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FARMING ZONES

Farming zones in WANA

Overview of the zone

GUIDE  FOR FARMERS AND EXTENSION AGENTS

TECHNICAL BACKUP FOR EXTENSION PROGRAMS

POLICY MAKERS AND PROJECT PLANNERS

 HIGH   RAINFALL  ZONE

  ABOVE 500 mm

CEREAL  ZONE

     500 mm  to 200 mm 

    Medic overview

Deep ploughing overview

What cultivar?

 How does your medic grow?

   MARGINAL  ZONE 
   

  250 mm  to 150 mm

 Tenure and grazing management

RANGELAND

Below 200  mm

Rangeland overview

Action plan for flockowners

Water harvesting

Farming development in the WANA region over the last 50 years.
  

The cereal zone.

* The technological fixes.

    There has been an enormous transformation of farming in the WANA region over the last 50 years.

Some of the most important developments in the cereal zone have been:-

    * Mechanisation

    Tractors have replaced animal traction for most farmers in the region.

Some small farmers in remote districts still use animal traction but tractors dominate the medium and larger farms as well as many small farmers who use contractors.

The purpose of mechanisation in WANA was not primarily to replace farm labour.

This was the motive for most of the mechanisation of European and US agriculture. In Europe, Australia and USA industrial development in the cities absorbed labour from the countryside. In WANA there has been migration from the countryside but the migrants have found limited employment opportunities in the cities.

The intention in the WANA region was to improve yields through better prepared seed beds, better sowing and earlier sowing. There has been an improvement over the use of the wooden plough drawn by a mule and the hand broadcasting of cereal seed.

The form of cultivation and seeding adopted was based on machinery designs from the temperate northern regions.

Deep ploughing from these northern regions was not well suited to the Mediterranean climate of the WANA region. Seedbed preparation has been expensive. Many crop are sown late due to the time needed to reduce clods down to a reasonable seed bed. The uneven seed beds produced by deep ploughs have limited the use of herbicides and contributed to high levels of harvest loss.

Besides cultivation, seeding and transport, mechanisation has also spread to the harvesting of cereal crops.

Again the harvesters have been imported directly from the north and have proved to be unsuited to the dry conditions of the WANA region.

Their rate of harvest loss is very high. Much of the yield improvement gained from fertilisers and new cereal varieties has not reach the point of final grain production but has been lost due to poor harvesting machinery.

    * Fertilisers.

Nitrogen fertiliser has been seen as the technical answer to the problem of low fertility.

Nitrogen fertiliser has had an incredible impact on crop yields in the northern temperate regions and in the tropics. 

It was thought that the technology could be simply extended to the WANA region.

In the low and erratic rainfall region that is the cereal zone nitrogen fertiliser has not proved to be the magic solution to low fertility and low yields.

Phosphate has been used on cereal crops but has not been given anything like the priority given to nitrogen and the route of phosphate stimulating legumes to provide nitrogen has received little attention.

Phosphate on the parcour has not been used yet the area of parcour (rough grazing) in the cereal zone is greater than the area of arable land.

    * Plant breeding.

    This is the other component of the "green revolution" that has transformed not just areas such as the Punjab in India but the temperate regions of the north.

The additional nitrogen soon caused difficulties in these areas because traditional varieties were not able to utilise the high levels of nitrogen.

The new generation of semi-dwarf cereals overcame that problem.

In the WANA region the problem was erratic rainfall so even semi-dwarf varieties will fail to respond under low rainfall conditions.

The nitrogen and semi-dwarf package has had little success in the region.

    * Animal production.

    Just as the cereal production technical fixes have been heavily influenced by the developments of northern temperate climatic zone so has animals production.

Existing animal production systems based on grazing of pasture and cereal stubbles have been considered old fashioned and in need of replacement by modern intensive feeding of grain.

This has had considerable success with poultry.

With sheep and cattle the old system lingers on.

The wooden plough may have disappeared from cereal farming but sheep are still taken out to graze each day on weedy fallow or parcour.

The last 50 years of development has provided little to animal production based on grazing.

There have been a few attempts to improve pastures with medic but these are now is serious decline.

The mainstream of agriculture in the northern temperate regions has moved away from pasture especially pastures based on legumes or legume mixtures. Where pasture are still used in the north they are based on grass with massive amounts of nitrogen fertiliser.

