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Topic Title: Agricultural Engineering in the UK and Africa
Topic Summary: How do we better encourage new engineering ideas and innovation in the Agricultural Engineering Sector?
Created On: 11 July 2013 08:22 PM
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 11 July 2013 08:22 PM
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jarathoon

Posts: 1043
Joined: 05 September 2004


How do we better encourage new engineering ideas and innovation in the Agricultural Engineering Sector, both in the UK and World Wide?

That's another good question for engineering students to think about...


The Institute of Agricultural Engineering (www.iagre.org) are organising a consortia-building workshop on the 23rd July Entitled

"Engineering Solutions - enhancing agri-food production efficiency"

in Peterborough

http://engineeringsolutions.eventbrite.co.uk/

"The Technology Strategy Board recently published their Delivery Plan for 2013-14, which describes future activities relevant to the agrifood supply chain for the coming financial year. In anticipation of the next SAF-IP competition 'Engineering solutions and precision agriculture technologies' we are organising consortia-building workshops to promote this call. These workshops will help businesses and research-base partners better understand the competition scope and identify potential project partners."

A summary of the Technology Strategy Board Food Action Plan (www.innovateuk.org) is below:

"Challenges
- Engineering solutions and precision agriculture technologies:
Enhance resource-use efficiency in the arable, livestock and food
processing environments using advanced engineering and precision
agriculture across the agrifood supply chain
- Integrated farming systems: Economic geographic and climatic
pressures have led to a high degree of specialisation within UK
agriculture. This competition will stimulate the development of a more
efficient and integrated approach to food production, with closer cooperation between sub-sectors
- Circular agricultural economy: Investigate the opportunity for
utilisation of co-products from plant and animal production and
processing across the whole agrifood system
- Feeding the Future: Innovation Requirements for Primary Food
Production in the UK to 2030. An industry-wide report to outline what
innovation is needed in the industry to be published in May 2013"

New Agricultural Engineering challenges will continue to arise world wide as populations increase, and climate patterns shift. The UK is in a great position to increase the export of agricultural engineering products and services overseas.

Since the food crisis in Malawi and Zimbabwe is in the news I must add the following:


"Africa food crisis: UK pledges £35m to Malawi and Zimbabwe"

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23276632

I don't support agricultural subsidies (especially those given out in Europe and America) or the perennial food aid given to Africa for that matter.

If there are engineering and economic problems to be solved, they should be clearly identified so we can then find ways of solving them cost effectively. It is both unnecessary and completely unacceptable for the UK government to be handing out food aid to African countries like Malawi and Zimbabwe, without clear, rational and sustainable agricultural development plans being brought to the public table for engineers and others to debate, evaluate and cost.

In regards to Zimbabwe in particular, I suspect most ordinary people from both countries would like the chance to consign all this to the history books and move on now. The government led by Robert Mugabe has made its mistakes and the UK goverment before it made their mistakes, its time to move on now.

The Zimbabwean and UK governments need to come to an accord that allows engineering knowledge and investment to flow so that the Zimbabwean people can build up their own agricultural output again, to a level where they no longer need food aid.

This should certainly be possible in the first instance for agricultural workers that now own their own land and who choose to organise themselves collectively into co-operatives or partnerships to access the economies of scale necessary to reduce costs and improve productivity.

James Arathoon


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James Arathoon
 11 July 2013 09:44 PM
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Zuiko

Posts: 521
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"The Zimbabwean and UK governments need to come to an accord that allows engineering knowledge and investment to flow so that the Zimbabwean people can build up their own agricultural output again, to a level where they no longer need food aid."


huh?

They need farmers, not engineering knowledge.

Zimbabwe was a bread basket that did not need food aid, now it is a basket case. It's almost impossible not to grow food in that part of the world it is so fertile, yet the hapless fools the government put in the farms after they kicked out, tortured and killed the farmers, manage not to.


Put the farmers that know how to farm back on the land.

This is not an engineering problem, it is a political and racial (racist) problem.
 11 July 2013 11:14 PM
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jarathoon

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Joined: 05 September 2004

Well to some extent it is an farming education and leadership issue, see the Royal Agriculture University web page on this

http://www.rau.ac.uk/africa

I think there are internet based remote learning courses being set up to meet the needs of farmers without easy access to a nearby agricultural college. Common principles, but different climate and location specific solutions required.

