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Thursday, April 17, 2014
- Chad has more than 400,000 square kilometres of arable land, but poor rainfall and a reliance on basic agricultural techniques have left the country with a grain deficit in the past two years. The government is turning to mechanisation in a bid to improve harvests. Chad became an oil producer in 2003. But despite the financial rewards raked in from this, the northern and eastern parts of this Sahelian country have suffered famine since 2010.
Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno, whose fourth term began in 2011, has put youth and the countryside at the head of his priority list. He wants to put an end to what he has called “the hellish cycle of famine”. But the cereal deficit has stubbornly remained at more than 500,000 tonnes a year since 2010.
A factory to assemble tractors was opened in N’Djamena in 2009.
The government has made tractors available to smallholder farmers to boost production in the 2012-2013 growing season. As part of the National Food Security Programme (PNSA), some 450,000 hectares of land were expected to be ploughed between mid-June and the end of August and a harvest of 900,000 tonnes of grain is expected.
A total of 914 tractors will till the fields at a cost of 19 dollars per hectare, said Yaya Mahamat Outman, responsible for monitoring and evaluation for PNSA, at the launch of the growing season in April 2012. The receipts from the ploughing will raise more than 8.4 million dollars, which will serve to keep the programme running, he added.
The N’Djamena-Fara district, just 40 kilometres northwest of the capital, N’Djamena, is one of the country’s prime agricultural regions. While fishing and livestock have been the principal economic activities of residents of N’Djamena-Fara, that has changed with the arrival of the tractors.
“With a tractor, even the laziest person can have a farm,” joked Othniel Djimadoumngar, one of the tractor operators assigned to work here. In total, five tractors are working in this area. Djimadoumngar ploughs between seven and eight hectares a day, while it would take several days to prepare even one hectare manually or with an ox.
But keeping the machines running has been a problem. “When a tractor breaks down, we have to fix it ourselves. When we call N’Djamena, no one responds. Even getting hold of base dressing, like NPK (fertiliser added to the soil while ploughing), is not easy. Sometimes you have to go to Douguia, a town 30 kilometres away, to buy them,” said Patrice Allarabaye, head of agriculture in the N’Djamena-Fara district.
Gisèle Bénaïdara Djasnebeye, an agriculture advisor, told IPS that her role in the district is to help producers to achieve the best yields.
“What you see here is a demonstration plot. We teach producers how to transplant rice. You always need to transplant in a grid of 25 by 25 centimetres, or 20 by 20, using a measuring tape. With this technique, if the plot is properly weeded and looked after, a farmer can harvest as many as 90 100-kilo sacks of paddy rice per hectare,” Djasnebeye told IPS.
As the ploughing season draws to a close across the country, some 400 hectares of land will have been tilled in N’Djamena-Fara this year thanks to the tractors. The smallholders paid cash for the service. The rainfall has also been good. If the predictions are accurate, farmers in the district will harvest around 36,000 bags of paddy rice this season.
PNSA’s work complements that of the National Office for Rural Development, established in the 1960s and now the largest and oldest government structure to support farmers.
PNSA deploys extension workers and agronomists in the field to support farmers. Each year, it buys up stocks of staple foodstuffs direct from growers and resells them at subsidised prices during famine or the annual lean period, which runs from the end of June until the first of the harvest is reaped in the latter part of August.
This year it built up a reserve of more 20,000 tonnes of grain.
While rice farming, livestock and fishing are key economic activities in N’Djamena-Fara, it is also a major centre for growing fruit and vegetables. Thanks to the Logone river which flows through the district, many vegetables are available throughout the year, such as cabbage, cucumbers, spinach and carrots, as well as different kinds of fruit.
But N’Djamena-Fara, like many parts of Chad, has difficulties getting this bounty to the capital, despite its proximity. Most of the produce is delivered to Cameroonian merchants who cross the Logone which separates N’Djamena-Fara from Goulfé, a border city.
Mahamat Moussa Kach, sub-prefect of N’Djamena-Fara, told IPS: “We are so close to the capital, just 40 kilometres away, but paradoxically we are cut off from the rest of Chad.” He hopes that an 18-kilometre section of unpaved road will be tarred, as promised by the government, to allow them to transport their produce to the capital.