Agroecology is critical in the wake of climate change - expert

Francis Shivonje, Policy and Advocacy National Coordinator-Kenya, Biovision Foundation. [Courtesy]

What is agroecology?

Agroecology is an ecological and social approach to agriculture offering solutions for (1) production, (2) marketing and (3) consumption of food. It proposes alternatives to conventional agricultural practices which have negative long-term consequences for the environment and people.

Why does agroecology matter now more than ever?

Agroecology provides sustainable solutions to address major challenges that food systems face today, such as: variation in food production costs or imported food products due to geo-political developments, dependency of farmers on external inputs (notably chemical fertilizers), power concentration among small number of multinational corporations, lower productivity due to poor soil quality, degradation of natural resources such as water, biodiversity loss and climate change.

It is no longer possible to look at food, livelihoods, health and the management of natural resources separately. Ending poverty and achieving zero hunger, while ensuring inclusive growth and sustainably managing the planet’s natural resources, all in the context of climate change and biodiversity loss, will only be possible through holistic and integrated approaches that respect human rights.

To what extent is agroecology a promising approach for climate change mitigation or adaptation?

There is robust empirical evidence that agroecology-based approaches can strengthen climate resilience of smallholder farmers and foster a low emissions pathway towards sustainable food systems. Three components play a key role in this regard: first, agroecology promotes the diversification of food production systems building on an integrated approach between agro-pastoralism, agroforestry and landscape farming.

Second, agroecological practices can improve soil condition and fertility, for example by closing natural resource cycles and ensuring synergies between plants, forests and livestock. Third, agroecology fosters locally adapted solutions by putting participation and context-specific knowledge at the centre. Thus, actors of local food systems are more agile and flexible to adapt to their locally changing conditions and can swiftly replicate climate proofed knowledge through peer-to-peer networks.

To what extent is agroecology an option to attract youths to a career in agriculture?

As shown by the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, agroecology offers an interesting career perspective to youths.

This is notably the case considering the introduction of digital and other ICT into agroecological practices to support production via timely weather forecasts, pest pressure appearances or identification of weeds or pests, with automated image tools or digitalized soil health self-assessment. Moreover, agroecology is more labour and knowledge intensive than conventional and industrial agriculture. It can therefore counteract rural exodus by creating new jobs and income perspectives for young people.

What are the main benefits of agroecology for Kenya?

In Kenya, agroecology is a promising alternative to conventional agriculture as it provides credible solutions to existing challenges such as:Stagnating agricultural productivity: Agricultural productivity has stagnated in recent years. Various factors have contributed to low agricultural productivity, including an overall decline in soil fertility because of the continuous removal of nutrients by crops; poor farming practices; land degradation and overuse/misuse of synthetic fertilizers that acidify the soil.

Those specific constraints can be tackled through AEEconomic growth: Sustainable food production through agroecological practices is key to national stability as agriculture represents 30% of Kenya’s GDP and employs more than 60% of the workforce. An agricultural sector that is more resilient through the adoption of agroecological practices in the context of climate change, biodiversity loss and geopolitical tensions generating input scarcity as well as price hikes of the latter.

Employment: Smallholder farming in Kenya is key to the country’s food security and economy. Small farms account for 75% of the total agricultural output. As agroecology is very well adapted to smallholders and their production capacity and contains a strong empowerment component, it supports employment and resilient jobs within Kenya’s population.

Why are we talking about agroecology in the region today?

The region is experiencing a unique dynamic with an increasing awareness of economic, social and ecological benefits that agroecology can deliver if it is supported by concrete and effective policies. This dynamic is reflected in the development of national agroecology strategies (NAS) in multiple countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania or Zambia.

In this context, the Food Policy Forum for Change, an initiative run by the Biovision Foundation and partners, organises a Peer-to-Peer Exchange in Nairobi on 11-13 October with policymakers from eight Southern and Eastern African countries on national strategies for an agroecological transformation to be held in Nairobi, Kenya. This is the purpose of my visit.

What are National Agroecology Strategies (NAS)?

Although agroecology is increasingly recognized as a path towards sustainable food systems, countries still lack coherent national policy frameworks that can steer coordinated action and leverage resources to achieve positive outcomes for people and nature alike. National strategies for an agroecological transformation offer an opportunity to support countries on their path toward more sustainable food systems and support them with climate change mitigation, ensuring healthy and accessible food for all as well as fighting biodiversity loss.

They often aim to achieve multiple sustainability targets related to food systems through a large range of actions influencing production practices, natural resources governance and use, markets, consumption patterns and food environment, research or other institutional aspects.

NAS usually covers multiple policy fields and areas (e.g. agriculture, landscape conservation, public health, nutrition) rather than focusing on a single issue, with an ambition to avoid siloes in food system and aims to structure other policy changes. Agroecological transformations are guided by agroecological principles. Some national strategies align with these principles while they do not necessarily use the umbrella term “agroecology”, preferring associated concepts such as organic ecological agriculture.

Why is Biovision engaged on the topic of agroecology and NAS in the region?

Biovision Foundation is engaged for a world with enough healthy food for all, produced by healthy people in a healthy environment. We promote ecological thinking and action in sub-Saharan Africa, in Switzerland and internationally. As a pioneer of change, Biovision advocates for a fundamental agroecological transformation of food systems through the Food Policy Forum for Change initiative and other projects.

Hence, the objective of this peer-to-peer exchange is to support countries already engaged in developing agroecological strategies and policies, through building collective expertise; and inspire other countries through learning from the processes in place. As a result, countries will take home essential learnings for their respective policy processes.

 

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