There is also issues surrounding systems engineering, infrastructure, logistics etc. etc. More so for Malawi perhaps, but not necessarily so.

I would rather learn a bit more from government and agricultural experts before concluding that members of this institution have no role to play in the future of food production innovation in Africa.

It is very clear now, that Genetic Modification will be no silver bullet in the face of a constantly evolving natural environment. It is important to be clear what can be done without just assuming that GM will eventually solve everything.

Agricultural practices (including crop rotation with nitrogen fixing plants), irrigation infrastucture and practices, waste processing, risk management, back-stop strategies in the face of drought etc etc... and then how everything integrates together to make the overall farming system, are in aggregate far more important. Sounds to me like an engineering education and approach is part of what the doctor ordered...

James Arathoon



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James Arathoon
 12 July 2013 01:57 PM
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Avatar for OMS.
OMS

Posts: 19738
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James, do a little research.

Farming and food production in Rhodesia was never a problem.

The problem started when the farmers were booted out and worse,and replaced with so called war veterans and heroes - welcome to Zim

More generally, Africa doesn't have a food problem - it has a political problem and a population density problem - if you don't believe me, take a look in a refugee camp someday and then tell me that food aid isn't the right thing to do. Generally, there are no real problems growing stuff - but to grow things you need stability - and when you have stability, you get population under control.

Regards

OMS

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Failure is always an option
 12 July 2013 04:17 PM
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jarathoon

Posts: 1043
Joined: 05 September 2004

We cannot can change the past and history books are always different in different countries... In the UK we have our own historic land grabbing legacies, including the Norman Conquest and the common land theft associated with the UK Inclosure Acts etc..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inclosure_Acts

Mostly we are left with biased and one sided contemporary historical accounts, that favour the testonomy of literate people over illiterate people for example; the lords over the serfs.

I certainly wouldn't object to some land law reform here in the UK, so the public get more benefit when farmland is released for housing and other developments. Letting a few lucky landlords profiteer excessively, that just happen to now own historic land deeds of dubious provinance in the right place for new housing, doesn't seem fair to me.

Anyway at some point the Zimbabwean people must find a way of moving on somehow (just as we have managed to), because without a healthy and efficient farming sector the foundations for stability and growth in the rest of the economy are undermined. Legislative changes to address gross profiteering and gross unfairness can always be made later, just like I propose should happen in this country.

In reading the Department for International Development's (DFID) press release

"Southern Africa facing disaster as food crisis looms"

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/southern-africa-facing-disaster-as-food-crisis-looms

"Rising food prices have combined with unpredictable weather to leave food stocks dangerously low across the region."

And DFID's only answer to this is to fund emergency food aid.

I just wanted to hear from some independent agricultural engineers in Malawi and Zimbabwe or another parts of South Africa, so they can inform me of other possible ways to spend the money DFID is allocating to the problem.

James Arathoon

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James Arathoon
 12 July 2013 05:21 PM
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Avatar for OMS.
OMS

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You are living in cloud cuckoo land, I'm sorry to say James.

The conditions are perfect for growing things - Rhodesia was the bread basket of South Africa - it can be again - but it needs either politicians or military to sort it out - not agricultural engineers.

Western society is not rushing into Zim to depose a dictator - and it's not headline news like Syria - what's the parallel with Iraq.

You need stability for agriculture - agriculture won't create stability

Regards

OMS

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Failure is always an option
 12 July 2013 06:12 PM
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Zuiko

Posts: 521
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Originally posted by: OMS
Farming and food production in Rhodesia was never a problem.


Let's please call it Zimbabwe rather than its colonial name; but the point is correct, and exactly the one I tried to make earlier (to no avail it seems).


Zimbabwe fed itself, its neighbours and exported food to the wider world, including the UK. It was the bread basket of Africa.

It is a naturally fertile land - drop a seed and it will grow without any meddling from engineers. I have worked in East Africa (Uganda) and have seen first hand that food production and distribution is not a problem. Food grows everywhere. It is a farmers paradise. Politics is a problem.


This is NOT an engineering problem. There is no value in a meddling european engineer trying to turn a racial-politcal problem into an engineering problem; or worse, engineering a spurious solution to a problem that does not exist.


Zimbabwe needs Zimbabwean FARMERS.

