Dear Friends and Colleagues
Agroecology Can Feed Africa
A report published by Global Justice Now explains how small-scale agroecology can feed Africa. It provides compelling evidence that small-scale agroecological farming can produce as much as and often more food than industrial farming; reduce the gender gap; increase employment, income, agricultural biodiversity, health and nutrition; and help mitigate global warming.
Although the report discusses agroecological practices, its main focus is about who controls the food supply and how that power is used. It underscores that agroecology is the science of sustainable farming as well as a political movement that aims to shift the control of land, seeds, markets and labour by big corporations, to the people who produce and consume food. Food sovereignty, therefore, is the framework within which agroecological systems and techniques should be developed.
The report focuses on Africa where small-scale farmers produce about 70% of the continent's food because “it is in Africa that an all-out offensive is taking place against smallholder farming”. It cites how initiatives such as the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa are leveraging policy changes to help corporations increase their control of agricultural markets and resources in Africa.
The report makes a strong call for justice for the African people through a radical change in the bias towards large-scale industrial agriculture and the power and influence of corporations, which it identifies as the most significant barrierto be overcome. This entails that trade policies, investment, research and donor aid be redirected towards the advancement of agroecology and food sovereignty; small-scale solutions; and increased access to and control of land and resources by small-scale farmers with a special focus on women farmers.
The Executive Summary of the report with a corresponding write-up by Global Justice Now are reproduced below.
FROM THE ROOTS UP: HOW AGROECOLOGY CAN FEED AFRICA
Multinational corporations, aided by governments, are vying to increase their control of land, seeds, markets and labour in Africa. Donors, development agencies and multilateral financial initiatives continue to push a one-size-fits-all industrial model of agriculture. Agribusiness investment is increasingly being seen as the only way to address hunger and poverty. One such initiative is the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition which, backed by over ฃ600m of UK aid, is leveraging policy changes to help corporations increase their control of agricultural markets and resources in Africa.
This one-size-fits-all industrial model of agriculture is being pursued at the expense of small-scale farmers who produce 70% of Africa’s food by using, in many cases, sustainable agriculture methods, also known as agroecology. Studies show that agroecology leads to increases in food productivity and yield which are comparable to, or better than, corporate-controlled agriculture. Agroecology also leads to better opportunities for women, increased income, employment, agricultural biodiversity, health and nutrition, as well as helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The UK government must commit to promoting the principles of agroecology and food sovereignty in order to help farmers across Africa truly transform their food system.
Agroecology and food sovereignty
Agroecology encompasses the science of ecological principles as applied to food systems, the practices and techniques of sustainable farming, and a movement that addresses the social, economic and political aspects of food systems. Agroecological methods improve the opportunities for local control, emphasise the use of local resources, local knowledge, and take into account how food is produced.
Around the world, peasant organisations, pastoralists, fisher folk, indigenous peoples, women and civil society groups are forming a movement for food sovereignty which allows communities control over the way food is produced, traded and consumed. Food sovereignty, therefore, provides the framework within which agroecological systems and techniques should be developed.
Agroecology in action
What marks out agroecology is the huge variety of techniques that are all based on a low-input sustainable approach to farming. Despite the lack of resources and funding for research into agroecology, the evidence that is available shows unequivocally that agroecology must be taken seriously.
This evidence shows that agroecology leads to:
- Better use of resources:
Agroecological techniques, ranging from community seed banks, water harvesting and applying compost, are helping small-scale farmers across Africa manage resources sustainably and reduce the need for expensive and unsustainable inputs.
- Better ways of growing food:
The adoption of sustainable crop-growing systems, ranging from agroforestry, conservation agriculture, home gardens and the ‘system of crop intensification’, are helping farmers increase their yields and reduce their impact on the environment.
- Better ways of learning:
Through participatory learning, research programmes, and approaches such as participatory plant breeding and farmer field schools, agroecology values and develops the knowledge and skills of small-scale farmers.
Benefits of agroecology
The evidence shows that agroecology and small-scale sustainable farming can produce as much food, and often more, as industrial farming and better uphold agriculture’s social and environmental functions. But the benefits of agroecology go beyond productivity and yield and include:
- Reducing the gender gap:
Agroecology helps to put women in a stronger economic and social position through, for example, Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration, and community seed banks help to focus local food systems on women’s needs as food producers.
- Increasing employment and income:
Many case studies show that agroecology provides decent jobs and a way out of poverty. For example, farmers in Kenya using push-pull technology were able to earn three times more income than farmers using chemical pesticides.
