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Growing ideas by connecting farmers

A Growing Culture's Library for Food Sovereignty aims to promote innovation by connecting farmers around the world.

Mike Hutchings/Reuters/File
The sun shines brightly on a vineyard near Cape Town, South Africa. A new initiative could soon connect farmers and promote innovative ideas.

In the forested hills of Vietnam, Pham Nhu Trang runs a hog farm. As you can imagine, hog farming can be a smelly, messy occupation. But Trang found an ingenious solution to this challenge. Looking to the hog’s natural environment—the forest—she was inspired to develop a technique that ferments locally available absorbent materials such as wood chips, bamboo dust, and straw to use as bedding. Trang inoculates the bedding with indigenous microorganisms and lactobacillus, making it active and alive and therefore able to break down hog waste. This is enormously beneficial to the health of both the hogs and the planet, in addition to eliminating odors and reducing the need to change the bedding.

Thousands of miles away from Trang’s hog operation, an Indian couple purchased an abandoned pebble mine to farm. Unable to afford any inputs, they needed to build their own soil using only on-site resources. To start the process, they filled their vegetable beds with wood chips, charcoal, and silt from seasonal ponds, which they then inoculated with microorganisms. Next, they began turning a carefully selected mixture of crops back into the soil before they fully matured. This process created soil quickly—so quickly that the couple was able to begin planting vegetables within the first year.

These two examples use similar methods of microorganism inoculation for two totally different purposes. And they are just two examples of hundreds of thousands that exist. What if farmers all over the world could share their knowledge with others who need it? What if open access principles were applied to farming knowledge, allowing farmers to discover replicable techniques for free—without ever having to leave their farms—and repurpose them to suit their needs?

That’s where A Growing Culture comes in. We are building the Library for Food Sovereignty to connect farmers from around the world—from the Himalayas to the Great Rift Valley to the Mekong Delta—to catalyze innovation and transition to a more sustainable food system.

Innovation always occurs when great minds feed off each other—gatherings of genius, access to information, and new perspectives allow ideas to germinate. Consider the Renaissance or Silicon Valley: in both cases, collective knowledge spawned unique solutions. The birth of agriculture itself can be tied to an epicenter of information in the Fertile Crescent. Today, with dramatic change affecting everything from population size to community needs to weather and climate patterns, farmers continually need to adapt their practices. Applying open access and open innovation principles to farming will enable farmers to generate effective solutions faster.

The Library for Food Sovereignty will be the first platform of its kind, enabling farmers to compare ideas and approaches and learn from each other’s successes and failures. It will expand the reach of each farmer’s research and innovation to cultivate new ideas and innovations. After spending years meeting with and listening to farmers in order to learn how others can best support them, we feel certain that this is the tool they need to foster collaboration and drive the transition to a worldwide ecological agricultural model. Our tool will help put farming back in the hands of farmers—and make them stronger, together.

This article first appeared at Food Tank.

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