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Challenges of Future Farming With a Global Perspective

Saikat K. Basu
Department of Biological Sciences, University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge, AB, Canada TIK 3M4

Guyana Journal, January 2011

This is an important question to answer and an important aspect of the answer lies in the fact that there is a trend of change in the demography patterns all over the world. The globalization process has significantly impacted the demography and ethnicity patterns all over the planet. As a result of this there has been a paradigm shift in the pattern of consumer demand globally. What it translates to in simple terms is the fact that most consumer trends are impacted in one way or other by the socio-economic and socio-cultural diversity of the consumer and the pattern of global citizenship. The world is now swept by technological innovations, gadgets, electronic equipments, internet, modern research and new developments. How does that impact the farm management responsibilities? This needs to be investigated in details.

Today's farmers need to build their future on a comprehensive idea of the global market economy, based on their past and present experiences. Today's farmers need to understand that the world is changing. Modern consumers are more educated and choosy in their choices for food and other farm products, as a result of which organic agriculture has become more popular. So modern farmers need to decide which form of agriculture they are going to adapt to in the future. One of the very significant impacts of modern health and safety issues has been the rejection of genetically modified foods, a rejection supported by a majority of consumers globally. At the same time, there is an increasing demand for nutraceuticals, phytochemicals as well as functional food. Based on these, food habit and consumer trends are going to change more rapidly than ever anticipated in the future. The farmers in the future therefore need to be well organized and educated to face these challenges.

Today's customers and consumers are more concerned regarding application of pesticides, fertilizers and other agrochemicals in the farms. So there will be the necessity for the farmers and farm businesses to understand how to change their farming practices to accommodate these new parameters for health, food safety, environment and other challenges so that food production and other industrial crop production can continue along with keeping in trend the ever changing customer demand. Future farm policies and management will probably depend a lot on cooperative farm management and protection of smaller farmers by developing into co-operatives against giant agri-businesses and multinational companies that are sweeping the continents. These are the basic factors that the farmers must keep in their mind while formulating future budgets, farm operation policies, technological innovations and field operations. The field crew as well as the office staff including auditing and office managers must be trained in this direction to handle such new challenges. Modernization of office as well as farm operation, computerization, digitization of farm generated data, storage and data analyses will all be very important to be successful in the farming business. Extension training for farm operators, field crew, technical and office staff will enable the farm community to generate a corporate like professional business structure for being successful in the future. The modernization of the farm enterprise will help farming staff to record, monitor, evaluate and estimate farm attributes more efficiently. It will be important for farmers to identify and locate their farm generated produce and products down to the very final level of consumers.

It will be necessary for farmers to combine the production and management information for smooth and efficient operation. It is critical that farmers continue to get necessary bank loans and essential credits to continue and sustain their business forward, so that they can continue their farming business and operations without being intimidated by occasional yearly loss and low sale period that sometimes may not have been anticipated in advance and also do not reach the farmers expectation in spite of the hard work they put in for this throughout the year. Small scale farmers should be provided with ample market access. More research will be necessary to develop effective teaching and training programs for the farmers to cope with this new global scenario of changing marketing trends and changing consumer patterns. Issues and promotions of women farmers will be absolutely essential to improve the quality of rural life that constitutes the bulk of the agri-farming business operation. More monitoring and evaluation of farm produce, farm products, resources and business management plan will be necessary. Networking among farmers and different stakeholders for improving the quality of farm performances will be equally necessary.

In addition, training programs are to be designed on the basis of client demand. Farmer driven extension service programs will be essential to train the future farmers. It will be important for the farmers to understand their commitment and their financial contribution to reach the end of a successful year. Capacity building, farm income and facilitators of farm information particularly in the form of extension workers will be duly important for building a network of farmers working together. It will be essential to develop elaborate business plans and to develop comprehensive business and market awareness, market information, and an overall idea of the changing global pattern for specific commodities and categories of farmers. It is interesting to note that general farming will be transformed into highly specialized farming practices in not so distant future. It will be necessary to introduce sustainable and environment-friendly practices into the common farm operation to drag the attention of more environmentally sensitive customers to their products.

Detailed budgeting and business plans are two essential tools that would drive the future farmers to success. Participatory farm management or joint farm management will be essential for farmers to come together on a common platform to help each other out, to interact and to exchange their knowledge, success and technological improvements achieved in their individual farms over time with others. It will be essential for future farmers to do regular farm surveys, have a continuous maintenance of output databases, and execute proper farm plan and budgeting together with maintenance of detailed farm records and accounting. Farmers will need to do more in the future transforming them into efficient multi-tasking business operations rather than simple farm operations as it is today. Private-public partnership will become very important in future farm management and this will help in evolving family farming business more towards corporate models. It will be good for farmers to update and upgrade the basic educational background beyond their high school education and in many cases it will mean having more advanced post-secondary education or vocational training to empower them to the rigors of the challenges in the future.

It is now very important to track every single animal or animal product generated in a particular farm; and even the plant lines or land lines that are produced in a specific field, area or locality for supporting modern global consumer demands. This is going to increase in the future even more and the farmers need to understand these changing practices. New patent laws, technological innovations and other such practices will make the farmers adapt to much more comprehensive policies to deal with the changes, quickly, effectively and more proficiently. The most important way to address these changes will be a continuous life long learning along with opportunity of being updated through the help of extension education. It is not possible for the farmers to continue the future farm business with just initial or low skill abilities and simple high school education. There will be necessity in having some advanced vocational training and some idea of the global economy and other important changes in trends and agricultural practices to be integrated into the farming business to address the challenging needs of the future consumers. Our world is changing fast with respect to consumer likeability, adaptability, choices and consumer satisfaction. To that end farmers need to work more comprehensively together to build in local markets to cater to the needs of local consumers.

