Atlanta to Zambia: A Model Farm
An Atlanta-area company recently harvested its first crop from a model farm it has developed in the African nation of Zambia. It was not a great crop, but it was a crop nonetheless and an important step toward making the farm an engine for both commercial and small-scale agriculture in that nation and across the continent.
The company is AGCO Corp., a major global agriculture firm based in Duluth. AGCO’s G. Eric Raby, vice-president of global marketing and commercial development, was a panelist at Monday’s Atlanta Summit on Global Health and Hunger, held in Buckhead. Raby made a bold prediction: Africa will become a net exporter of food to the rest of the world. The timetable he gave as “some point in the future,” might seem a little squishy as a prediction. He has good reason to be cautious, however, since many African countries still rely on some measure of food aid.
The AGCO Model Farm in Zambia is meant to be a part of that emerging story. The farm opened last year on 371 acres the company acquired from a failed commercial farm near the capital, Lusaka.
Before looking a little more closely at the farm, let’s answer this question: Why all the talk about agriculture at a global health summit? The simple answer boils down to one word: nutrition. Improved nutrition leads to improved health. Additionally, improved agriculture can become an important means of income for the rural poor. We know that higher incomes lead to better health.
So, agriculture is a key component of global health strategies. We see that in our own work at MAP International. We are a health-focused agency, but we are as likely to have an agronomist involved in a village development project as we are a village health worker. I am also convinced that corporate partners – not just the “NGO” or nonprofit, charitable sector – must be involved.
I guess that is why I was so intrigued by the AGCO Model Farm, which is intended to be a training center, demonstration farm and, ultimately, a commercial success as well. Clearly, a successful farm using AGCO’s equipment could set the company up to capture important markets as the agricultural economy in Zambia and across Africa grows. So be it. Africa needs companies to invest in its people and infrastructure in a socially-conscious way with the promise of making growing profits along the way.
There are at least two examples of this socially-conscious lens at work at the Model Farm. First, AGCO hired back the local men and women who had been workers on the failed farm and provided a level of training well beyond what they had previously received. Second, the farm is investing in training and promotion of best practices among small-scale and family farmers, not only the big commercial farms that are likely markets for AGCOs tractors and other big equipment.
You can view a short video of the model farm at this YouTube link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGbX3bQiPCg
Raby told me after Monday’s panel discussion that the recently-harvested first crop on the farm was not great, but it was a great start. For the farmers of Zambia, and for this Duluth-based global corporation, we hope so.