Fortunately this has not been attempted in the cereal zone of WANA although there were a few attempts to introduce such ideas into the high rainfall zone.

The attempt to convert the sheep and cattle sector to mirror images of those in the northern region was based on a false premise.

In the north there were large quantities of surplus (that is not needed for human consumption) grain and grain prices were low due to high yields and subsidies.

As beef has a high price it was thought that the surplus grain could be converted to meat.

The higher price for beef would over come the naturally inefficiency of converting grain through a ruminant animal.

While the price of sheep meat is certainly high in the WANA region there are no surpluses of cheap feed grains.

    * Rotations.

In the early part of the 50 years under review it was thought that the nitrogen fertiliser and new cereal varieties would allow cereals to be grown year after year as in Europe or north America.

This concept soon collapsed and the search was on for the "elimination of the fallow."

The focus is now on rotations that include a legume crop alternating with the cereal.

Cereal and vetch or cereal and grain legume are the two rotations being advocated.

The vetch or vetch and oats is cut for hay and forms part the animal production system based on grain advocated above.

The weakness of the approach is that the new rotations although they include legumes do nothing to improve soil structure or reduce soil erosion.

The legumes certainly make some impact but that is offset by the damage caused by greatly increased cultivation of the soil. 

The other great weakness of these rotations based on more cultivation and sowing is the lack of practical feasibility for farmers.

Growing all these extra crops and forages will require more machinery resources.

Given the low yields (even if greatly improved) and the high risk of failure due to drought it is unlikely that most farmers will wish to invest in additional tractors and machinery.
 

* Policy and price signals

     * Priority for cereals.

The cereal zone has been seen as a a cereal production area.

Government policy has been to encourage cereal production.

This has been done by exhortation, by subsidies on the price of cereals and by subsidies on the inputs such as nitrogen fertiliser and tractor fuel.

Projects funded by national government and international agencies have emphasised the need for increased cereal output whatever the cost.

The era of production for production's sake is rapidly declining in favour of market policies where every option takes its chances according to its price, cost and return.

The old attitudes linger on in the bureaucracy where it is almost impossible to convince the "old guard" of cereal experts that a reduction in cereal area and an increase in yield would be a more profitable option for most farmers (Zaghouan 4 rotation).

    * Animals the poor relation in terms of support.

With the exception of poultry for eggs and meat other animals have not received anything like the attention given to cereals.

The "animal people" within the bureaucracy have been told to go and improve the rangeland or the high rainfall zone but not to interfere in the cereal zone.

Subsidies have been provided for barley and other feed grains but not to pastures - again giving mixed price signals to farmers.

In spite of the lack of interest sheep prices have continued to rise and without government subsidies have out-performed cereals.
 

 *  Research

It is easy to be critical of much of the agricultural research carried in the WANA region over the last fifty years but some of the criticism would be unfair as the researchers were merely carrying out their work within the policy context of the time.

The lack of interest in mechanisation is not unusual in agricultural research else where in the world.

Animals, plants and soils hold the dominant places and if mechanisation work is done it is a minor section.

    + Cultivation.

Given the enormous investment in tractors, machinery and harvester throughout the WANA region it is surprising that more research was not carried out to find the type of equipment best suited to the farming of the zone.

It is understandable that researchers should not be concerned about the cost of deep ploughing.

The policy at the time was wheat production whatever the cost.

What is surprising is the lack of curiosity shown by researchers towards the low quality of the seed beds produced by deep ploughing and the delayed seeding.

The farm machinery in WANA comes from the northern temperate regions. Rain and frost assist in the breakdown of clods by softening them in the north but in WANA sun and dry winds harden the clods and a completely different approach is needed.

No work was done to produce a cultivation system better suited to the climatic conditions of the WANA region.

The objective of more production has been seriously undermined by the poor seed beds, by the poor application of herbicides that results and the high level of harvest loss also partly caused by uneven seed beds.

    + Harvesting.

Again there seems to have been a lack of understanding of the fundamental differences between northern crops and those in the WANA region.

Emphasis was put on operator adjustments to harvester designed for damp northern crops but the harvesters were not designed for low yielding crops with dry brittle straw as found in the WANA region. Harvest losses have been high both in quantity and even more so as a proportion of the yield.

     + Pastures

The strong influence of northern temperate agriculture and agricultural research has not served the WANA region well in the field of pastures.

