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Micro Farms Project Email Record
Todd Stong

The objective as I understand it is to by the use of a single hectare of infertile land, under the control of a family living there on, to produce its income as well as food for 50+ other persons, with the various animal and vegetable outputs of this area sustaining each other as much as possible so as to not require any outside nutrients other than water. Here are my initial thoughts based on that first meeting.

1. Plan the pilot project to be a success - Optimize all conditions for your opening pilot projects so they may be fabulous successes. You need not be tripped up over technical, over pure and perfect of by the non-technical at this stage. It is better to be a success and be criticizes for not doing better than to fail and disappear off the edge of the earth, unable to ever return.

2. Land acquisition - Begin with land that is easy to acquire, perhaps free, and in such a bad state that it may not support conventional agriculture. I have found gaining title to land in the Developing World can be significant challenge, that documents can even be declared invalid by local officials that have the power to make laws daily.

3. Business Plan - Work out the economics of how the target family shall acquire the land or decide on some form of lease if you intend no eventual ownership by the operating family. If a successful family my be expected to net $8000 a year in Mexico, what could they set aside to buy land? Since their housing cost will be related to their living on the land, I might open with a suggestion of 25% of that $8000 or $2000 a year after the first year. If a hectare may be purchased for 1 peso/sq meter, 10,000 pesos a hectare, than a family could easily meet that with the $2000. But if the land is 10 pesos/sq meter as it is near to Chapala, it would take 5 years to make that price. Suggest a written plan for this aspect of your project. It needs to be a project that is more than a university experiment. It has to also be a technical/business venture. There in fact needs to be a business plan in addition to a technical plan. There may be a role for micro credit. There also may be a judgment that you can achieve the needed economics with smaller plots of more intense higher revenue crops. You may decide to have a mix of larger and smaller plots, with there being some exchange of products between the larger and smaller plot operations. Expect that many specialists may try to encourage the project to reach the state of the art, the Western Art, in their area of discipline.

4. Skill Acquisition - Surely your move to video training is a great one. Language is a real challenge and it must be assumed that most target families will not be able to read. I suggest that a list of needed skills be made and that a decision be made as to which can be taught to most anyone and which will require an investment in a few key persons who will represent the needs of the others. Recall my need to create acceptable filter sand forced me to conclude I would best train one person in a village how to do it right so as to assure quality, and then each family who wished to begin a family based water business would need to buy their filter sand from that one person. As a follow up on normal training and as insurance for project success, there is a need for a "checker" to visit each project to assure all is being implemented correctly. That may begin with daily visits, that move to weekly visits, than move in time to monthly visits or greater. The family at the site must learn that these visits are to help them increase their income, and not view these visits as inspections. The videos must be supplemented with pictorial "how to" booklets since continued access to video projection is too much to expect.

5. Water Supply - I feel there could be challenges with the need for the proposed 50 cu meters, 50,000 liters of water each day. Recognize that is 55 tons of water each day, or about 3 full size American type 5000 gallon, tanker truck loads each day. It may be challenging to justify the corn and beans which takes over half your plot area. Might the object be more simply to earn a family an income and to provide food for so many people, versus trying to reach a full range diet on one plot? It may be better to place the corn and bean operations near a water source and accept that you can place the hydroponics in a more distant site.

The idea that water may cost what you see in Israel, 17.6 gallons/penny may be too much to accept in many places. For such remote desert areas in Israel there are political motives to occupy land and thus they are open to subsidizing the cost of water. My past analysis for the cost of water in the Developing World suggests a price of $0.01/gal to motivate commercial interest for drinking water. That price can be reduced if the profit is pull out and the purity of the water is set aside so as to bring the price into the range of 5-15 gallons/penny. Those prices are for water with a minimum distribution network (e.g. public stands of spigots in villages). If you have to transport the water the price will quickly increase. Note that 80% of water supply systems is related to the distribution, not the acquisition and purification. I would suggest that your business plan be opened to greater cost than the $2000/year that you are now allocating for your one hectare farm with a $60,000/year food sales potential. The plan needs to address the up front costs to develop water supply, not just the day to day operational costs. I will suggest some cost for you in the future if you wish. Consider also that if you were to catch the rain water on a hectare in the Chapala area that you might expect from a 70 cm/year rainfall, 7000 cu meter of water which at 50 cu meters per day would last 140 days just 38% of your year (given no evaporation losses prior to application). Obviously the hydroponics need only a fraction of the 50 CM a day you have planned in this project. Suggest you may want to consider more hydroponics and less open plot irrigation of crops grown as usual in soil. For the pilot sites I would suggest places that have few challenges for obtaining the water. If needed to prove well your point of the advantages over conventional agriculture, set up on a rock near a stream!

