The people of Africa have been farming since time immemorial, both for subsistence and income generation. Because the regions of Africa have different climates that support specific crops, several farming systems have evolved to suit each region. Below is a list of the most common farming systems in Africa.
- Irrigated Farming system
- Apart from the well-known irrigation schemes in Africa, like the Gezira Scheme, the Sahelian Oases, and the West African Fadamas, there are many small-scale irrigation projects across the continent. Many small-scale farmers are turning to this farming system to shield their crops from unpredictable rainfall, and to ensure an all-year-round harvest. This farming system also allows for the reclamation of land that is fertile, but lacks a reliable water supply. Currently, production from irrigated land in Africa is rising, with farmers growing and selling high-value crops such as fruits and vegetables.
- Maize Mixed Farming System
- This is one of the most common farming systems in Africa. Maize is the predominant crop in this system, with crops and livestock being kept on the side to supplement the farmer’s income. Areas where maize mixed farming is practised have almost 50% of the cultivated area devoted to maize alone. The advantages of this farming system include the increased build-up of soil fertility (through intercropping), continuous vegetative cover, and optimum output over a long period.
- This farming system is prevalent in areas where the annual rainfall is between 400 and 600 millimeters. People living in these areas rely on pastoral activities for household revenue and nutrition for the greater part of the year. When it rains, however, cultivation takes place. Pastoral households who have too few animals to sustain them practise this type of farming, as well as village-based pastoralists who farm regularly on a small scale, but focus mainly on herding. The most common species reared in this system are cattle, sheep and goats.
- Pastoral Farming System
- Pastoral farming is practised in zones that are too dry to support crops of any kind, but can support the grazing of ruminants. Pastoralist families get their food from their livestock and livestock-related activities. This system is practised in the arid and semi-arid zones of West Africa, East Africa, and parts of Southern Africa. There are two types of pastoral farming, i.e. nomadic pastoralism (where people and animals move around in search of grazing areas and water), and transhumant pastoralism (seasonal migration from a permanent household).
- Cereal-Root Crop Farming System
- This farming system extends from Sierra Leone to Benin, Ghana, Togo, Cote D’Ivoire, Cameroon and Nigeria. Cereal-root crop farming is common in humid and sub-humid agro-ecological zones that are of higher temperatures, low altitude and have a lower population density. Maize, cassava, rice, yams, cowpeas, sorghum, rice and sweet potatoes are commonly grown by farmers who practice this farming system.
- Highland Perennial Farming System
- This is another of the common farming systems in Africa. People who live in high-altitude sub-humid and humid agro-ecological zones of Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Rwanda practise this system. Population in these areas is high, land use is intense and farm sizes are small. Perennial crops like plantains, bananas and coffee, supplemented by sweet potatoes, cassava, beans and cereals are common in these regions. Every family has at least one cow, a sign of social security, as well as a source of milk, manure, savings and bride wealth.
- Large Commercial and Smallholder Farming System
- This farming system extends across the northern part of South Africa and the southern part of Namibia, mostly in semi-arid and dry sub-humid zones. Both farming types consist of mixed cereal-livestock systems. Millet and sorghum dominate in the west, and maize dominates the north and east. Though crop-livestock integration is not common, some farmers keep a few cattle and small ruminants alongside their crops.
- Forest-Based Farming System
- Forest-based farming is common in the humid forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, South-East Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Mozambique, the Republic of Congo, Southern Tanzania and the northern part of Zambia. In this farming system, farmers practise shifting cultivation, clearing a new field within the forest every year, and cultivating it for two to five years. They plant cereals or groundnuts first, then cassava, before leaving the land fallow for between seven and twenty years. Cassava is the main staple cultivated in this system, complemented by beans, maize, sorghum and cocoyams.
- Rice-Tree Crop Farming System
- The rice-tree crop farming system is common in countries that have a moist sub-humid and humid agro-ecological climate, like Madagascar. Farm sizes are small, and often require irrigation. Most farmers grow coffee and bananas, complementing them with maize, cassava, rice and legumes. Also, many farmers prefer not keep livestock, and as such, the numbers of cattle are low.
From the list of farming systems in Africa above, it is evident that farming is a primary source of income for farmers in Africa. As such, it is important that farmers receive correct education and support so that they can maximize production, hence contributing to food security in the continent.