The brown revolution: A sustainable response to the global food crisis

About eighty percent of farmers work on less than five acres of land. Many farmers are hungry. How can that be? They have very few resources, money, time, or education. The characteristics of the soil on their farm are worn and weathered. These farmers do not have enough land to allow for fallow years; their crop production is going down.

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On Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, Stan Doerr will present “The Brown Revolution: A Sustainable Response to the Global Food Crisis and Viable Options for the Small Scale Farmer” at the ASA, CSSA, & SSSA International Annual Meetings in Tampa, FL. The Brown Revolution focuses on building soil ecology, thus enabling local farmers to feed communities, not just families. It does not require huge inputs of capital or high technology. The methods can restore the land, and help it to produce the food that it is meant to produce. The methods can also be replicated in various geographic areas.

ECHO is a global organization that provides tech support for those working with small-scale farmers. They are conducting multiyear research in South Africa to demonstrate ways in which farmers can build capacity of their soils, funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. 

Results of conservation agriculture methods are now showing why Brown Revolution techniques are working. They are now in year 4 of their study. ECHO has taught farmers how to prepare their soils before the rainy season with microcatchments. When the rains come, the microcatchments create microsystems that provide for better seed germination, hold in fertilizer, and improve yields. The soils have gone from 0.25% active carbon to 4% during the four years of the study.

Additionally, intercropping with legumes—ones that produce an edible food, such as Pigeon pea or Lablab bean—have helped put up to 500 pounds of nitrogen back into the soils. They also provide an additional source of food and income. Cover crops have helped to reduce soil temperature by 20 degrees F. It helps build the ecology of the soil, and enhance soil’s ability to keep its nutrition levels high.