They work directly with small farmers to help teach land use, best practices, productivity, introduce and sell new plant species (at a low cost) created by the Engineering School and advise them on improving the economic conditions/market viability of their farms.
Helping small farms (they define as with income of $5000-$120000 annually) remain econimically sustainabile is very important. For farmers making less than $5000/year, the Land Management Institute works with them to assist in land distribution to help them grow. Some challenges and opportunites we discussed:
- helping farmers diversify their production
- helping dairy farmers increase production and create value added products
- assisting farmers to start cooperatives to negotiate for better pricing, improve transportation and market strength. Farmers are hesitant to adapt and accept the cooperative model but they are showing a tremendous success.
- initiated a program that local schools much purchase 30% of their school food through small farmers
CAIT is able to provide farmers with lower interest loans to buy equipment (possibly offering 0% for three years or 3-5%). The one program technician (a train agronomist), visits the 1300 farmers in their area!
Farmers in this area face the pressures of urban development (pleaes see blog on my visit to the Knobels home). Land developers are offer a high price to farmers for their lands. Some farmers are selling and then trying enter the work world with limited skills. Others are moving out of the area to find other farming land at cheaper prices. The younger generation is leaving the farms looking for more appealing economic opportunities. This goes back to the goal of CAIT to create more economic sustainability.
The future success and work of CAIT depends on the Senate passing a "phase II" bill to continue there work.