Background in agricultural development
TECHNICAL NOTE: A GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS IN SMALL-SCALE TROPICAL AGRICULTURE by Dr. Franklin W. Martin, a researcher and consultant on small farming systems in the tropics.
You want to help people in the tropics. Beautiful! The tropics are waiting for you. No matter what your abilities, you can offer your service to others in the tropics. Your concern for the physical and spiritual well- being of people can be translated into fruitful work. Your first asset is your goodwill, your willingness to serve.
As you begin to get acquainted with the tropics, you will find that common problems include the production and use of food. Among the poor, those that most need your help, obtaining one's daily bread is a constant concern. This is not only a question of eating. It is first a matter of production, second of distribution and storage, and third of preparation of meals and balancing of the diet. It is highly probable that when you arrive in the tropics you will not have all the knowledge you need of food production and use in order to help tropical people with their priority needs. It does not matter what experience and training you may have had in your temperate homeland; you cannot be fully prepared in advance. This is normal, and do not let it discourage you. Frequently, however, to accomplish your purposes you will need to help others with their needs to produce and use food better.
The tropics are different from the temperate zones. While in theory it might be possible to produce food crops all year round, in reality a wide range of biological and social factors determine what crops are produced and during which seasons. The soils are formed by different processes than those of the temperate zone. They tend to be acidic and heavy, with low natural fertility; but there are numerous exceptions. Day length is short during part of the year, but never as short as in the temperate zone during the winter. Day lengths are longer 6 months later, but never as long as in the temperate zone during the summer. Many tropical plants are very sensitive to length of day, and flower in response to small differences.
Time and length of the rainy season vary, making some climates very dry while others have regular rains almost all year. The most common weather pattern in the tropics is the monsoon, characterized by drought during short days and rain during long days. Tropical crops are often distinctive from the crops of the temperate zone, but even when they are the same, the varieties are almost always different. The methods of producing them are highly varied, but usually include small-scale techniques. Even the layout of the garden is different, often an irregular and undisciplined mixing of trees and vines with mostly perennial vegetables. Add to these differences those due to local custom, food preferences, and personal preferences and you will quickly understand that the tropics are not like home.
This is a problem only if you make it so. If you try to teach in the tropics the patterns and customs that you are familiar with, you will almost always fail. Therefore, your task will be first to learn the techniques that local people are already using. In so doing your respect, understanding, knowledge and abilities will grow, and you will pave the way towards improvement of the local techniques. It can help you become a small-scale food production expert.
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