- Increasing agricultural biodiversity:
Organic farming systems can have up to 30% more species on them than conventional farms, and crop diversity can help farmers adapt to changes in heat, drought, pests and low soil fertility.
- Improving health and nutrition:
Diversity is intrinsically linked to people’s health and nutrition and small-scale farms practising agroecology tend to be more diverse than conventional farms. For example, the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities Project, a participatory agriculture and nutrition program in northern Malawi, was able to improve child health, crop diversity and food security by using sustainable agriculture techniques combined with education.
- Addressing climate change:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that agroecological practices can help with the impacts of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Overcoming the barriers
There is now extremely good evidence that small-scale sustainable farming, which is controlled by and for communities, can play a central role in feeding communities sustainably, as well as improve livelihoods and gender relations. So why are governments, development agencies, policy makers and funders so focused on large-scale, high-input solutions which marginalise small-scale farmers?
This report outlines the economic and political barriers preventing agroecology from being more widely adopted and shows that these barriers can be overcome by:
- Changing the political bias:
A change in the ideological support for industrial agriculture towards agroecology and sustainable small-scale agriculture will require the political establishment and development agencies to formulate policies based on scientific evidence and the long-term viability of our global food system.
- Changing trade rules and policies:
Policies should be designed to uphold the autonomy and sovereignty of governments receiving aid, so that they are able to regulate their economy and support agroecology.
- Increasing investment:
Small-scale farmers should be protected and supported as key investors in their sector, including helping them to access fair credit.
- Increasing research:
Although there is increasing evidence of the benefits of agroecology, there is still a need for more research and a serious lack of funding for it compared to research on conventional agriculture.
- Focusing on small-scale solutions:
Governments and financial institutions need to overcome a blinkered focus on large-scale farming, including through projects like agricultural growth corridors and high-tech mechanisation. The future wave of innovation will need to come from farmers themselves and farmer-based research and development.
- Improving land tenure arrangements:
Improving land tenure arrangements should go hand-in-hand with land reform and redistribution which prioritises the needs of small-scale farmers and farming communities.
This report shows that, despite many barriers, small-scale farmers in Africa are already using agroecological solutions to feed their community, build resilient livelihoods and reduce their impact on the environment. To help overcome the barriers faced by agroecology and sustainable small-scale agriculture, the governments of the UK and other aid donors should:
• Support food sovereignty by recognising and supporting policies and actions within the food sovereignty framework.
• Increase investment into agroecology by aligning UK aid spending on food and agricultural-related projects with the principles of agroecology defined within the framework of food sovereignty.
• Increase research and the evidence base by realigning funding and research agendas towards sustainable farming and agroecology.
• Focus on small-scale solutions by promoting the development of community seed banks, farmer field schools, agroecology schools, demonstration farms and farmer-to-farmer exchanges.
• Help small-scale farmers increase access to, and control of, land and resources.
• Support women farmers by explicitly targeting women farmers and women farmer groups through agricultural projects, agricultural extension, research and rural credit programmes, and supporting women farmers’ access to resources including land, seeds and finance.
• End support for the corporate-control of African food systems by stopping UK aid money being used to fund food and agricultural projects which favour big business and put the livelihoods and resilience of small-scale farmers at risk.
ON SOLID GROUND: HOW AGROECOLOGY CAN FEED AFRICA
Agroecology isn’t just a set of farming practices – it’s also about who controls our food. How we produce food is a deeply political issue that affects the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. In our global economy, it is not the amount of food produced which dictates whether people eat or starve. This is decided by who controls the food supply and how that power is used.
We know that millions of people in Africa suffer from hunger and malnutrition. We are also told by the media, agribusiness companies and many large NGOs, that Africa can only be fed by large-scale commercial agriculture. But this form of corporate-controlled agriculture relies on large amounts of expensive inputs and is associated with land-grabs, export‑oriented plantations and the production of biofuels.
Not only can small-scale, sustainable farming feed the world, but it can do so better than intensive corporate-controlled agriculture. In fact, it is already feeding millions of people. In Africa, small-scale farmers already produce 70% of Africa’s food by using, in many cases, sustainable agriculture methods, also known as agroecology.
Agroecology is the science of sustainable farming as well as a political movement that aims to improve the food system. Fundamentally, agroecology is about shifting the way our food system is controlled. It is about challenging the control of land, seeds, markets, and labour by big business.
