The mid-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries have seen a number of new types of agriculture added to the list that includes the more mundane varieties of livestock and produce farming. We now have solar farms, spider-goat farms and leech farms, among others. Today – because of the growing interest in sustainable practices – we can also speak of demonstration farms.
As the name implies, demonstration farms are used to teach modern agricultural techniques and technologies, or showcase new or improved crops. Owned and operated by anyone from universities to NGOs, farmers can test new farming methods at these teaching facilities without risking their own livelihoods.
The father of demonstration farming is recognised as American agriculturist Seaman Knapp. Though he lived and died over a century ago, his teaching methods were strikingly modern; Knapp practiced the philosophy of teaching through demonstration. Today, demonstration farms are found around the world. In Israel, for example, a centre for agricultural development trained over 270 000 people from 132 countries in various courses, 70% of which use demonstration farms.
There have also been substantial advances in Africa, as noted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), where demonstration farms could revolutionise the agricultural industry by solving some of the continent’s most persistent challenges, such as low adoption of irrigation technology: Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture has established over 1 242 community demonstration farms for new agricultural technologies. In the Kenyan town of Meru, a demonstration farm is teaching conservation agriculture, with over 10 000 farmers having adopted the practices taught so far.
China, too, has established more than 20 demonstration centres throughout the continent with the aim of improving African farming methods, and they are not alone. According to WEF, one of the most successful initiatives is helping solve one of Africa’s greatest challenges – degraded soils. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa has established over 155 000 demonstration gardens in 13 countries to teach best soil health practices. Farmers using these practices have at least doubled their crop yields.
Undoubtedly, Africa’s demonstration farms have proved to be successful and valuable. But that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels. On a continent contending with seasonal droughts and floods, as well as degraded soils and low crop productivity, the need for such knowledge sharing is as critical as ever to ensure the prosperity of millions.