Strategies for smallholders

How big is big? And just how does one measure the completion of a task? Some might say day to day activities are all small steps towards the achievement of the overall objective.

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In order to manage a farm efficiently and save both time and money, a plan of action has to be drawn up. But do all farmers take all external factors into consideration, like increases in input prices (fuel, electricity), labour unrest, changes in both foreign and local markets, and the ever-changing weather patterns. Well, in any agricultural environment one’s budget can be easily upset by any deviation from the expected.

For smallholders, there is much to lose in such an unstable environment. Thus, for any smallholder, every day is a grind and it pays to be a step ahead. One way is spreading the risk. One can practise mixed farming as it is very cost-effective, especially when you use outputs from one unit as inputs for the other, ie manure as organic fertiliser. Or a smallholder can tailor his production to suit the needs of a niche market, thereby avoiding competition from experienced market leaders, on condition that the niche market will always exist.

For smallholders it will prove worthwhile to learn more about your environment (soil, water, climate), as well as your product and its markets so as to always be prepared and well equipped for a rainy day. Knowledge of the markets will help you sell your product where it is most appreciated.

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Lastly, flexibility is one of the merits of being small. I remember changing my plan from growing lettuce to growing cucumber and tomatoes after I had reassessed my environment and the economics of my decision to ensure I was venturing into something that would pay off. I am still learning and enjoying the challenges that come with each day.