Regional Article 1: The choice of vegetation we plant can cause droughts. Are we our own worst enemies?

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The Ministry of Agriculture is noticing the following situation (Case 1, Case 2, Case 3).

We are land that sometimes pray for rains not to come because we do not wish to deal with the inconveniences that come with it.   The mud, the floods, the humidity, the sheer wetness.  Perhaps the only ones who pray (to their pastors) for rains on this land are those who plant crops and that too it is when they do not wish to see their crops dry up in front of their eyes.  Not otherwise.  This will be one time a year.

Otherwise, for the best part of us, we pray for the rain clouds to go away.

Be careful what you wish for.

The less we have rains, the less the rains come back to us over time.  That’s the nature of the vicious water cycles.

We all learned in school about the water cycle.  What we did not realize is, these cycles have a tendency to grow with each iteration.  They either grow positively or negatively.  They do not know how to be status quo or remain at the same levels.   This point was not clear to us in our science and geography classrooms.

History and the reality today:

For the past forty years, the government has invested millions of dollars annually to aid farmers increase their yield of crops produced for the country.  Despite this, and the efforts by all, the country has not been able to meet their targets and is not able to shake off its dependency on importing food from the neighboring countries.  The country continues to have to do so, particularly in areas where raw materials produced in the country (e.g. milk, vegetables, grains, potatoes) for the processing of foods (e.g. for cheese, pesto) continues to face shortages due to low levels of production.

Current Strategy:

Each year, the government’s assistance programmes gear the population up to produce food so that farmers may place food on their tables (food security which included having enough food for guests at funerals and weddings when the villages descended on the events) and money in their pockets from the sales of their produce.  Despite these efforts, they are not helping the nation produce more than enough food to meet the needs of national consumption.  Consumption (the hands that eat) has been and continues to exceed the level of the country’s ability to produce (the hands that produce).  A similar story resonates for production of most raw materials across the country.

Seeing Complexity:

In my effort to understand the behaviour of agricultural production in the country, I then requested for historical annualized data that would allow us to see the behavior of production patters across the country.  To do so, the Ministry, first collected and presented a twelve-year data of various crops produced  in the country and based on the first data, it is now working on collecting data for the past thirty-years.

When the data came through, we noticed a rather unusual behavior of the graphs over time.  This was something most people had not noticed before that.

There was a tendency for one type of crop to show a distinct rise over the years.  The graph showed the crop resisted droughts better and was increasingly successful over time at doing so.  Over time the peaks peaked higher.  This suggested that today compared to ten or thirty years ago, the levels of the crop produced had risen, sometimes by as much as six to ten folds high even if that included farmers finding alternative lands to produce the corps.  This meant the crop had found new lands and hands even as old lands and hands had become barren; often at commercial levels and driven and supported by research efforts to use seeds that had even higher levels of resistance to droughts.  Comparatively, another type of crop  produced in the country showed a steady decline.  It required more water for its survival.  It was becoming less successful over time.  The troughs in the pattern digged deeper troughs each time.

So which one was rising and which one was declining?

The one that was rising was sorghum and the one that was declining was maize.

At the same time, I was receiving data on rainfall levels for the country for the past fifty years.  In general, rainfall levels declined steadily across many parts of the country, particularly in the western, central, northern and southern parts of the country.  Where the pattern showed a distinct difference was in the extreme eastern parts of the country.

Did the results surprise you?  We say in this work, statistics may lie.  But trends do not know how to lie.

Which archetype created the pattern that we saw above:

Understanding Complexity: What is causing it?

As these trends were unfolding, the Ministry was also resorting to choosing variants of maize that were hardier and more resistant to survive bouts of lower rainfall.  This would mean, the seeds were able to grow into plants in the likes of sorghum, wheat, oats, barley and hybrid versions of maize without requiring a lot of water for its survival and at a shorter maturing period.

Are these patterns and outcomes a coincident?  Is there a rhyme and reason behind the behaviour of these graphs?

Think cactus.  Cactus is the ultimate form of a drought-resistant plant.  Yet, when we crack open a cactus what do you see?  Water, you say?  Right?  What in your view is the nature of water – is it to flow or to see its flow restricted?  What happens when we store water (and that includes underground water) and not allow the water to ‘flow’?

The more there are deserts, the more there are cacti.  This is what strikes us when we first drive past a desert.  Seeing cactus survive in a desert is a part of the story.  They are sometimes held up as stories of our triumphs against odds.  The reverse is also true.  The more the cacti survive (just like when we as humans believe that we can beat the odds and overcome the challenges of desert living and that gives us a sense of achievement in) the deserts, the more the deserts are likely to also grow even further.  Eventually the cacti (and us) may not survive the desert.   At first the deserts would look like they are semi-arid.  Over time, they become a true desert.  How did that change happen?

So what do you think would happen next in the story for the land should it continue to unfold in this way with sorghum production?  What’s leading that thinking?

Think also the word ‘food security’.  Is the thought based on a sense of belief in oneself (as a farmer) and the land or is a thought or belief based on our fears of failure and survival of the self?  Can a farmer who fears his hands may not grow enough food for all, be able to grow them in abundance?  Or is he likely to produce enough for himself?

What should the nation do?

Which nations in the world share a similar story to this?   Where are they located?  What percentage of the world do they make up across the globe?  In what ways, do you think they may have an impact on the behavior of the weather over time?  So are our efforts at agriculture production really thwarted by global warming or is it the making of our own actions in our own backyards?

Farmland west of Allesley Green Arable land, n...

Baja California Desert in the Cataviña region,...


  1. Are these patterns accidents or are they systemic?  Sure, they are systemic, given its persistence (stubbornness) for the past thirty years over wide spans of land!
  2. What do these patterns mean? What is causing such patterns to behave the way they do? The peaks to peak higher and the troughs to dig deeper?
  3. What are the implications should these patterns continue the way they do ten, twenty, thirty years into the future?
  4. What would need to happen to reverse the situation?  The choice depends on you!

Course Work:

  1. If we could use the above to understand the story of poverty, what would we see?
  2. How would one draw that systemic archetype?
  3. What continues to happen or build for the long-term should the archetype not be healed and continued to persist?
  4. What would need to happen to reverse the situation?

More notes here:

Your reactions and comments will be greatly appreciated.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. agriculturesavvy says:

    Reblogged this on Agriculture Savvy.


  2. Thank you for your comment. It is heartening to read them. To your query, the data was based on empirical data collected by the country through its national government bodies, more specifically their Ministry of Agriculture. Each time when I presented it at my workshops around the country, these patterns were reiterated by the participants as well. I am curious also see to data of other countries as well. That is my search at this point in time. Be great to get assistance to that end.


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