What is the big crisis facing global agriculture? A complex question but the answer will almost definitely involve two core aspects. One, the role of the Green Revolution and industrial agriculture in vitiating water, soil and plant health across the world and the need to redress it. And the other, the need to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Now let’s look at the African context.
There is a massive push for adopting the Green Revolution practices in Africa at a time when climate change is rapidly taking place all over. Every agency (governmental and non- governmental) worth its salt these days is trying to convince governments and policy makers in Africa to adopt their models for agricultural “development”.
This is especially true of places like Kenya and other parts of East Africa which are currently reeling from a massive drought caused by the La Nina phenomenon and exacerbated by climate change. What makes it doubly important for a country like Kenya is the fact that almost 83% of the land area consists of arid and semi- arid land (ASAL).
So what happens when on one hand you have rapid promotion of chemical intensive, industrial agriculture and on the other hand are faced with a rapidly changing climate with extreme weather events like droughts, excessive rainfall etc? A disaster as it turns out.
Farmers are being pushed to adopt specific crops, use fertilizers and pesticides and the three main areas- soil, water and diversity which are essential to maintaining a healthy farm ecosystem are being lost out on. Traditional rain- fed agriculture, as practiced in most of Africa, is completely unsuited for chemical intensive agriculture- especially monocultures. This is a fact that’s being reinforced every time a major extreme weather event takes place.
A marked contrast witnessed between the fortunes of eco- ag farmers and farmers using chemicals
Greenpeace Africa recently visited farmers in Machakos county and there was a marked contrast witnessed between the fortunes of eco- ag farmers and farmers using chemicals. While the eco-ag farmers had been able to successfully withstand the drought and were looking forward to a good harvest, the chemical intensive farmers had sadly failed to cope and had had massive crop losses.
There’s also the recent report by the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver, which says that agrochemical companies have been fear mongering and lying to us repeatedly to get us to believe that pesticides are necessary to feed a growing population.
And what is the solution if these models aren’t working? Does it mean adoption of other expensive models, with heavy input costs, and techno- fixes? Not necessarily says the CGIAR Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The CGIAR programme which works with more than 10,000 scientists around the world believes it is low-tech adaptation and mitigation strategies for farmers that are essential in the face of changing weather patterns and climate. And believe it or not- most adaptation options can build on existing ecological agriculture practices rather than being entirely new technologies. This also helps tackle the problems posed by agrochemical usage in totality.
But does this mean traditional agricultural practices are sufficient to feed Africa and make it resilient to climate change?
Not really. Many parts of Africa including in East Africa rely on subsistence agriculture and have limited knowledge in terms of cropping, soil health and water conservation techniques. This means that the latest innovations in ecological farming practices need to reach the farmers, so that they are able to improve soil health, adequately manage water resources, adopt the best cropping practices and ensure sufficient production levels and incomes. But it also means that valuable traditional knowledge and practices need to be conserved and then disseminated among communities.
Greenpeace Africa for the past couple of years has been working in East Africa to promote climate resilient ecological agriculture and has encouraged donors and governments to invest in ecological agriculture as a means for building resilience alongside ensuring farm security.
Our latest initiative, and which could prove to be invaluable to farmers in worst- hit Machakos county, is providing training across the county, alongside our local partner Institute for Culture and Ecology and local ecological farmers, on knowledge and techniques to build resilience at the farm level. Farmers, who have dealt well through the drought because of ecological farming techniques, are teaching other farmers how to mitigate effects of drought for the coming season. This form of support is especially important as it is imparting soft technologies that will help farmers in the long run and can be passed on from generation to generation. Safe to say, after the impact of the drought, there is much hunger and appetite among farmers for this kind of intervention.
So the bottom line is ecological agriculture is here to stay, and is the only viable solution- and the faster the adoption rates the better it would be at mitigating climate change and improving agrarian lives in Africa.