End of story.
 12 July 2013 06:18 PM
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Zuiko

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"Sounds to me like an engineering education and approach is part of what the doctor ordered"

jesus wept....children grew up on Zimbabwean farms and watched their fathers tend the land, then in turn farmed it themselves, and this went on for generations without all this fancy engineering nonsense you are talking.
 12 July 2013 09:22 PM
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jarathoon

Posts: 1043
Joined: 05 September 2004

Zuiko,

A farmer is a person who directly or indirectly manages and runs a farm. The farmer may be the actual owner of the land or may lease or rent the land from a third party.

A agricultural engineer or agriculturalist is someone who can devise new or indeed reestablish and improve upon old farming systems given changing economic or environmental circumstance.

How a farmer chooses to farm depends on how much land they own as well as education, culture, and economic and environmental circumstance. There are a wide variety of agricultual systems from which to choose or not choose. The choice of agricultural system can be appropriate or inappropriate and be run efficiently or inefficiently.

The Department for International Development (DFID) is about to hand out food to the people of Zimbabwe and Malawi with the justifying statement

"Rising food prices have combined with unpredictable weather to leave food stocks dangerously low across the region."

DFID are basically saying food is scarce and expensive because of changing environmental circumstance.

This explanation rules out economic factors like farmers can't afford fertiliser or seeds or the cost of labour or the cost of fuel or farming machinery etc.

So ownership is not a factor, and knowledge or educational and training are not factors. Also political constraints including corruption are not given as factors.

The precise environmental circumstance that applies accross the region is not given. Environmental circumstance might be that the weather varies too much from year to year to reliably get good farming yields or there is currently a drought etc.

An agricultural engineer or agriculturalist (i.e. a professional engineer like most members of this institution with much the same professional standards and systems of ethics) can help farmers devise new ways of farming to cope with changing circumstance both environmental and economic. I could rely on them to tell me clearly and honestly the precise reasons why farming is failing in Zimbabwe and Malawi, and whether or not DFID are right or wrong in their simplictic analysis.

There is nothing wrong or even controversial with what I am saying and it is entirely relevant assuming that Department for International Development are not putting out mistaken or misleading propaganda in their press releases.

If DFID is wrong, as you seem to be saying, then we need up to date evidence and testimony to prove that they are wrong so we can confront them with the facts. I suppose memebrs of this institution who live in Zimbabwe and Malawi are just as capable of doing this as you or me.

James Arathoon



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James Arathoon
 12 July 2013 09:45 PM
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jarathoon

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Joined: 05 September 2004

http://www.un.org/africarenewa...E2%80%99s-food-crisis

"What went wrong? Lessons from Malawi's food crisis"

"Autocracy and aid dependency killed an agriculture success story"

The UN (January 2013) disagree with DFID and are saying that aid is part of the problem in Malawi, not the solution.

"Once again Malawi finds itself in a tight spot. A food crisis set off by erratic rains, rising food prices and economic hardships is slowly unfolding. For the first time in several years, the country's ability to feed its citizens is at risk. Sadly and unexpectedly, Malawi has lost its hard-earned status as an agricultural success story - it used to produce enough maize for its people to eat and still provide a surplus to neighbours. Many are now wondering what went wrong and whether there could be lessons for other African countries."

Yes we all are wondering what went wrong

"Malawi's current troubles might seem surprising. Yet to those who follow events in the tiny, poor and densely populated landlocked Southern African nation, it is less an abrupt change in fortunes than a series of self-inflicted injuries unfolding in slow motion."

"Leadership is key"

etc. etc.

I would still like to hear from an agricultural engineer who knows the problems of the region.

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James Arathoon
 13 July 2013 11:26 AM
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jarathoon

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Zuiko,

Al Jazerra rather than ask DFID or the UN, they have taken the radical and unusual step of talking to industry insiders in Zimbabwe (on condition of anonymity) to find out what is going wrong. And it seems to support your point of view that farming and farming practices in aggregate are not the main problem in Zimbabwe. It puts a completely different gloss on DFID's statement, which is very opaque and misleading to say the least.

Lets reread DFID's words

"Rising food prices have combined with unpredictable weather to leave food stocks dangerously low across the region."

Now lets look at what Al Jazerra has to say....

