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close this bookBetter Farming Series 15 - Cereals (FAO - INADES, 1977, 51 p.)
close this folderGrowing cereals in the modern way
View the documentClearing land and grubbing out trees
View the documentConserving and improving the soil
View the documentApplying manure and fertilizers
View the documentPreparing the soil
View the documentSelecting and preparing seeds
View the documentSowing in rows
View the documentHow to look after cereals
View the documentHarvesting
View the documentSelling part of the harvest

Clearing land and grubbing out trees

A modern farmer who uses animal power must clear his fields and grub out the trees.

He must take out all the trees, even the biggest. And he must get out the tree stumps. If he does not remove the stumps, his tools (his hoe and plough) will get bent on the big roots. He will not be able to use animal power. He will not be able to sow in rows. He will not be able to use an animal- drawn cultivator.

The stumps and trees will go on taking food from the soil. Around the stumps and trees the crops will grow less well.


You can pull out the trees and the stumps with a tractor. But that costs a lot, and most farmers have no tractor.

You can also pull out trees and their stumps with a winch.
Fix the winch to a big strong tree and tie the cable of the winch to the tree you want to pull out.
Then turn the winch until the cable pulls out the tree, stump and all.
A winch does not cost much.
The farmers in a village can join together to buy a winch.
Then they can quickly clear all the fields of the village.

You can also grub out trees with hand tools.

Take away the soil round the base of the tree, so as to uncover the roots. Then cut all the roots. Finally, with a rope pull down the tree. Its stump will be pulled out at the same time.

Grubbing tool

Grubbing must be done well before sowing, at the beginning of the dry season. At that time the soil is still moist, and trees are easily pulled out, Thus the field will be cleared of stumps before sowing time. There will be time for tilling the soil and the sowing will not be late.

Conserving and improving the soil

Soil must be protected against erosion

When a field is cultivated, the soil is often left bare. When it rains very hard, the water flows fast, and carries away the good soil. This is erosion. The soil becomes less fertile, and afterwards the harvests are less good.

When the ground is on a slope, you must till and make the rows across the slope, that is, on the contour lines. By this means the water will not flow so fast, and the good soil will not be carried away.

When the slope is very steep, terrace farming is used. You build little walls of earth or stones to hold back the good soil. In some mountainous regions there is a lot of terrace farming.

If the slope is not too steep, you can make ditches along the contour lines, or barrier strips, or ridges.

(See the first- year course on the soil).

· The soil must be protected against the sun.

When the sun is too strong it badly damages soil that is left bare. The sun quickly destroys the organic material in the soil. The soil loses its humus and becomes less fertile.

Bare soil must be covered. You can sow cover plants on land left fallow. For some crops you can use mulches which cover the soil and enrich it with humus.

· The fertility of the soil must be conserved.

To conserve soil fertility, crop rotation is used. Crop rotation means growing a different crop each year on the same field.

Why do we do this?

To feed, plants take different quantities of mineral salts from the soil. Different plants have different needs.

They take the mineral salts at different depths in the soil because they do not all have the same root system.

With crop rotation, the plants can use all the mineral salts in the soil and are better nourished. The soil does not get so poor.

For example: after groundnuts grow sorghum. Groundnuts and sorghum do not have the same root system, and they have different needs.

An example of crop rotation is: yams; cotton; rice; groundouts.

Applying manure and fertilizers

Manure and fertilizer add to the soil mineral salts which feed the plants,

For the plants to make good use of the fertilizers, you must:

· Prepare me soil well.

In well- prepared soil, the plant roots develop well; they can take up all the mineral salts added by fertilizers and manure.

· Sow at me right time.

If you sow too late, the plants do not have enough water to grow and use all the mineral salts.

· Cultivate often.

Weeds take up mineral salts. Weeds must be removed whenever they grow.

· Rotate crops.

With good crop rotation, the different plants use all the mineral salts. The roots take up the mineral salts at different depths of soil.

Fertilizers are dear. Their cost is not repaid by the harvest, they are not profitable, if me farmer does not do all his work well.

Preparing the soil

Farmers till their soil. Tilling means turning over the soil.

· Why tilling is needed

Tilling stirs up the soil. Then water and air can get right into it. Tilling loosens the soil. Seeds germinate easily in loose soil, and roots go well down.

