Farms which are combined with techniques and technologies, known as demonstration farms, are a smart investment that can help accelerate the adoption of innovations. Farmers can learn new ways to support their farming.
Demonstration farms can be used to teach various agricultural techniques and technologies as well as exhibit new crops. They also serve as a venue to study and test new methods alongside traditional ones.
Their sizes are quite varied, ranging from small to big farms. Depending on what is being tested or exhibited, a demonstration farm could have different types of crops and crop varieties, livestock or poultry, fertilizer treatments or technologies, such as drip irrigation. This concept is often owned and operated by universities, government or private research institutes, private industries, agriculture focused startups, and non-governmental organizations.
The importance of demonstration farms was first recognized over a century ago by agricultural expert Seaman Knapp. He believed in the philosophy of teaching through demonstration. Therefore, he is named as the Father of Demonstration Farms which are used across the world.
Demonstration farms could also help with the implementation of new concepts that are transforming agriculture, including precision agriculture, a farm management system that ensures soils and crops receive what they need for optimal growth and productivity. Or conservation agriculture, a sustainable agriculture production system comprising three related principles; minimal soil disturbance, mixing and rotating crops, and keeping the soils covered as much as possible.
History of Demonstration Farms
Formal demonstration farms in Europe emerged in the mid 1700s out of the need to provide sufficient food for a rapidly urbanizing population, combined with the increased need for food when there were multiple wars between nations. At the same time, new trade routes opened up new opportunities and markets for agricultural products.
Then there was a problem. Many of the farms at that time were managed as subsistence farms producing agricultural commodities for themselves or local markets. As a result, in some regions, the systems were running so bad that it was difficult to move agricultural products to the rapidly growing cities.
The improvement of the roads and infrastructures required investment. For farmers who wished to make progress, demonstrations to neighboring farmers (tenants) was one way to increase the wealth of a region and thus allowed the required investments to be made.
To boost this development, ‘county societies’ began to emerge across Europe in the 1700s. Within the period, there were reportedly more than 30 such organizations in France and Switzerland, and others in Leipzig, Württemberg, Hannover, Zurich, Heidelberg, Stockholm, England, or other locations. The main objective of these societies was to improve the general condition of agriculture of the region through learning and teaching neighbors by examples.
Upon their first emergence, formal demonstration farms were predominantly private farms established by wealthy individuals or organizations (funded by subscription and occasionally with grants from the government) with the intent to improve the domestic agriculture and economy. An advertisement for a model farm at Whitfield near Thornbury in the United Kingdom (1842) illustrates how the approach to demonstration farms shows many similarities with today’s.
In America, demonstration farms were developed in earnest in the beginning of the 1900s with the work of Dr. Seaman Knapp. Knapp initially used the term ‘demonstration farm’ to designate that part of the farm that was being managed according to the instructions of agents working for the Bureau of Plant Industry. The farm was visited by agents once a month to ensure that the instructions were followed and provide any additional advice as needed. But later on, the term was used to refer to farms that were fully managed under instructions.
Thus, the object of a demonstration farm was to place a practical object lesson before the farm masses, illustrating the best and most profitable methods of producing the standard agricultural crops.
Knapp’s approach to demonstration farms was to seed the landscapes with farm fields which were being managed under efficient agronomic principles. He noted that demonstration farms must be managed over an extended period.
Demonstration Farms Help Revolutionize African Agriculture
Demonstration farms have the potential to be further developed, something which is not much applied in Africa. If systematically designed, these demonstration farms could help revolutionize African agriculture. They could help solve some of Africa’s most difficult challenges, including degraded land or low adoption of irrigation technologies.
In Nigeria, a fertilizer company has more than 3,000 demonstration farms that are used to showcase and teach farmers about modern farming practices. In Ghana, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture has established more than 1,242 demonstration farm communities that showcase new agricultural technologies.
Meanwhile in Kenya, a demonstration farm in Meru is teaching the women everything they need to know about conservation agriculture. This includes covering crops such as grass or legumes, which serve to provide seasonal soil cover to protect bare land. Such measures enhance crop productivity, increase yields as well as profits and food security.
Farmers in the country can see how the practices work over time up to several years. Then they are able to use the concept on their own farms. More than 10,000 farmers have adopted these practices.
In the meantime, China has launched 23 demonstration farm centers across Africa with the aim of improving African farming by passing on successes in agriculture. But China is not alone. Agriculture focused companies like Amiran Kenya have used demonstration sites to showcase the technologies they sell. Their aim is to prove to farmers that these really work and that they can be used to increase productivity and produce farms. They have an easy-to-use gravity-based drip irrigation system, water tank, and all the necessary agricultural inputs.
Non-governmental organizations are also using demonstration farms. Agricultural development in Kenya, for example, uses demonstration farms as classrooms to demonstrate good agricultural practices.
One of the most successful initiatives is to help solve one of Africa’s greatest challenges, degraded soils. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa has established more than 155,000 demonstration gardens to showcase best soil health practices in 13 countries. Farmers using these practices have doubled and even tripled their crop yields.