"Zimbabwe's avoidable food crisis"

"The country's latest crisis is not a natural disaster, but may be the result of corruption and incompetence."

http://www.aljazeera.com/indep...1371093933648830.html

"A significant part of the problem lies not with production, but with the parastatal Grain Marketing Board (GMB), mandated to store maize for consumption and to manage the national strategic grain reserve. In 2012, GMB admitted a loss of 55,000 tonnes of maize due to water damage. As a result, the rotten grain was sold as stock feed, at a loss of $6m."

The article carries on

"Several staff within the industry would only speak on condition of anonymity. One senior worker at Lions Den depot, about 135km north-west of Harare, said that a lack of timely inspections had led to poor practice. "It is mandatory that stored maize be transferred from one bin to the other to minimise the chances of the maize going bad," they said.

Another senior official said that maize storage "must be 12 percent moisture content or below", but grain which should have been rejected was somehow approved for storage. "The country is losing out financially," he said, "but no action is being taken against the perpetrators." "



"Research for this article was carried out thanks to funding from FAIR, the Forum for African Investigative Reporters."

I will leave you to read more...

I think the Secretary of State for the Department for International Development should make a statement on this matter before parliament to explain to us all in greater detail what is going on.

James Arathoon

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James Arathoon
 13 July 2013 12:46 PM
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jarathoon

Posts: 1043
Joined: 05 September 2004

The Zimbabwe Independent in its analysis of the food crisis fails to mention the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and any problems it may have. Perhaps Al Jazeera is wrong about this crisis...

"Zim faces food crisis" (May 24th 2013)

http://www.theindependent.co.z...im-faces-food-crisis/

"At the official launch of the country's Food and Nutrition Security Policy last week, Mugabe said implementation of the land reform programme has become the cornerstone of ensuring food and nutrition security as the majority of people now have access to agricultural land.

However, analysts, critics and most in the agriculture industry feel otherwise, with Commercial Farmers Union president Charles Taffs saying a comprehensive approach that tackles pertinent issues in respect of land reform and a way forward is the solution to Zimbabwe's agricultural crisis.

"The fundamentals to enable sustainable crop production are just not there," Taffs said.

"Why do we keep skirting the issues, we need to sit down and say what has happened has happened and what can be corrected will be corrected, and once we do that, all the things like manufacturing will naturally fall into place," he added."

"Independence is not necessarily freedom"

http://www.theindependent.co.z...-necessarily-freedom/

"I HAVE an abiding admiration for the brave people of this country who saw it fit to fight, in whatever form, against settlerism and colonialism. There is a certain dignity in refusing to live under the bondage of foreigners."

This dignity for Zimbabweans appears to be being undermined with no agreed and sustainable path set out to solve the looming food crisis. It seems to me that it is possible to suffer under perennial foreign bandage, as well as foreign bondage.

I still suggest agricultural engineers with no particular axe to grind might wish to get invoved to help clarify the situation.

James Arathoon

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James Arathoon
 16 July 2013 04:44 PM
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MAWilson

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Joined: 22 February 2006

OMS & Zuiko,

While I agree the points you both made about Zimbabwe, maybe I can add something to this debate as someone from a former colony.

Commodity prices for food is a major problem and even without the social ills in Zimbabwe, there would still be problems with farming as there is in my country. There are no longer protected markets such as during colonial times and the 2 biggest markets (US & Europe) have massively subsidised farming which makes smaller markets uncompetitive. I've seen small farming erased in my country over the last 15 yrs with increased waste lands the result. If UK farmers are complaining about the cost of farming relative to generated income, imagine the developing world. We're almost totally dependant on the tourist dollar now with farming almost completely killed by the last severe weather event 2 yrs ago.

It baffles my mind to think a tropical paradise with volcanic rich soil exports more the 70% of its food, but the old saying "money talks" is quite applicable in this case. There is no economic basis to produce something which is generally required for ones sustenance; figure out that logic?

M A. Wilson MIET
 23 July 2013 12:53 PM
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jarathoon

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I missed this story from in the Telegraph... a despised and neglected desert weed when nurtured anew, transforms into the tree that gives life to a more productive and sustainable desert agriculture in some parts of the Sahel...

"The 'underground forests' that are bringing deserts to life"

"Encouraging 'weeds' to grow in desert areas is helping prevent land degradation and allowing crops to thrive"

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ear...-deserts-to-life.html

To what extent this enlightenment phase in desert agricultural techniques and practices has been consolidated by more detailed rational analysis and experimental trials I have no idea.


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James Arathoon
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