Regional Article 1: The Vegetation We Choose to 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 pray for the rains to come.  And they do, eventually.  Often when we are at our most desperate.  Sometimes they do not.  It is possible someone out there is praying for rains not to come.  There are inconveniences the weather brings with it.  The floods, waters enter homes, the mud, the humidity, the sheer wetness, the leaking roofs, laundrys do not dry up, the house feels musty, lost businesses on the street, and so on. Of course, those who plant crops want to see rains.

What if it drizzled everyday?  What would we say?

The nature of water cycles is such that the less we rains we receive over time, the less the rains that come back to us with time and space.

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

History and the reality today:

For the past forty years, the country finds it is not easy to meet its food production targets much less shake off its dependency on importing food from our neighbors.  This is particularly so in areas where raw materials produced in the country (e.g. milk, vegetables, grains, potatoes) for the processing of foods (e.g. for tomato sauce, cheese, pesto) continues to face production shortages.

Current Strategy:

Each year, the government assists the population gear up to produce so that farmers may place food on their tables (food security which included having enough food for guests at funerals and weddings when the village descended on the events) as well as cash money from the sales of their produce in their pockets.  Despite these efforts, we are not able to produce enough to meet the national consumption needs.  Consumption (the hands that eat) has been and continues to exceed the level of the country’s ability to produce (the hands that produce).  This 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, we examined historical annualized data that would allow us to see the behavior of production patterns of crops across the country.  To do so, the Ministry, collected a twelve-year data of typical variety of  crops produced  within the country.

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

There was a tendency for one type of crop to show a distinct increase in production levels 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.

Conversely, we noticed 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 in your view was rising and which one was declining?

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

I was concurrently observing data on rainfall levels recorded for the past fifty years for the country.  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.

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

Which archetype do you think created the pattern that we saw above:  http://www.lopn.net/System_Archetypes.html?

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 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.  Right?  The nature of water is to flow rather than stagnate.

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 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.  And then ravines and canyons.  How did that change happen?

So what could happen next should we continue to increase sorghum production?

What’s leading that thinking?

Think 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 just 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?

 


Do these patterns occur by accident or could they be systemic?  Given they have remained persistent for the past thirty years over wide spans of land, they assume a systemic nature!

Question:

  1. 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?
  2. What are the implications should these patterns continue the way they do ten, twenty, thirty years into the future?
  3. 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: http://www.lopn.net/ST_Casestudy_Growing_A_Nation3_Loop2_EnvironmentSystem.html

Leave your reactions and comments here.  Will be greatly appreciated.

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3 thoughts on “Regional Article 1: The Vegetation We Choose to Plant Can Cause Droughts. Are we our own worst enemies?

  1. 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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