morally bankrupt? Should we ban caged eggs like they have done in England and other places in the World?

With so many questions why not delve into the ongoing debate between the two so you can justify your next purchase of eggs.

Looking at the raw stats of the two housing environments, a Swedish study “showed a significantly higher occurrence of bacterial and parasitic diseases and cannibalism in laying hens kept in litter-based housing systems and free-range systems than in hens kept in cages (P < 0.001). The occurrence of viral diseases was significantly higher in indoor litter-based housing systems than in cages (P < 0.001).” This study is not alone. These studies (1), (2), (3) and (4) all conclude that outdoor free range systems do have higher risk of disease, parasites and hen mortality.

So then if caged birds are healthier, live longer and are less prone to cannibalism why do people favour free range eggs? Surely if you value the life of an animal then you would buy cage eggs for all the above reasons. Evidently, the answer isn’t as clear cut as it may sound.

Firstly, it’s important to investigate the reasons behind the perhaps surprisingly higher mortality and cannibalism prevalence in free range hens. A larger area in which to roam allows hens to exhibit a greater repertoire of behaviours. Some of these, such as pecking, have a negative effect on others around them. The open soil and harder to clean, more complex areas, mean parasites, bacteria and viruses spread more rapidly. As is often the case, wild animals will not survive as long as their counterparts confined within zoos and clean enclosures.

On the flipside, a larger area to roam means hens are able to do what hens do naturally, exhibiting more positive behavioural attributes or so the research suggests.

So putting this all together, and based on the scientific literature we have today, the debate is more of a philosophical one than a purely right or wrong, morally bankrupt decision or not. The questions really are:

Do we value length and health of an animal’s life over the normality and freedom it has to act on its own instincts? Or are freedom and normality of life the more important factors?

These questions are not up to us to decide for you, but rather something to consider when you purchase eggs at the shop or meat from the butcher. Unfortunately many choices in life are not black and white, just as the ethics in animal production and consumption require us to ask difficult and pertinent questions about our values by which we live.