Urgent Evoke

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Tiller International- hooking up with the right people to help rural African farmers

I just called D*** Roosenberg, a man passionate about working with farmers to imp.... I'm going to meet him sometime in the next 2 weeks at the Tillers International farm in Scotts, Michigan. I'm so excited I'm bouncing out of my seat.

Tillers Int'l trains farmers how to implement low capital (very low capital) solutions to improve the efficiency and productivity of their farms. D*** has had his eye on helping rural farmers in Africa ever since he was in the Peace Corps in West Africa. What do rural farmers need to get money in their pockets? He asked. They need low cost, few barriers to entry technologies- like donkey traction!

At Nyaka we work in the highlands (Google map us) where the land is very rocky and the hills are extremely steep and tightly packed. We also work where the land is very flat and the climate is dry and very hot. There are many good reasons to use donkeys for traction in this area.

  • Donkeys can sweat off the body heat unlike horses and oxen which need frequent breaks, shade, and water because they overheat easier.
  • They don't require a lot of forage unlike horses and oxen. They outlive cattle in drought situations and easily survive by foraging around them. Especially since we are looking into planting Moringa trees around our two schools and community farm facility and distributing seeds as quickly as we can get saplings, farmers will easily have enough low cost forage to provide for the donkey.
  • Donkeys have a working life of 12-15 years (if treated well)
  • Donkeys can manuever through difficult terrain because they are sure- footed and small.
  • They are well mannered, kind towards humans, walk about the pace of a human (so they are ideal for traction), hardy, and darn right hard working.

Here is an excellent manual on the benefits of working with donkeys...

Also, from a completely different angle, donkeys have interesting social stigmas which make them ideal for working with women farmers. In many places in the world, including many areas of Africa, donkeys are considered "low status" animals (perhaps like pigs in some western countries). Despite their worth as traction animals, donkeys cannot be given as part of a wedding gift. They are not eaten and they do not produce offspring as rapidly as other livestock. However, they are almost always cheaper to procure than other traction livestock. And frequently, where men take issue with a woman owning a animal such as a cow or goat, they will not take issue with a woman owning a donkey. A donkey can carry as much as 3 times the same amount of water a woman can carry back from a water source in one trip. The donkey can pull a small cart with her produce in it to market. For women strapped for opportunities and cash who won't take on a risky venture, a donkey is a low cost investment. What more can I say about our lovable equine friends?

A wonderful article by IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural De...

Not to stifle the excitement here: there are many issues we have to overcome in introducing donkeys into rural communities who have never worked with donkey and many times never seen a donkey beyond a primary school text book picture. Some of those issues involve cultural attitudes towards the treatment of donkeys (some donkeys indeed are abused), lack of knowledge on how to maximize the health and productivity of a donkey, and a ready market from which one can purchase a donkey, necessary medicines, harnesses, carts, etc. These are issues which we are attempting to overcome through our work with Tiller Int'l. Wish us luck!

Here is an excellent, brief paper on some of the issues we face (and how we can face them) in working with donkeys for traction in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Views: 50

Comment by Nick Heyming on March 22, 2010 at 4:30pm
Fascinating. I never knew the politics and economics of donkeys was so involved...
Comment by Tursynbayeva Sholpan on March 22, 2010 at 4:37pm
Comment by Patricio Buenrostro-Gilhuys on March 22, 2010 at 4:43pm
Very useful information!!! What percentage of people in rural farms accept the donkeys?
Comment by Megan Whaley on March 22, 2010 at 5:28pm
I don't know the percentage actually.
Here is a very good article on the Food and Agricultural website on...
They talk about the issues that farmers face in adopting animal traction and what development professionals face (such as lack of knowledge of local farming practices and past traction practices). This is all fascinating to me- I hope you enjoy it. I find that Listening and Collaborating with the right people is a big road block for a lot of development professionals.

I also found this other interesting article on the use of donkeys t... In this example they are not used for traction but for transport. Anyone out there in SA that have seen this? Your feedback would be awesome!
Comment by Peggie Scott on March 25, 2010 at 1:51pm
Thanks for the link to tiller.


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