Food sovereignty is about the right of peoples to define their own food systems. Advocates of food sovereignty put the people who produce, distribute and consume food at the centre of decisions on food systems and policies. Food sovereignty, therefore, provides the framework within which agroecological systems and techniques should be developed.
Agroecology in Action
Agroecology is not a marginal practice carried out by a handful of farmers. It is already widely practised by farmers across Africa and helps to feed millions of people. In many cases the techniques are inexpensive, simple and effective, which means there has been little commercial interest in researching, developing and distributing them. But the evidence is unequivocal. Agroecology can increase food yields, income, employment, agricultural biodiversity, and health and nutrition, and help to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Here are some examples of agroecology in action:
Agroforestry is a farming system where woody plants (trees, shrubs, bamboos) are grown together with agricultural crops and/or animals. Some of these plants, like the Faidherbia tree, provide food for animals during the dry season, while helping to protect crops from wind and water erosion and improving soil quality. In Malawi, growing crops with Faidherbia has increased crop yields by up to 400% for maize, cotton, peanut, sorghum and millet.
Conservation agriculture (CA) is a farming technique that requires very little digging of the soil, using cover crops to increase soil fertility, and reducing chemical inputs. Conservation agriculture has been hugely successful and is estimated to be spreading rapidly. In Southern
Africa, more than 50,000 farmers now practice CA. A survey of farmers in Zimbabwe showed that CA farmers had yields up to six times higher than on conventional farms as well as lower financial and labour inputs.
By covering the soil with a layer of plant material such as leaves, grass clippings, wood chips and even cardboard, a practice known as mulching, farmers are able to reduce soil loss, increase soil quality and reduce weed cover. In dry parts of Kenya, mulching has helped increase the length of the growing season. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo it was found that mulching could double crop production from 10 tonnes to 20 tonnes per hectare.
Zai pits, which are shallow holes filled with manure, are used in dry parts of Africa to protect plants and fertility from being washed away. They can lead to crop yield increases of up to 500% in some cases. In Burkina Faso’s Central Plateau, soil water conservation techniques like zai pits have helped to rehabilitate over 300,000 hectares of land.
Push-pull technology is the idea of using plants to either trap pests or repel them. For example, Napier grass traps pests by producing a sticky substance while molasses grass emits a chemical which repels them. Over 30,000 farmers in East Africa have adopted this agroecological approach to help manage pests. Farmers in Kenya using push-pull technology were able to earn three times more income than farmers using chemical pesticides.
Can agroecology really produce enough food?
One study (based on research in 57 developing countries) showed that farmers switching to sustainable methods on average increased their yields by 73%. An analysis of 40 agroecological projects, covering almost 13 million hectares in twenty African countries, showed that crop yields more than doubled as a result of agroecological approaches, with additional benefits in terms of absorbing carbon, reductions in pesticide use and soil erosion. Finally, research by the UN showed that switching to agroecological farming methods has increased yields across Africa by 116% and by 128% in East Africa compared to conventional farming.
Not only can agroecology produce enough food to feed us, it provides sustainable livelihoods, protects biodiversity, addresses climate change and benefits women. Essentially, agroecology gives small-scale farmers control over the resources needed to grow food, as well as the power to decide what and how to grow it.
What are the barriers to agroecology?
Despite agroecology’s numerous advantages, governments, development agencies and funders continue to favour industrial agriculture despite its negative impact on small-scale farmers and the environment. A number of economic and political barriers prevent agroecology from being more widely adopted. These barriers include trade policies that favour industrial agriculture, as well as low levels of research and investment into agroecology, and long standing problems of access to land and inequality of land ownership.
The most significant barrier is the ideological bias towards large-scale industrial agriculture and the power and influence of corporations. For example, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition initiative, backed by over ฃ600 million of UK aid, aims to create policy changes that will help corporations increase their control of agricultural markets and resources in Africa.
Despite these barriers, there is a growing movement across the world calling for food sovereignty and agroecology to challenge corporate power in the food system as well as feed communities and build resilient livelihoods.
What can you do?
We need a complete shift in who controls our food system. Power must be taken away from corporations and put back into the hands of the people and communities that produce and consume food. Only a movement of people calling for food sovereignty and agroecology will create this sort of change.
• Call on the UK government to support agroecology instead of corporate-controlled farming in Africa. Check www.globaljustice.org.uk/food for the latest actions
• Join the UK food sovereignty movement www.foodsovereigntynow.org.uk