A typical field during the dry season in northern Togo. After crops are harvested, the fields are burned to make it subsequently easier to plow.
This means that any organic fertility in the soil is either burned away by fire, blown away by the wind, baked away by the sun, or washed away in the rain.
Currently in Northern Togo, and many other parts of the world, farm soil is becoming progressively more impoverished through unsustainable farming practices. The soil can be enriched through sustainable farming practices, such as composting, but the process can take a lot of time and physical labor. PISCES will seek to develop the most efficient way to convert land to sustainable production and then share and replicate our model with as many people as possible.
Throughout much of the developed and the developing world, a number of agricultural practices, such as yearly plowing, mono-cropping (only planting one crop, such as corn), and the regular use of chemical fertilizers, have led to the soil becoming progressively impoverished. In places such as Northern Togo, the effects are especially drastic as can be seen in the photo above. The majority of farmers there rely upon the rains to grow food during the five to six month long rainy season. During the other half of the year, the dry season, the fields are often barren and farmers regularly burn their fields in order to make them easier to plow once the rains arrive.
Unfortunately, while this technique may be beneficial in the short-term (less work needs to be done to clear the land), it also exhausts a valuable source of organic fertilizer (all of the crop residues left over from the previous harvest). Additionally, when the rains do arrive, there is often severe erosion because there is nothing covering the soil or holding it in place. Over several years, this leads to decreases in crop yields, which many farmers compensate for by purchasing chemical fertilizer. Chemical fertilizer further exhausts the soil by killing beneficial soil microbes and causing leeching of micro and macronutrients (i.e. things that plants need get washed away).
This often leads to an untenable cycle where farmers have to purchase more and more chemical fertilizer, which becomes more and more expensive, to counteract a harvest that is getting smaller and smaller. As most subsistence farmers have limited financial resources, this becomes difficult very quickly and farmers often go into debt in order to purchase the fertilizer supplies that they need. To make matter worse (why do they always have to get worse!) as the biodiversity of the farm decreases, pests, weeds, and diseases become more of a problem. So now you have to buy herbicides and pesticides in ever increasing quantities.
But lo and behold, there is an alternative! Sustainable agricultural (permaculture) seeks to replicate natural environmental processes in order to sequentially improve, as opposed to impoverish, the soil. However, permaculture systems often take several years to be brought into efficient production and require a fair amount of physical labor. For several years, the crop yields may be lower than they would be with application of chemical fertilizer, but once established, they can produce more food on less land, with fewer inputs. They are harder to mechanize and are often practiced on smaller scales, which can also be a barrier to their adoption.
PISCES hopes to decrease these barriers by leveraging financial resources from fundraising as well as grants to help defray some of the costs (in time, energy, and decreased yields) that conversion to organic production entails. We will also have an established teaching farm to offer trainings, workshops, and apprenticeships as well as a concrete example of a functioning permaculture farm. This way, we can show people that our system works and teach them the best way to apply it on their own land!