Lincolnshire farmer Matthew Naylor talks to Guy Whitmore about his work with Farm Africa and his first-hand experience of their East African projects
As someone who runs a successful farm in Lincolnshire, Matthew Naylor is a man who understands business and what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
He has helped build his family’s 400-acre farm into a business that supplies a number of supermarkets with cut flowers, bulbs and potatoes. But, as someone who knows entrepreneurial flair when he sees it, Matthew also knows it can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
In East Africa, for example, where Matthew says the entrepreneurial spirit shines bright – but usually it’s not used to build businesses, it’s used to survive.
‘You meet people who have four goats, have never travelled to the city or used a telephone, yet you can see they have entrepreneurship shining out of them,’explains Matthew.
‘In East Africa, I have met a number of people who have made me think to myself: ‘if you had been born with my opportunities, you would be farming the whole of the East of England by now’.’
The sense of entrepreneurship was just one of the many aspects of East Africa that have stimulated Matthew’s fascination with the continent. The people, the landscape and the potential opportunities within East Africa, he believes, make it a land of enormous potential.
That’s why Matthew travels to the region to work with the international charity Farm Africa. It works directly with small-scale farmers in the region, providing them with the tools and expertise to increase harvest yields, whether they be crops, livestock or fish. It also works with communities living near to or in forested areas, helping them develop sustainable livelihoods that do not damage the precious forest environment, and teaches farmers to add value to surplus harvests through milling or drying.
‘Once you have more food than you need, you have choices, and that changes life for the better,’ explains Matthew.
Key to Farm Africa’s work is education and community engagement, something Matthew has seen first hand during his numerous visits to the region.
‘People say to me that the problem is that those struggling in Africa are floundering because they don’t work,’ Matthew says.
‘This is wrong, they work very hard, but they need to be shown how to work in ways that get better results. By working with communities, Farm Africa can share knowledge and technologies that make a lasting difference to small-scale farmers’ lives.’
One example of this is water storage. While many may imagine East Africa is a dry and barren environment, Matthew points out that it is, in fact, often a lush and green landscape.
The issue facing growers in the region, however, is that when the rain does fall, it falls in large quantities and disappears quickly due to run-off from the dry surface.
‘At first I thought to myself, why are they not collecting the water in a relatively cheap water tank – to me it was obvious,’ explains Matthew.
‘Then I realised that farmers in the middle of the African countryside don’t know about water tanks or where to buy them. Without the benefit of education there is no such thing as ‘obvious’. In the West, we take our education for granted.’
Plastic water tanks are just one of a large number of simple technologies that are used to help communities.
One reason Matthew believes the charity’s projects are so successful is its approach to engaging with the communities it works with. Instead of being prescriptive in its approach and walking into a village and telling it what to do, the first step of every Farm Africa project is to ensure community buy-in. One way it does this is to establish a ‘community seed farmer’ to develop ‘trial gardens’ that demonstrate to other growers that a particular piece of expertise, technology or tool, really works.
Experts from Farm Africa work with the grower to ensure the trial garden’s success, helping ensure other farmers in the community adopt the methods used.
‘Small-scale farmers can be understandably reluctant to just accept new methods, in case they don’t work,’ explains Matthew. ‘Trial gardens provide a ripple effect, which allows others in the community to see the project really works.’
New cassava crop is a godsend
In Kenya, one Farm Africa project helped 270 households in the Migori and Ugenya districts feed themselves all year round. Before the project started, nine out of ten homes didn’t grow enough to put food on the table throughout the year. This was because the favoured staple cassava – a root crop that is vital to the region – was failing.
Called Adimbo Lela, or ‘smart girl’ in the local language, cassava harvests had become so poor that farmers had started to say ‘the smart girl isn’t smart any more’.
Farm Africa worked with Celine Adhiambo, a widow who lived in the area, to grow an improved variety of cassava that matures in half the time of Adimbo Lela and produces tubers of around three times the weight. Celine’s yields leapt from
3.3 tonnes per hectare to 22 tonnes per hectare.
In addition, Celine also received business training from Farm Africa, which showed her how to turn cassava into chapattis, cakes and crisps, enabling her to earn enough money to send her children to school.
‘This new cassava is a godsend,’ Celine says. ‘I know that I will continue to produce it and I shall bid poverty farewell.’
Baale George’s bean dilemma!
One of the most memorable farmers Matthew met was a Ugandan farmer called Baale George, a man who described the knowledge provided by Farm Africa as a propeller on his nose that drove him forward.
Before working with Farm Africa, Baale had grown beans that were repeatedly destroyed by plant disease. So Farm Africa trained him in simple farming skills such as planting in rows and crop rotation, before giving him 30kg of high-quality bean seeds that were not susceptible to plant disease.
However, Matthew adds that the beans were so successful that he found himself facing a somewhat unexpected problem, and criticism from an unexpected corner: his children.
This was because Baale stored his harvest yields in his small house, which measured 10ft square, and the children slept on top of the beans. However, as harvests of the new bean had been so much better, they soon started to run out of space.
‘There was not enough room for their heads between the beans and the roof, meaning they had actually started to complain about the good harvest,’ continues Matthew.
‘So Baale decided to build a new house and turn the existing one into a bean store.’
As a farmer himself, these stories and experiences remind Matthew that no matter where you are in the world, farmers share common goals and challenges. This means they can always learn from one another no matter where in the world they farm.
'I really feel a sense of kinship and understanding with African farmers,’ he continues.
‘I empathise with the problems the they face, the way they overcome them, and the emotions they experience in looking after their crops, land and family – it’s the same all over the world.’
Give Hunger the Boot!
NFU Countryside magazine is supporting Farm Africa’s ‘Give Hunger the Boot’ campaign, which combines enjoyable group fundraising activities with an opportunity to learn more about the challenges facing African farming families.
And you can get involved too – all you have to do is organise a welly boot-themed fundraising activity, for example a sponsored welly walk with your friends or a welly-themed cake sale with the local church or school. For more information and inspiration, visit: www.farmafrica.org.uk/ghtb
Follow Matthew Naylor’s visit to Tanzania
This autumn, Lincolnshire farmer Matthew Naylor will be travelling with a group of fellow farmers to a Farm Africa project in the Nou Forest in Tanzania to take part in a unique challenge.
The group will be working with local people to build efficient, modern beehives which produce more honey than traditional hives. The hives are just one element of a project which helps local families make a sustainable living in the forest with activities such as bee-keeping andraffia growing (for the production of baskets and mats).
If you would like to support Matthew’s efforts or learn more, visit: www.farmafrica.org/beehive-challenge