Another very interesting aspect of modern agriculture will be to move or switch towards crop practices that are more economically feasible and suitable to the farmers and their end profits. However, it is important to remember that these practices should not interfere with regular food production. Food safety and security are important issues and cannot be neglected for profit only attitude and enterprises. For example biofuel would be a sustainable approach for revenue generation for several farmers in the future; however, at the same time it is important that we understand that this does not become a consistent practice so that it turns out into an ultimate global disaster. Under no circumstances the yield of global food crops can be compromised, since there can be serious food security issues down the line. We have seen these trends in some parts of the world and to some extent they are quite alarming to the fact that farmers need to take more responsibilities in the future so that they can alternate their traditional crop practices with industrial crops in a balanced manner.

This will certainly help future farming operation to generate additional income by growing industrial crops in between food crops. It will not only help in the process of crop rotation process but at the same time reduce pathogen loads in different fields by avoiding continuous monoculture cycles practiced over long period of time. This will also help in better usage of local water and soil resources by changing the pattern of crop practices. As result, farm chemicals, irrigation and other expenses attributed to the regular farm budget would change towards the benefit of framers and also to the consumers due to lowering of prices. This shift in crop practices can help and sustain several farming communities that are currently suffering due to enhanced farm expenses, low sale value of products and produce generated on the farms, pest problems and problems of low productivity after several years of monoculture practices. Multiple cropping, cropping along with farming of animals, integrated farming approaches, practicing biocontrol measures, integrated pest management, application of manures instead of fertilizers, etc. would all need to be comprehensively integrated for sustainable agriculture, better yield and higher financial returns. Such practices will effectively change and shape the agricultural management and farm policies drastically in the future.

So in overall summary, the key points of concerns are highlighted below:

Factors that are going to shape farming practices in future:

1. Change in demography
2. Change in life style
3. Change in policies
4. Increasing competition
5. Supermarkets/superstores/giant agribusinesses
6. Self sufficiency
7. Reduced dependence on government subsidies
8. Less employment on farms and more mechanization
9. Increased demand for very high skilled and educated workers
10. Farmer commitment and financial contribution
11. Changing social values
12. Socio-cultural preferences
13. Farm income change with economic fluctuations
14. Lower economic returns from the farm
15. Current market trends and global scenario on agricultural economy
16. Lack of reliable economic data on farm production
17. Challenges of product labeling
18. Import-export imbalances
19. Lack of technical education and awareness
20. Market economy, advertising and educated consumers
21. Customers rejecting GM food globally but increasing acceptance of organic produce, phytochemicals, nutraceuticals, functional food products
22. Food crop versus bio-industrial crop practices
23. Small family farms versus giant corporations
24. Food safety and security concerns
25. Lack of access to bank loans and credits
26. Increased expenses of farm operations

How to cope with these challenges?

1. Combine production and management information
2. Easy bank loans and credits
3. Small scale farmers must be provided equal market opportunities and market access
4. More research is needed for building and developing an effective teaching cum training programs for farmers
5. Better education
6. Improved data recording, analyses and storage
7. Innovative food ideas
8. Looking into new and potential market opportunities
9. Issues and promotion of women farmers
10. More monitoring and evaluation on farm practices and operation
11. Training program to be designed on the basis of client demand and tailor made to meet the needs of farmers of a particular locality/region based on their local problems and issues, demands and micro economy
12. Framer driven extension services program
13. Capacity building
14. Facilitators of information (Extension Education)
15. Business and market awareness: comprehensive idea regarding market structure, operation, trends of specific commodities, products and produces and consumer trends
16. General farming versus highly specialized farming
17. Knowledge about local consumer economics, consumer mentality and local consumer demand
18. Awareness and opportunities for establishing local markets
19. Building cooperatives of small farmers
20. Framer training and education
21. Be sensitive to environmental awareness campaigns
22. Adapt sustainable practices on farm
23. Encourage organic agriculture
24. Avoid using too much fertilizers, pesticides and agro chemicals
25. Promote environment-friendly farming
26. Stress on the opportunities and demands for phytochemicals, nutraceuticals and functional food
27. Develop farmer groups, clubs, associations or forums for discussing new information turning into an effective learning unit for farm management education and advices
28. Collect national training information already developed and available for close scrutiny and subject this to critical review, adoption of best practices and dissemination of information to others
29. Specialist conferences for senior farm operators, managers, advisers to provide stimulus and guidance for further development
30. International networks of business operations, trading, export-import balance need to be established over time
31. Overseas representatives and trading partners need to be established
32. Identify problems, divide farmers into appropriate groups and train them accordingly by extension workers
33. Training of trainers will be important too and extension workers need to be trained appropriately for this task.

Areas of improvement:

1. Farmer education, training and awareness
2. Developing local farmer schools
3. Tedious record keeping
4. Exchange of expertise with other adjacent and neighboring farmers
5. Developing cooperatives
6. Creation of local market
7. Value of local produce
8. Participatory farm management
9. Joint Farm management
10. Comprehensive ideas about farm management, agri-business and marketing concepts
11. Know how to conduct simple farm surveys
12. Know how to analyze input-output data
13. Know how to prepare farm plan and budget
14. Know how to develop proper business plan
15. Know how to keep farm records and accounts
16. Multi-tasking farmer concept
17. Private-public partnership
18. Performance measures
19. Farm management information
20. Teaching adaptation
21. Flexible policies to accommodate future changes
22. Better communication and dissemination of information.