Monday, February 13, 2006

Africa's farms need knowledge workers

You need land, water and fertilizer to grow crops – but more than that, you need know-how. Glyvyns Chinkhuntha is a Malawian accountant-turned-farmer who has used insight and determination to create an idyllic farm in an area where most residents haven’t had a good meal since June.

The Christian Science Monitor reports [1] that Chikhuntha uses low-tech methods like plots two feet below ground level (putting roots closer to the water table) and narrow channels the width of a hoe (so that water can be redirected by moving a clod of dirt) to succeed where big-dollar donor programs have failed.

Here’s the Monitor’s analysis:

What prevents more African farmers from using such a system? Sitting under a shade tree, clad in a crisp white oxford shirt and matching baseball cap, Chinkhuntha answers by remembering that, as a child, his father often pointed to hunched-over old farmers and warned, "If you don't go to school you'll end up like that man."

Across Africa, he says, "People go to school to run away from farming." It's a cultural preference with disastrous consequences: The vast majority of Africans consider themselves farmers, but very few have analytical skills, agricultural savvy, or basic resources to produce much food.

More education is one answer. But if the continent's already-educated people picked up farming, "Africa would have plenty to eat," says Chinkhuntha, who was trained as an accountant. Instead, "all the education and knowledge is tucked up in offices" with people who "are not interested in touching the soil."

This confirms that the key factor of production is knowledge, not “land, labor, or capital” (cf. ), but the implication is counter-intuitive: Africa needs more knowledge workers, indeed, but they should be on the farms, not in the cities.


[1] A home-grown solution to African hunger, Christian Science Monitor, 1 February 2006 (fee may be required)

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