More people gain interest in ecological farming

We had the pleasure to partner with Kenya Forest Service (KFS) during the Nairobi International Trade Fair on matters concerning ecological farming as an adaptive measure to climate change. The partnership gave us an opportunity to share with the public the importance of ecological farming to the environment as well as the benefits to the small-scale farmer.

A variety of indigenous seeds doing well in Machakos on display.
The Indigenous seeds on display

It was interesting to see people from all walks of life converge at our table for a sip of wisdom. We had primary school students, University students, professionals and full-time farmers coming by our stand. They were all attracted by the beautiful indigenous seeds displayed on our table. Additionally, they were curious to know what seeds had to do with the “Climate change response program” signage we confidently stood under.

Ecological farming as an adaptive measure to climate change

In support of the climate change response program, ecological farming is a suitable way of farming that does not pollute the environment. Ecological farming discourages the use of fertilizers and any additional chemicals and seeks to increase the amount of yield throughout seasons by encouraging the use of indigenous seeds.

“These are my seeds. Knowing your ecological region is the first step as a farmer. Then get the right seeds for that particular region which is what we are calling the indigenous seeds. The seeds you see here I have personally grown them in Machakos and they are doing so well,” said one of our contact farmers, Judith Kivaa, to a curious visitor.

 

One of our contact farmers talks to visitors about indigenous seeds.
Judith explaining the benefits of indigenous seeds

The most sort after seeds were big beans traditionally known as Nokhe. Judith said Nokhe had run out from the market but her fellow farmers and herself are putting effort to multiply it for commercial purposes back in Masinga, Machakos.

Other seeds included Cowpeas (Kunde), Amaranath (Terere), Millet, Sorghum, Pigeon Peas, Green grams (Ndengu) and Black beans (Njahi).

Hybrid seeds and soil fertility

Our goal was to warn the public of the dangers of boarding the GMO train and to alight if they were already on it. Genetic Engineering inhibits seed development of a species that allows it to pass down genetic reproductive capability.This is why the yields of such seeds, better known as hybrid seeds, reduce after the first harvest. Hybrid seeds further need fertilizers to boost growth and are not adaptive to the changes in climate.

Additionally, we advised farmers on the ways they can increase the soil fertility of their farms without using fertilizers.

“One can use soil enriching practices such as intercropping, cover cropping, mulching and using organic manure. This makes the soil more fertile for conducive crop growth and ensures minimal use of chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides,” said Food For Life Campaigner, Claire Nasike.

Ecological farming works! It aims at overcoming environmental, climate, and technical hurdles while increasing the output produced for consumption. What we need is to embrace it on a small scale and also on a large scale as we seek to move to a food secure nation.

Originator: Phyllis Ng’ang’a

 

Seeing is believing: Growing food for people, with people and with nature in Cuba

Ojos hacen fe.” Those are the words of Lucy Martín, an inspiring Cuban researcher with Oxfam in Havana. She has lived through decades of change in Cuba, while remaining grounded in the reality of farmers there. She uses those words – “seeing is believing” in English – to explain the importance of tangible examples that show how transforming our food system is possible. In Cuba, despite scarcity and a system where many challenges still remain, the country has been successfully innovating in ecological farming since the early ‘90s.

Cuba’s agricultural transformation

Cuba is a small country of about 11 million people. In the 1990s, the end of Soviet support brought, among other things, a massive exodus from the countryside into cities. Nowadays, almost 80% of the Cuban population lives in cities. Only 20% remains in rural farming settings.

During the years that followed the end of Soviet support in the ‘90s – a time called the “Special Period” in Cuba – agriculture changed abruptly. It went from an industrialised model heavily backed by agro-inputs and imports of food, to a void. No exports of commodities, no imports of inputs, no cash… and much less food. This time of great shock and desperation for all Cubans was also a time of empty soils, empty farms and empty plates in the countryside.

Farmers everywhere, not just in Cuba, are very innovative and resilient people. They are familiar with crises (droughts, floods, pests), but they also have an amazing drive for not giving up and trying new things. And the Cuban Special Period brought to the country a unique change in agriculture and farming – a new ‘agroecological crisis response.’

Growing food for people, not just commodities for exports, became one big priority for the country. This also meant growing food for people and without the overuse of agrotoxics and water, using knowledge of nature, soils, seeds and pests to substitute chemicals with local-sourced solutions, and applying ecological intelligence.

Cuba has 2% of the Latin American population, but 11% of its scientists. Back in the ‘90s, they used this vast resource in capacity to start transferring research and development to where it was most needed: agroecology, or how to grow food for people, with people and with nature.

Farming and food in Cuba today

In the two decades since the Special Period the country has made significant progress.

According the UN World Food Program, in the last 50 years Cuba has largely eradicated poverty and hunger, thanks to comprehensive social protection programmes. It also ranked 67th out of 188 countries in Human Development and is among the most successful in achieving UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Today, Cuba has more than 30 research and development centers dedicated to finding solutions for smallholding farmers, and a battery of policy incentives to promote ecological farming, family farming, farming cooperatives and urban farming based on agroecology.

Currently Cuban farmers, both in cities and rural areas, produce close to 80% of the vegetables and fruits the country consumes. In addition, the number of farmer cooperatives increased from 15% of the cultivated land in 1989 to more than 70% today, and they produce about 70% of the food grown nationally (86% of the maize and beans grown, and 90% of the vegetables).“[1] The country also reduced its consumption of agrochemicals by 75% in the last 20 years.[2]

In cities, urban farmers supply about 50% of the vegetables and fruits consumed locally, a share that continues to increase in recent years. The program of Urban Farming is one of the seven most important programs prioritised by the Minister of Agriculture. It has created about 300,000 jobs in cities, with 50% of those going to women and the urban youth.

A way forward

In spite of all these signs of progress, many problems remain for agriculture and beyond. Cuba still imports close to 70% of the food the country needs, mostly grains and livestock products, representing 14% of total imports into the country and close to two billion US dollars per year. However, it has also been estimated that by avoiding the imports seeds and agrochemicals, the country is savings an estimated amount of US$ 50 million a year.[3]

Fernando Funes Aguilar, an internationally-known Cuban researcher in agroecology, has estimated that Cuba could be food self-sufficient in three years by transforming half of the cultivated land in the country (three million hectares) to intensive, smallholder agroecological systems. This optimistic projection is based on the fact that in 2006, smallholding farmers produced 65% of the food produced in Cuba by cultivating only 25% of its agriculture land.

Cuban experience in agroecological farming is not a perfect situation, nor is it a perfect system, but it shows a way forward in times of crisis, and a better, more resilient way of feeding people for the future. Seeing the case of Cuban agroecology is believing a better system is not only possible, but happening already.


References:

[1] Martin, Lucy. 2015. Cuba crece. La Agricultura campesina sostenible. El caso cubano. Oxfam. La Habana Cuba, Julio 2015.
[2] Funes Aguilar and Vázquez Moreno. 2016. Avances de la Agroecología en Cuba. Estación Experimental de Pastos y Forrajes India Hatuey (Ed), La Habana, Cuba.
[3] Íbidem.