In Europe pastures that are grazed have gone out of fashion. Vast areas have been abandoned or converted to forestry for social and economic reasons.

Intensive pastures have changed to grass and nitrogen rather than legume mixtures and are often cut and fed rather than grazed.

The same social and economic conditions do not apply in the WANA region and there are vast areas of grazing that could be improved with simple and cheap technology.

It is one of the great wasted opportunities of the last fifty years of development.

The northern influence has meant that pasture work was down-graded but it also meant that whole area of expertise was almost totally ignored.

In  What is medic?  we explain that there is a third group of plants that are important to agriculture. Northern agricultural science studies annual crops (such as cereals) and perennial grasses and legumes.

The third group that requires a science of its own is the self-regenerating annuals (mostly legumes). These should be central to the research effort of the WANA region but is very much a fringe activity.

     + Farming systems.

The majority of the research work carried out in the northern temperate regions is on the margins.

By this I mean that huge developments have taken place and current research is now concentrated on improving efficiency at the margins.

That is not been the case in the WANA region.

The elimination of the fallow by medic pasture, vetch or grain legumes is not a change at the margin.

It is a fundamental alteration of the farming system.

It has been seen as just another crop or pasture and the magnitude of the change has not been realised.

There is a need to study these changes on the whole farm, the machinery requirements, the labour and the working capital. The impact is different for large and small farms.

    + Small farmers.

    Research has neglected the needs of small farmers.

Part of this has been due to the production policies that saw the large farms as the largest producers.

The actual number of small farmers is greater and their needs have been neglected.

They need cheaper and more efficient cultivation.

They need small harvesting machines.

They are more concerned with animal production from grazing - another neglected field.

* Training and extension

The last fifty years has seen a great expansion in the number of people in the WANA region trained in agriculture.

There are thousands of institutions teaching agriculture and horticulture ranging from high schools to universities.

Many thousands of graduates have gone overseas to universities and research centres in Europe and North America for further post graduate degrees.

The choice of country has been determined by proximity, politics and funding rather than any intrinsic relevance of the training provided.

Thus more graduates from the WANA region have trained in Sweden's sub-arctic agriculture than in Australia's Mediterranean zone because Sweden offers more aid for training and is closer.

It is not surprising with this northern temperate bias that the self-regenerating legumes should be given such a low priority along with most work on pastures.

The training of extension workers has suffered from a lack of emphasis on economics and management.

This reflected the production policies of the time but many extension agents are now out of their depth in trying to persuade farmers through an economic message.
 

* Government action.

Government have been directly involved in farming.

In addition to expenditure on research, training and farm subsidies there has been a direct involvement in farming.

Many countries in the region had state farms or cooperatives that were controlled and underwritten by the government.

Governments have also undertaken direct development work such as clearly stones, building contour bank and planting fodder shrubs. T

hey have also established machinery contract services, provided seeds and fertilisers and many other inputs.
 



 

Did the production phase work?
 

    * Yield of cereals.

Yield was meant to be the most important benchmark.

Yields have risen over the last fifty years but considering the investment the results have been most disappointing compared to other developed and developing regions.

The developed region in the northern temperature zones are not a valid comparison.

Besides their subsidies on prices they subsidise the elimination of low yielding crops - something that is not done in the WANA region.

Set aside payments have increased yields considerably. Every 15% reduction in the cereals area reduces total output not by 15% but by only 4% as the lowest yielding crops are eliminated. That corresponds to national average yield increase of 13%.

The most relevant zone for comparison in the southern part of Australia with a Mediterranean climate.

Yields of cereals have risen much faster in Australia without price or input subsidies.

The level of investment in mechanisation is greater in some countries such as Algeria than in Australia so the distinction between developed and developing has become blurred.

Lower cereal prices in Australia make low yielding crops uneconomic.

Pastures are highly developed in Australia and provide a more profitable alternative to low yielding cereals in a similar manner to the set aside payments of the northern temperate climatic zones.

Even when these factors have been taken into account Australian cereal yields are probably double those in the WANA region when compared on a rainfall zone by rainfall zone basis.

The high usage of nitrogen in the WANA region (by Australian standards) has failed to increase cereal yields at the same rate as those in Australia.

The basic source of soil nitrogen for Australian cereal crops is legumes.

    * Animal output.

The picture is confusing.

Sheep, cattle and goat numbers for the WANA region have risen by about 30 million sheep equivalents over the last fifty years from about 110 million to 140 million.

