You wouldn’t necessarily know it, but right now Africa is facing a food crisis. With current impacts of climate change, recurring economic crisis and Covid-19 pandemic, and war in Ukraine dominating the scene of events, the fact is that millions of people across Africa who are at risk of hunger seems to have largely not been mentioned.
Today’s agriculture tries to produce enough food for the globe but it has not given everyone everywhere access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.
Current agriculture practice has also contributed to soil degradation, misuse of natural resources predominantly using chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, causing severe water quality problems in rivers, lakes, and the ocean. It is also the single biggest driver of biodiversity loss.
The research by Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) 2016 indicates that the green revolution’s “significant rise’’ in cereal production has come at the price of soil degradation, salinisation of irrigated areas, over-extraction of groundwater and the build-up of pest resistance. Add climate change into the mix and you have a recipe for disaster.
While Africa’s population is set to double to 2.4 billion by 2050, the FAO warns that maize yields could fall by nearly 20 percent over that period. The problem is affecting not just quantity, but quality.
Lack of rotation and over-use of phosphates and nitrates has degraded the nutrient content of the soil, leaving two billion people globally suffering micronutrient malnutrition, many in sub-Saharan Africa.
Worldwide, innovative agroecological farmers increasingly challenge the dominant industrial way of farming. Combining local and scientific knowledge, they put resilience thinking into practice to feed growing populations and cope with climate change, water scarcity, market volatility, and more.
Agroecology is the “ecosystem of the food system” and a farming approach that is inspired by natural ecosystems.
It combines local and scientific knowledge and applies ecological and social approaches to agricultural systems, focusing on the interactions between plants, animals, humans, and the environment.
Agroecological methods can help farmers cope with climate change by enhancing resilience.
The approach includes diversification of crops, conservation tillage, crop rotation, agroforestry, natural resources and biodiversity conservation, green manures, natural fertilisers and nitrogen fixation, biological pest control, rainwater harvesting, and production of crops and livestock in ways that store carbon and protect forests.
It also emphasises the importance of local knowledge, farmer empowerment, and socio-economic regulations, such as environmental subsidies and public procurement schemes.
Agroecology has become something of a slogan in recent years, and the big question is: can agroecological farming feed a global population estimated to reach almost 10 billion people in the coming decades? A growing bank of evidence says yes – the approach can help change the world’s food production for the better and produce enough food to feed the world.
“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilisers in boosting food production where the hungry live especially in unfavorable environments,” said Olivier De Schutter in 2011, in his role as United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food.
Agroecology adds value to environment, business and economy, employment, agriculture, food and heath. It has the explicit goal of strengthening the sustainability of all parts of the food system, from the seed and the soil to the table, including ecological knowledge, economic viability, and social justice.
To reach this goal, agroecological methods strive to minimise or exclude the use of fossil fuels, chemical inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides, and large-scale monocropping – cultivation of a single crop on vast tracts of land.
More farmers around the world are turning away from chemical-intensive single-crop farming in favour of production methods based on diversity, local inputs of for example compost, and ecosystem services.
This kind of “agroecological” farming has seen a revival in recent years as a response to the many challenges facing agriculture globally.
There is growing evidence that agroecological farming systems keep carbon in the ground, support biodiversity, rebuild soils, and sustain yields, providing a basis for secure livelihoods (IPES-Food. 2016). To be effective, it is also important that such approaches that challenge our current farming system are included in the training of next generations of farmers.
Uganda must invest much more in resilience and policy on agroecology through participation and education of youth, farmers.