Traditional farming systems are key to strengthening food security

Emily Chebeya harvests Irish potatoes from her farm in Endebess, Uasin Gishu County. [Harold Odhiambo, Standard]

Over the years, post-hunter-gatherer societies have adopted modern agricultural techniques such as the use of machinery and agrochemicals. This has led to lower production costs, increased farming outcomes and incomes, and overall efficiency of farming activities such as planting and harvesting.

And herein lies a contradiction. While modern agricultural practices address food security issues in the short term, experts point out that the practices have also contributed significantly to the unintended consequences of our current food system. Excessive use of agrochemicals, for example, has resulted in habitat loss, soil erosion, reduced land fertility, and pollution from chemical runoff, among other issues.

The Kenya National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2019-2030 lists the rapid expansion of agriculture, settlement, consumption patterns, climate change, and resource over-exploitation among threats to biodiversity and ecosystems.

Despite these challenges, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that by 2050, agriculture will need to produce nearly 50 per cent more food, livestock fodder, and biofuel than it did in 2012 to meet global demand and stay on track to achieve zero hunger by 2030.

While more food is required to feed the ever-growing population, a paradigm shift is needed to maintain the balance between land and the ecosystem. According to a report by Chatham House on 'Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss', the global food system is the primary driver of biodiversity loss, with agriculture alone being a threat to 24,000 of the 28,000 species.

To curb some of these challenges, farmers may have to revert to ancient farming methods known to increase resilience and adaptation to shocks while improving output sustainably. One key way is through agroforestry. This is the cultivation of trees with crops and can provide environmental and social benefits. It can slow or reverse land degradation, increase water retention in addition to enhancing soil fertility. Over and above, growing nutritious fruit trees is linked to improving the health and nutrition of rural communities.

Rearing livestock and growing crops promotes development of an ecological farming system capable of making the best use of local resources, resulting in farming that is sustainable and environmentally friendly. Farmers can use waste from their animals to grow crops and feed their livestock with food from their farms.

Due to soil depletion caused by intensive farming and monocropping, farmers should take up crop rotation. Crop rotation offers many benefits for soil quality by improving soil health, increasing resistance to diseases, and increasing crop productivity and resilience.

Organic farming can combat desertification by reducing soil erosion, improving soil water uptake and retention. It also helps to increase resistance to pests and diseases, which is crucial to building food security. Organic farming allows farmers to use green manure, compost, and biological fertilisers to nourish crops, cutting overreliance on chemical fertilisers.

Indigenous seeds have been used by farmers since time immemorial to grow food and preserve agricultural diversity. Growing indigenous foods is an ancient practice that has to be protected by communities for it cushions them from hunger and malnutrition since some are drought-tolerant and short-term crops.

Besides, traditional food consumption and production practices contribute to increased food and nutritional security by smoothing dietary transitions, supplying nutrients, and increasing agricultural resilience. And just like traditional knowledge, traditional farming is vital for mitigating climate change.