A part of the increase in sheep, cattle and goats can be accounted for by the sharp decline in the number of traction animals such as mules, horses and camels.

Virtually all the increase in livestock numbers for the WANA region has been confined to three countries. Algeria, (17 million sheep equivalent increase) Syria (10 million increase) and Libya. (3.5 million increase)

Algeria saw a substantial increase after it won its war of independence.

Livestock production fell during the war and one has to doubt the reliability of the livestock census during the conflict.

In the more recent period all three countries saw a massive increase in livestock numbers associated with the provision of imported feedstuffs. The statistics do not allow a firm link to be established.

The figures do not show how much of the imported grain went to poultry and how much to sheep and cattle.

They do show however that the introduction of imported feedstuffs led to leaps in animals numbers that were at times beyond the reproductive capacity of the animals.

One has to wonder whether the livestock numbers were understated before subsidised feedstuffs were provides and whether they were overstated afterwards.

Observations on the ground show that flocks in the WANA region have a low efficiency in terms of meat or milk output per breeding animal (for example the average lambing percentage in Algeria is 62%).

   * Cost of production

In the early stages of the development phase cost of production was not regarded as important.

Our own observations of state and cooperative farms in Algeria showed that they had five times as many tractors and double the number of harvesters compared to similar sized farms in similar farming zones in Australia.

Their output of cereals was lower and their output of livestock only a small fraction.

The choice of deep ploughing for the preparation of the land for cereals is more costly than shallow cultivation.

Ordinary running costs are higher and more tractors are required if the task is to be carried out in the same time. If crops are sown late their yield is less.

Deep ploughing produces a poor, uneven seed bed and high seeding rates are required for cereals. Cereal seed has to be cleaned and treated with fungicides which makes it expensive.

The uneven seed bed makes the application of herbicides inefficient.

Harvesting losses are also high.

Nitrogen fertiliser is another cost borne by farmers in the WANA region.

For livestock the cheapest source of feed is pasture but this has been given a low priority compared to grain.

The grain feeding of ruminant livestock has become the fashion in northern temperate regions.

This is based on cheap grain which in turn is dependent on subsidies.

The WANA region does not have surpluses of cheap feed grains and importing grain from half way around the world is not such a cheap option.

However the greatest cost of feed grains is the low level of efficiency of conversion.

Ruminant animals are always less efficient than mono-gastric animals such as poultry but in the WANA region livestock production systems need to be improved considerably to achieve anything like a reasonable level of productivity.

   * Farm profits.

Farm profits are low.

In the past the losses were paid by the government.

Farmers are now trying desperately to squeeze a profit out of a system which has inherited a high level of production costs by importing technology from the northern temperate regions and has low yields.

Even if yields were to rise to a greater proportion of the potential yield (nearer to 8 or 10 kg/mm of rainfall rather  the present 2 or 3 kg/mm) it is doubtful whether they would be able to support such high levels of cost.

   * Erosion and soil structure.

This is one of the greatest crisis facing the WANA region.

The fundamental cause is excessive cultivation and poor return of organic matter.

Again the research establishment has failed to recognised the differences between WANA and northern temperate regions.

The only practical solution is better pasture both in the cereal rotation and on the parcour but as we stated earlier pasture is out of fashion.

More intensive rotations with vetch or grain legumes will do nothing to solve the problem.
 



 

All change in the last decade.

    *  Market oriented - a  decline in subsidies.

 There has been a considerable change in government policy over the last decade.

Obviously the changes are different for different countries but the trend has been in similar direction with government intervention in the market declining and direct government involvement in farming being reduced to a low level.

Governments are not providing the levels of subsidy for cereals they did in the past.

Other subsidies are being reduced or even abolished altogether.

The impact is greater on cereal production.

Prices for livestock products such as sheep meat continue to rise.

On the input side subsidies on cereal production inputs have had a greater impact than those of feed stuffs.

    *  Decline in direct government action.

    Government action is also in sharp decline.

State and cooperative farms have been dismantled and sold or leased to private owners or small groups of farmers.

Government control and under writing of losses has been reduced or abolished altogether.

Government run services such as machinery contracting services and the supply of other inputs (seeds, fertilisers etc.) have been reduced or handed over to private interests.

   *  Farmer credits.

    Opening the agricultural sector to greater market forces means that farmers require more credit and there has been a considerable increase in schemes to provide credit to farmers.
 


