Agriculture is in crisis in Africa, with soil erosion rising, crop yields falling and erratic rains due to climate change leaving farmers confused and despairing. Now a new form of agriculture based on Christian teachings – Farming God’s Way – is transforming farming, increasing crop yields and protecting the land.
Agriculture is the backbone of sub-Saharan Africa, providing the biggest source of employment, livelihoods and foreign exchange. Yet African agriculture is in crisis: soils are worn out and agricultural production is falling. Per capita, agricultural production has been falling in recent decades in sub-Saharan Africa while increasing in other developing countries.
Africa’s fragile soils suffer from a combination of poor agricultural practices, degradation of natural resources, over grazing and the pressure of growing populations. Other problems include lack of access to land, particularly for women farmers, adding to the problem of soil degradation.
'Farming God’s Way puts God back where He belongs – into the very centre of how we view and practice agriculture' – Craig Sorley
Now a new approach to farming is transforming how agriculture is practised among Christian communities, helping to restore degraded land, protect the environment and increase crop yields – sometimes significantly, by three, five or even ten times. Farming God's Way teaches that God is the Master Farmer and calls upon us to be faithful stewards of the land.
'Farming God’s Way puts God back where He belongs – into the very centre of how we view and practice agriculture. This is a holistic approach that ministers to farmers, addressing the spiritual and physical roots of the decline that is taking place,' says Farming God’s Way trainer Craig Sorley in his book Farming That Brings Glory to God and Hope to the Hungry.
Craig, who is the Kenya Director of Creation Stewards International (formerly Care of Creation Kenya), says: 'For Christians, the story of agriculture begins in Eden with the knowledge that God was the one who planted a magnificent and diverse garden. This story brings tremendous meaning and dignity to the realm of agriculture.
'The beauty of a healthy, productive and well cared for agricultural landscape should be a testimony to the Christian faith' – Craig Sorley
'As Christian gardeners we need to follow the example of the First Farmer and uphold the garden of Eden as a model to be pursued. The beauty of a healthy, productive and well cared for agricultural landscape should be a testimony to the Christian faith. Farming is a meaningful and noble way of life because God was the first Farmer and God has given farmers a special responsibility to care for their landscapes in the best way possible.'
So how does it work? In terms of practical application, Farming God’s Way is a Biblically-based approach to conservation farming, which is promoted in Africa as a form of climate-smart agriculture that both restores degraded land and increases crop yields. As well as reducing drudgery and labour for smallholder farmers by up to 50%, this farming method nourishes the soil and enables it to retain water much better, which means it’s particularly useful in dry areas.
'Conservation agriculture is Farming God’s Way without God. But it’s the God part of this picture that really changes attitudes,' says Craig Sorley. He explains the core principles:
Minimal disturbance of the soil (no tillage) – the practice of plowing destroys soil structure including the micro organisms that live in the soil, leading to erosion and rapid water loss;
Permanent organic cover in the form of mulch. In Farming God’s Way, this is called ‘God’s blanket’, says Craig Sorley. 'In Creation we observe that God does not leave the soil bare.' says Craig Sorley. Covering with protective mulch:
Stops soil erosion
Improves water filtration of the soil
Minimises evaporation of water from the soil
Adds organic matter, improving fertility
No burning of crop residues – these are used to cover the soil instead;
Weed faithfully – labour saved on plowing is transferred to regular weeding;
Practice crop rotation – because God’s garden was diverse;
Pay attention to detail. 'Since we serve a God of detail, we should give careful attention to everything on our farms throughout the year, including the proper spacing of plants, how fertiliser or manure is added, how seed is planted, etc,' he says;
Pursue high standards in all things – 'God is glorified when we strive for excellence';
Incorporate trees into your farming system – 'Agroforestry is not something invented by man, it is something God demonstrated in the very first garden. Agroforestry combines both agriculture and forestry with conservation practices for long-term sustainability,' he says.
Craig Sorley has a demonstration farm at his training centre in Kijabe, west of Nairobi, where he grows crops using both Farming God’s Way methods and conventional agriculture to compare how well they do. He typically harvests considerably more from the FGW plot than the conventional agriculture plot: 'If we restore the soil we will bring more food into our families,' he says.
Augustine Muema Musyimi of the Methodist Church in Kenya was part of a group of religious leaders from across Kenya who attended one of Craig Sorley’s Farming God’s Way workshops, organised by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation.
He spoke for many when he said: 'We’ve trained people to understand what the Lord says about farming and because we are Christians that really resonates with us. We feel that we need to take care of Creation and we need to take care of the way that we are farming, that it is a way that honours the Lord and glorifies Him.
'What do I think? That farming will be transformed across Kenya, that many people will learn to farm in a way that glorifies the Lord and our produce will increase and, more than that, that we will conserve our land and it will be richer rather than more spent.'
You can find more information about Farming God's Way and Creation Stewards International here