Intsormil V Tradition Gibson
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  • 1. EDIT THIS – LOCATED IN BFC, Short Form<br />Part of INTSORMIL’s mission is to work with African farmers to make sorghum and millet more popular and more profitable. To do this, researchers are updating traditional methods of growing and harvesting sorghum and millet to make farming easier to get rid of harmful pests and diseases that kill the crops. <br />INTSORMIL has made significant progress researching how to use techniques such as deep tilling and skip-row planting more effectively. This research has the potential to dramatically increase farmers’ yields and profits – in some cases, farmers using INTSORMIL techniques got three times more yield than farmers using traditional methods of growing and harvesting sorghum, according to a 2008 report by INTSORMIL scientist John Sanders of Purdue University.<br />Tillage is the process of breaking up soil to help plant roots grow deeper and help distribute nutrients in the soil. Tillage can also help remove weeds and microorganisms that harm the plants. But, if done improperly, tillage can also dry out soil, making it harder for plants to grow. Traditional hand-hoe tillage barely gets past the surface of the soil, so INTSORMIL scientists generally recommend using deep tillage – digging deeper into the ground when breaking up soil. Deep tillage brings more nutrient-rich, moist soil to the surface and helps conserve moisture. However, machines for deep tillage can get expensive.<br />INTSORMIL scientists also recommend skip-row planting for some of the driest areas of Africa. In skip-row planting, farmers plant sorghum in every other row in their field, leaving some rows empty. The empty rows act like a reservoir, storing moisture and nutrients throughout the season. If conditions are dry later in the season, the plants can tap into the moisture in those empty rows to continue growing even through a drought.<br />Enhanced varieties of sorghum can also help farmers get more out of their fields. Enhanced sorghum can resist drought, mold and disease. Use of these varieties not only adds to the yield of each harvest, it can also improve the quality and value of the grain.<br />Even though using these and other INTSORMIL-recommended techniques can dramatically increase yield and profit, many farmers in Africa are sticking with their traditional farming practices. INTSORMIL researchers Donald Larson and Mark Erbaugh found only 23 percent of sorghum farmers used INTSORMIL-recommended deep tillage practices in two Tanzanian districts. Farmers are more willing to use genetically improved varieties of sorghum, though. In their survey, Larson and Erbaugh found 42 percent of farmers used local sorghum while 59 percent improved varieties.<br />Some farmers just don’t know about the new practices, Erbaugh, a principal investigator base at Ohio State University, said. But many of them know about the improved techniques and stick with their traditional methods like hand-hoe tillage and planting their whole fields because they have no real reason to change. Rural African districts often have no market to buy and sell large amounts of grain. So subsistence farmers have no reason to invest in new techniques, Erbaugh said, because they wouldn’t be able to sell the excess sorghum.<br />“If their yield is just for their own family to eat, hey, they’re doing ok already,” Erbaugh said. “Farmers aren’t going to adopt new yield-enhancing practices if there’s no market.”<br />INTSORMIL researchers are working hard to make sorghum and millet a viable crop in Africa and Central America. However, they also have to get people to actually use the techniques they discover – this is the next step for market researchers like Erbaugh. If researchers can establish markets for the sale of grain in rural areas, farmers will have an incentive to invest in INTSORMIL techniques, and can start turning a profit from their fields.<br />