6. Marketing Products - My experience suggests most people in the Developing World who are new to "farming" are not open to much sense on how to market. The sponsoring agency may have to precede the projects with seeking buyers in local markets of the projected produce so the family on each plot does not have to learn too much all at once. Transport to market is another issue that can be major if the distances are great. I am sponsoring a fellow who sells bananas in the Ivory Coast. He hires a truck for a few days to roam the back lands to buy product from remote areas at a low price and then comes to market to sell his load in a few days. Transport is a major cost for him. Real data on market prices at the wholesale level is needed to put in your plan. That data is not so easy to come buy as the retail data for produce at a market. I would want to know that $60,000 of projected sales does account for prevailing wholesales prices. I have also found as you might expect that you can drive the local price down if you bring in too much new produce to an existing market. Your daily sales are to average $192/day assuming 6 day weeks. Let's try to think what that might mean. If a produce stand makes 20% on its sales that comes to $220/day in retail sales, $38.40 being for the stand. That seems like enough to pay for 10 people at that sales stand or stands. Is the 20% mark up number close? Is adding 10 people to the competition realistic? If the market has 100 people selling produce than introducing an operation to add 10 sounds possible. But if the local market has only 10 sellers now, the adding of 10 more seems unrealistic. Suggest your pilot sites be located near to a large market area to lessen marketing challenges. Be sure to be selling items that now closely match what is sold there now unless you know for sure the customers will buy a product that has not had a demand created for in the past.

7. Women Focus - Most of us know well the inordinate burden placed on women in the developing world. Yet, I would suggest that the language of this program not be too gender focused. That turns off some people, and most of them are in positions of authority in the Developing World. I would speak to women in women's terms, but I would speak to area leaders in community terms. The videos perhaps should accordingly not look too much like a women's convention. Note too that in our own culture that more than a few do not take well to the "Hillary" type. They may not say anything due to the imposed political correctness, but they will fade away. Focus on helping people. If those that step forward are women, that is great.

8. Perfection - There may be some merit in lessening the proposed restrictions on the use of waste products. The Developing World has quite a different view of waste than we. It could be our views involve our own comfort with some practices, and in fact do not merit as much rigidity when trying to move towards the objective of food self-sufficiency. It may be asking for too much to do it all at one time. There are people that are comfortable with their outhouse being positioned over their family fish pond. The city of Calcutta receives 1/3 of all of its vegetables and fish from near by facilities based on human waste water. Over 90% of waste water from Mexico City leaves the city unprocessed and much of that finds its way into agriculture. Asia commonly goes from pig manure to chicken manure to worms or directly to fish. The nation of Israel sends over 70% of its "lightly processed" waste water into farm irrigation. The WHO has standards for "restricted irrigation," processed wastewater going to agriculture. If the project goal is self-sufficient food production in the Developing World, do we need to add in our culture's view of the use of waste?

I would revisit what line you must draw in the sand in regards to use of composed human and animal manure, the use of fish water, the direct use of urine. I find no problem with use on the corn or the berry bushes. I am not sufficiently knowledgeable on what real benefit is gained from going from goat or human manure to worm manure. Surely you might change my mind with the total nitrogen produced and used, that you seem to have calculated out already for this farm.

The only studies that I know of that get my attention are those that caution on the use of industrial waste that is high in heavy metals which appear at times to reach the end food product. Todd D. Stong, PhD Licensed Professional Engineer



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