Tilling mixes herbage with the soil. It cleans the soil. The herbage rots in the ground and makes humus. If manure has been spread, tilling mixes it with the soil.

· The time for tilling

Tilling is best done at the end of the rainy season, just after the harvest.
Then the ground will be prepared and sowing can be done as soon as the rains come.

If tilling is not possible after the harvest, it must be done as soon as the rains begin, so that the sowing is not too late.

· How to till

Tilling can be done with a hoe. But the work is long and tiring. The work is not done well; the soil is not fully turned over.

It is better to till with a plough. You must be a modern farmer, and till with an animal- drawn plough, using an ox or donkeys or a horse. Then the work is done more quickly and better. The soil is well turned over; water and air get well into the ground. You can sow in good time, you can cultivate bigger fields.

Handles for holding the plough

· Harrowing

After tilling, the soil is often not flat. There are big pieces of earth, big clods. To break up the clods, use a harrow. This is a tool with teeth that break the clods and make the soil flat. The harrow is drawn by an animal.


If you do not have a harrow, make an animal drag large branches over the soil. The branches break up and crush the clods.

Animal drag large branches over the soil

Selecting and preparing seeds

To get a good harvest, you must sow good seeds.

· Farmers can buy selected seeds.

Research stations select the best varieties, the ones which are best adapted to the climate which resist diseases well and give plentiful harvests.

These seeds are dear. To pay for them, you need a good harvest. The harvest will be good only if you do all your work well.

· Farmers can select seeds from their own crops.

Take the finest heads of grain, and from them only the well- formed seeds. The good qualities of these seeds will be passed on to the plants that grow from them.

· Farmers must store their seeds well.

Seeds should be dried before being put into the granary. Seeds which are not quite dry may rot.

Cereal seeds must be protected against insects and rats. To protect seeds against insects, the seeds are mixed with an insecticide. To protect seeds against rats, the granary is raised well above the ground.

· Preparing seeds

Before sowing, take away all seeds that are broken, bitten, diseased or misshapen.

The seeds may also be disinfected. Mix the seeds with a pesticide, and see that the seeds are well covered by it.

Device for treating seeds

Disinfected seeds are not eaten by insects. They do not rot. All the seeds will grow and very few plants will be missing in the rows.
By sowing disinfected seeds you get a good density; the yield is better.

Sowing in rows

In Africa it is usual to sow cereals broadcast. This is a bad way of doing it.

· It is better to sow in rows.

Sowing in rows means that the seedlings will be at the same distance from each other. Animal power can be used and the cultivations are easier; the animal that pulls the hoe can pass between the rows. It is easier to give each plant the same amount of fertilizers.

On flat soil the rows can be traced with a marker. The marker can be pulled by hand or by a donkey. The spikes of the marker trace the rows where the seed will be planted.

Tracing rows with a marker

When the seed rows have been traced by the marker, the farmer puts the cereal seeds the same distance apart along each row.

· To do the work more quickly, a seed drill can be used. It is pulled by an animal. The seed drill makes a furrow in the soil and drops the seeds at the same distance from each other. A little wheel at the back of the drill covers the seeds with 2 or 3 centimetres of earth.

With this machine you can sow quickly and with an even density.

Some seed drills apply fertilizer at the same time.

Seed drill

How to look after cereals

· Seedlings which have not grown must be replaced.

A week after sowing you will see empty places where no plants have grown. Sow again in these empty places, so as to have a fully planted field of good density.

· Thinning must be done.

If you have sown in seed holes, there are often 4 or 5 young plants in each seed hole. To make the cereals grow better, it is best not to keep all the seedlings. Keep only two seedlings in each hole. Pull out the smallest, and keep the best plants.

When you pull out the unwanted seedlings, you disturb the soil. So you must press the soil back round the young plants that remain

You must press the soil

With one hand, hold the soil round the plants that are not removed.


Cultivating means removing weeds.

· Why cultivating is needed

Weeds in the ground take food away from the crop. They take water and mineral salts out of the soil. They also take the mineral salts added in fertilizers.

Weeds take the place of good plants. They cast shade by cultivating, you stir up the soil. You mix air with the soil, break up the dry crust, and prevent water from rising and being lost. The soil remains moister.