Where next?
 

    * Role for government?
 

The change in policy direction has left much of the agricultural bureaucracy confused.

During their working life they have moved from being managers and controllers of the agricultural economy to observers and advisers.

They are not sure of their role and are often fighting to retain their old empires rather than developing a new justification for their work.

While some of the more extreme advocates of the free market system argue for the total dismantling of the Ministries of Agriculture and handing over all their tasks to private companies and contractors most people realise that the farming sector of the economy is different and requires a great level of public or group involvement.

    + Small scale enterprises.

Even large farms are small scale enterprises by the standards of the industrial sector.

They are not in a position to carry out their own research and can only apply a limited effort into marketing their products.

For small farmers the situation is more acute. They are production units without time or resources to carry out research or marketing. 

These function need to be carried out on a group or public basis.

Whether farmers should pay for these activities and how is another question but there is no doubt that they have to be carried out on a larger scale than the average or even large farm.

    + Research.

 Agricultural research will be conducted on a larger scale than the farm.

Some will be conducted by companies involved in plant breeding, machinery and chemicals.

They will recover their research costs by the higher prices they charge for their products during the life of their patents.

There are many worthwhile area of research that cannot be funded in this way as the result become freely available and cannot be restricted by patents.

One obvious example is work on rotations. If a farmer adopts a new rotation based on research from an institution that organisation cannot prevent other farmers copying him.

The Zaghouan 4 rotation mentioned many times on this site is not a trade name nor is it covered by any patents. It can be used without the payment of royalties.

Many biological control organism fall into the same category. Once they are released their activities cannot be controlled. They will work on all farms not just the ones who have paid a fee.

    + Animal health

 Most animal health falls into the same category.

Animal health for individual animals exists but is of limited application particularly for small animals where the cost of treatment soon exceeds the value of the animal.

Public animal health programs can be most cost effective but again they cannot be confined to some farms.

Once it is decided to control or eradicate a disease it applies to all animals on all farms.

Developed countries such a Britain provide an interesting case study. 

The public animal health services were run down as privatisation ideology took over government policy.

It was assumed that private vets could be called in for public health emergencies but the Foot and Mouth epidemic showed that vets with experience in treating cats and dogs were not well equipped to run a disease eradication program for cattle and sheep.

    + Extension.

 Extension follows directly from the above.

If governments are going to remain in the field of agricultural research and public animal health they need to communicate their message to farmers.

Government can justify the above expenditure on the basis that it improves the efficiency of farming, raises farm incomes and protects the environment.

This only happens if it is adopted by farmers.

Without an extension service the ideas will remain in the research centres and a few academic journals.

Farmers themselves develop new ideas which would help other farmers.

Just as farmers are not professional researchers they cannot take time off from their farms to publicise their inventions. The extension services become a means of communicating new technology, new marketing concepts, and any other information valuable to farmers.

    + Consumer protection.

Agribusiness is taking over most of the supply functions previously carried out by government agencies in the WANA region in the past.

Farmers are not equipped to compare and evaluate the quality of goods and services provided.

The Ministries of Agriculture need to provide dispassionate advice on whether new cereal varieties fulfil the claims made for them and which farm machinery is the most reliable.
 

How can it be done?
 

    * Participation of farmers.

Participation of farmers has become the new fashion and is often supported as a facade rather than a reality.

Participation is often claimed when the reality is that decisions have only been communicated to farmers who have had no opportunity to influence them.

Even where good participation structures are established it takes time and training for farmers to feel sufficiently confident to participate fully.

Farmer participation in Australia

A good example is the Australian system of funding research through a tax on commodities such as wool, wheat, and other grains.

These research funds have been operating for many decades in Australia.

They are controlled by boards that include many farmers. In some cases the board consists of a majority of farmers. 

For some decades the farmer members of the boards were content to accept the advice of the "research establishment" and conduct the usual range of conventional research with the funds collected from the farmers.

It is only in the last decade or so that the farmers have acquired the confidence to fund research outside the conventional research centres into areas of farming (such as farm machinery) that have been neglected by the traditional research institutions.

In the WANA region the participation of farmers is needed to make the research and extension services more relevant to the farmers needs in the new economic environment.

The farmers' viewpoint is needed to ensure expenditure is targeted to the most relevant areas. Farmer participation will assist the Ministry of Agriculture politically.

