Surreal Contrasts

The following is an article that I wrote for the local paper a few weeks ago:

Sunset on the Zambezi River.

How do I describe meeting Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal while on a sunset river cruise on the Zambezi River in Zambia, Africa? Do I speak of the hippopotamus and crocodiles that floated by our boat as our cameras snapped away? Or do I try and guess the height of the huge elephants that were drinking at the water’s edge? What superlatives come to mind which begin to describe such an experience? Several. Here are a few of them: surreal, spectacular, privileged and amazing. Trying to describe this experience has been a challenge since I returned from my recent trip to Zambia & South Africa a few weeks ago.

But why was I in Zambia? Four others along with myself travelled from Victoria to join approximately 70 other young people aged between 20 & 40 from all over the Commonwealth as  participants in the 25th Commonwealth Agricultural Conference as ‘Next Generation’ delegates. I represented the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria (RASV) and together with the regular delegates at the conference, there were over 200 people representing Agricultural Societies from all over the Commonwealth.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

The 4 day conference was held in Livingstone, Zambia and was just a short walk away from the famous Victoria Falls. It was centred on the theme of ‘Africa’s Role in World Food Production’. The Princess Royal gave the keynote address, while other notable presenters included the Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and Digby Jones, member of the UK House of Lords. We were shown that in order to feed a world of 9 billion people in 2050, farmers will need to produce 70% more food than they do today. We also learnt that much of this new production will come from the enormous natural resources that are currently being underutilised in Africa.

Before the conference started, I was able to join approximately 60 other people for 10 days of guided farm tours around the capital of Zambia, Lusaka. Zambian agriculture is incredibly diverse, and we were able to see many extremes of farming, often on the same day. After a cultural day at a small village in the Zambian countryside we were taken on a tour of a subsistence farm of less than 10 acres in size. This farm supported a large family, and used a single-furrow plough, pulled by 2 Ox to till the soil prior to planting maize. To see this primitive farming in 2012 was made all the more mind-blowing by our visit to the Zambeef Corporation, 2 days earlier.  Zambeef is a massive publicly listed agricultural company responsible for 30% of Zambian food production.  Zambeef has several 1000s of hectares under center-pivot irrigation, used for growing all manner of crops including maize, wheat, barley, soybeans, pasture and vegetables.

Tobacco planted by hand

This massive diversity of the scale and economy of Zambian agriculture was perhaps even more on display at the Zambezi Ranching & Cropping Corporation. There we witnessed tobacco being planted by hand on an 80 Ha centre-pivot. The tobacco was being planted into furrows that had all been dug and weeded by hand. On the same property on the same afternoon we were also able to watch two brand new harvesters worth $400,000 each using full GPS guidance while harvesting barley that was yielding over 8 Tons/Hectare.

Harvesting Barley at the Zambezi Ranching & Cropping Corp.

There is much more I could say about my trip to Africa. It was eye-opening and inspiring. It also gave me a real appreciation of where my role as a farmer in Australia fits into a global industry that is feeding the planet.

Jonathan

Web developer turned farmer. Interests include: my faith, my wife, technology, cricket, farming, ice cream & world events.

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