· When to cultivate

The first cultivation must be done when the weeds are still small, two weeks after sowing.
This first cultivation is very important, because it enables the young plants to make a good start.

Afterwards you must cultivate twice more, each time when the weeds have grown.

When you cultivate you can also do the earthing up. At the base of the cereal stem there are adventitious roots. To make these roots grow well, earth must be placed around the foot of the stem. This is called earthing up. Do the earthing up at the same time as the first cultivation.

· How to cultivate

You can cultivate with a hand hoe or with an animal- drawn cultivator.

If the cereals are sown in rows, you can work more quickly by using an animal- drawn cultivator. The work is well done and you can cultivate more often. The cultivator uproots the weeds between the rows. Afterwards you must go with the hand hoe to take out the weeds in the rows.

Leave uprooted weeds on the ground. They protect the soil against erosion and against the sun. They rot and form humus.

Animal- drawn cultivator


The chief enemies of cereals are animals, and above all, birds.

· Goats, sheep and cows go into fields of millet, maize and rice and eat the young plants. You can surround the fields with a fence so that the animals cannot get in. But the best way is to shut up all the animals. Put the oxen and cows in one paddock, and the sheep and goats in another. Then your fields will not be spoiled.

· But the most dangerous enemies are birds.

First of all, they may eat the seeds in the earth, just after sowing.
But above all, they come and eat the grains in the ear, when the crop is ripe.
Usually children guard the fields and chase the birds away.
But nowadays children go to school.
You can put scarecrows, dressed to look like a man, in the fields.
The birds are frightened and do not come and eat the grain.

· Different insects may also attack cereals, such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, aphids . You can control insects by using a pesticide such as BHC.


Cutting the stems of cereals

When the grain is ripe, you must not wait too long before harvesting.
If you wait too long, the grain may fall to the ground, and birds may come and eat the grain on the plant.

Cut the stems with a machete, a sickle or a knife.

Cut the stems

· Afterwards cut off the heads of grain with a knife. Leave the stems on the ground. These stems cover the ground and protect the soil from the sun and from erosion. After rotting, the stems add organic matter to the soil.

If you keep animals, you can put the stems in their stalls or paddock.
Mixed with the animal droppings, the stems make manure which will enrich the fields.

· Drying the grain

When you have cut the heads, you must not thresh them at once, nor put them in a granary. First of all, you must dry them very well. Spread the heads on a really clean surface. Stop sheep, goats and birds from eating the grain.

When the heads are well dried, you can thresh them, that is, separate the grain from the heads. But do not thresh all your crop at once. Keep the greater part of the harvest as heads of grain. Thresh only the amount you need for food.

· Threshing cereals

Threshing means getting the grain out of the heads. Threshing can be done by beating the heads with a stick, or with a special tool called a flail. For rice there is a machine that separates the rice grains from the heads. It is called a thresher.

Small rice thrasher

· Winnowing the grain

Cereal grain must be very clean. This is important. It must not be mixed with earth and little stones. When the grain has been threshed, it is winnowed to make it cleaner.

For winnowing, use a sieve, or else pour the grain from one flat bowl into another.

The wind blows the dirt away

· Storing cereal grain

Storing can be done in sacks or in granaries.

The sacks and the granaries must be protected against damp, which makes the grain rot, and against rats and insects, which eat or spoil the grain.

The granaries must be above the ground to keep the grain dry.

The granaries must be disinfected. Ask the extension officer what pesticides to use and how to apply them. Some pesticides are poisonous.

Straw cover

Clay granary in northern Cameroon

Selling part of the harvest

· Often farmers sell millet or maize just after the harvest. At that time, there is plenty of millet in all the villages. Nobody needs to buy any. The price of millet is very low. Farmers who sell their grain just after the harvest do not earn much money.

· Sometimes, at the beginning of the rainy season, these farmers have no millet left for food. At that time, there is hardly any millet in the granaries. Millet is very dear. Farmers buy a little millet, while waiting for the harvest. But they pay a high price.

· It is better not to sell your millet or maize at harvest time, for the selling price is low, and you will perhaps not have enough grain for food all through the year.

· Keep your harvest safe in your granaries. You can then sell your grain at the beginning of the rainy season, when food is beginning to get short. Then you will earn more money, for the price of millet or maize is much higher.

Sell when the price is high.