Government expenditure in the WANA region is under pressure in the new economic era and the Ministries of Agriculture need farmer support to lobby their Finance Ministries for a reasonable share.

They will need to work with farmers to determine which services are free and which are paid or part paid through fees or some other form of payment.

Some examples of Ministry of Agriculture involvement with farmers
 

    + Farm machinery.

This is an area of traditional neglect and one where Ministry officials are not well trained.

It is also an area where farmers are in urgent need of more efficient, more durable and better adapted machines.

The Ministries need to establish in cooperation with farmers (or even better farmers with support from the Ministry) a national organisation to provide advice on the suitability, durability and cost effectiveness of farm machinery, tractors, and other farm inputs such as soil testing.

    At a local level the need is for group rental of farm machinery. See Small farmer mechanisation
 

    + Medic seed.

     Traditionally Ministries of Agriculture have imported medic seed from Australia and supplied it to farmers.

In some countries such as Tunisia they have produced medic seed on State farms.

If the pod sowing method is adopted a whole new approach is needed.

The harvesting of pods will be done by farmers themselves or through the purchase of pods from a neighbouring farmers.

Some one needs to start the system. Some pastures in each areas need to be sown from seed and made available for farmers to harvest pods.

Markets need to be encouraged for pods.

    + Cereal seed.

    Cereal seed has been produced and distributed by Ministries of Agriculture or their agencies in the past.

While private companies are now involved the best option for farmers in the WANA region is to produce their own.

In the WANA region cereal crops ripen naturally without the need for artificial drying and there is no technical reason why farmers should not produce the bulk of their own cereal seed.

They need to have access to portable seed cleaning equipment and seed treatment. When these are available home grown seed provides a much cheaper option for farmers than purchased seed.

    + Rotations.

    There is no room on research centres for any more plots comparing rotations.

As we have shown in Rotations Compared  the choice is much more complex than the simple yield measurement from research plots.

Rotations is an ideal area for farmer participation in farm research.

    + New crops and enterprises.

There is a need for a wider range of profitable crops and the only people with the resources to undertake this high risk work is the Ministry of Agriculture.

Individual farmers cannot grow unconventional crops and find markets for them.

Agribusiness will only become involve if they see opportunities for themselves.

The program should initially be directed at irrigation areas where in some instances expensive water is being used to grow forage.

It should be possible to find higher value uses for this water.

The success of these new crops or enterprises depends on farmer participation.
 

    * Training of staff.

Ministries of Agriculture in the WANA region face considerable difficulties as their staff have been trained and have developed their careers under the the old production policies. Adapting to the new economic environment will be difficult.

    + Production.

    This was the most important aim of the old policy.

It was however production at any price.

Production is still important.

Farmers will improve their income if they can produce more but it has to be moderated by economics.

    + Cost of production.

    This is a new field of extension advice.

There are enormous saving that can be made to farming systems in the region.

Legumes pasture provide low cost forage for livestock. Legumes provide low cost and highly effective nitrogen for cereals crops.

Shallow cultivation reduces the cost of seed bed preparation and saves cereals seed.

These are just a few examples of the opportunities available.

Cost reduction is not just a question of technical fixes.

Cost savings can be made through lower capital requirements (for example shallow cultivation and stripper harvesters).

Organisational arrangement can save money for farmers. For example machinery renting groups.

 The other area of cost saving is the replacement of inputs with skill.

This is a growing trend elsewhere in the world and there is no reason it should not be used in the WANA region.

It uses modern analysis and higher levels of skills to fine tune the use of inputs such as fertilisers, fungicides and insecticides.

One of the more extreme examples is the use of satellite mapping technology linked to harvesters to provide yield maps for individual fields. These are then used to fine tune fertiliser application to different parts of the field.

This sounds over the top - at least as far a small farmers are concerned - in the WANA region but yield maps can be built up in small fields without this high technology and can be used to equal effect.

    + Marketing.

    This is the third leg of the proposed "increased profits for farmers" policy.

Increased production, reduced costs and better prices are the complete package.

Ministry of Agriculture involvement in marketing is not trying to re-establish the the old Ministry dominance of the agricultural commodity market by the back door.

Those days are gone.

The Ministry's role is one of farmers' champion.

To help farmers improve their marketing either as individuals or as groups.

To provide them with independent information.

To conduct independent marketing research.

    + Sheep production from medic pasture - a case study.

Sheep production from medic pasture brings these three legs of the policy together.

Production can be increased considerably.

The first stage is to increase the efficiency of the flock.

That is more output per breeding ewe. More sheep can be carried on the farm.

Costs are less than production systems based on feeding large amounts grain and hay.

The market for fresh sheep meat from local breeds in the region is extremely strong.

It is independent of world competition and is likely to remain so as Australia the main overseas supplier of fresh meat shows little interest in producing a product suited to the market in the WANA region.

Table 1

    The price of sheep meat in various countries.

COUNTRY

Price per kg of sheep meat in US$

Price per kg for sheep meat in kg of barley

Price per kg for sheep meat in minutes of time for average worker. 

AUSTRALIA

1

8

11

FRANCE

4

25

50

ALGERIA

16

70

840 (14 hours)

The above figures show that Australia is the workers' paradise in terms of the consumption of sheep meat but the figures can be reversed.

The figures also shows why it is possible to send Australian sheep half way round the world to supply markets not only in the Arabian Gulf but in Algeria.

What is bad for the consumer in Algeria is good for the farmer.

Table 2

 Table 2 shows the number of sheep of 17 kg carcass weight that need to be sold by a farmer to receive a return equal to the wage of the average worker.

It is assumed that the farmer receives half the retail price of the meat.

This is certainly high for Australia where on average farmers receive less than half but is realistic for Algeria as the supply chain has not yet developed so many intermediaries.

In most of Algeria farmers still supply butchers who in turn supply consumers.
 
 

COUNTRY

Kg of sheep meat purchased by worker per week
if total wage spent on meat (40 hours per week)

Number of sheep that need to be sold by a farmer in one year to produce a return equal to the average wage. 

AUSTRALIA

218 kg

1356

FRANCE

48 kg

298

ALGERIA

2.9 kg

18

The figures are startling for Algeria (similar figures would apply elsewhere in the WANA region). 

A farmer requires a higher income than the worker to cover the other production cost for sheep.

When this allowance has been made it can be seen that a farmer can make a good income from a flock of less than 50 sheep.

These macro figures should be treated with great suspicion but if they are applied to Algeria it is possible to show that the conversion of 2 million hectares of fallow in the cereal zone to medic pasture would support about 8 million extra sheep.

Divided into flocks of 50 this would provide 160,000 additional family incomes.
 

    * People on the ground.

    With shrinking budgets Ministries of Agriculture need to reconsider their extension services and look at alternative methods of putting people on the ground.

    + Farm advisory groups.

    The idea of individual visits to farmers, particularly small farmers is becoming increasingly unrealistic.

Farmers will need to form local groups to provide a focus for extension effort.

Visits should be arranged through these groups so extension effort can be maximised.

The success of the group will depend heavily on a few leading farmers and their ability to motivate the other farmers to join and take an active part in the group's program.

Traditionally these farmer leaders have done the work without payment but this is not satisfactory and payment by the Ministry or by the group should be considered.

The leaders of the groups should also be encourage to undertake training course so they can take over some lower level extension work.

For example a farmer could undertake a two or three day course on herbicide application. He could then become a resource for the local group or even two or three groups nearby when advice is needed.

If he is going to spend time helping farmers or groups of farmers set up their machines his own work will suffer and he will need some compensation.
 

    * Overseas training?

 Overseas training for Ministry of Agriculture staff - both in research and administration has been important over the last fifty years.

It has given considerable prestige to staff members and helped them in their careers.

It has also reinforced the northern temperate bias.

Technical fixes from the north have failed again and again but are reintroduced by each generation of returning graduates and post graduates.

The nitrogen fertiliser story is perhaps the most extreme.

It is just inconceivable to the research establishments in the WANA region that nitrogen fertiliser is a blind alley.

Each failure is greeted with new attempts to introduce nitrogen in some other way. The current attempt to use soil analysis and leaf analysis to solve the problem may succeed but only at the cost of more complexity and cost.

If farmers reject this model the researchers will have shifted the blame elsewhere.

Overseas training in southern Australia would be more relevant but attempts over the last fifty years have failed and there is no indication that they will succeed in the future.

Overseas training is dependent on scholarships being available rather than any intrinsic value of the training being offered,

No scholarships are available from Australia.

The region must develop its own prestige institutions as an alternative to training in the northern temperate regions.