Use agroecological strategies to transform food systems


Sylvia Kuria at her farm in Lare in Maai Mahiu on the outskirts of Naivasha town. She is a successful agroecology farmer.

Photo credit: Steve Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Were you to choose between seeds that didn’t germinate over multiple seasons and ones that have proven to be productive and resilient to extreme climate conditions, which would you sow? Africa’s decision-makers should ask that.

African food systems are at a crossroads: Climate change, biodiversity loss, soil health degradation and geopolitical turmoil are exacerbating the systemic challenges in industrial approaches to food production, marketing and consumption.

Decades of heavy advocacy for a “green revolution in Africa”, public policy support via initiatives such as the Abuja Declaration on Fertilisers and funding of industrial practices have all failed to deliver food security.

The continent is far behind the promised targets of food production while increasing its dependency on industrially derived agri-inputs and severely degraded its soils.

An IMF estimate shows the number of highly malnourished people in Sub-Saharan Africa shot up by over 30 per cent in 2022 to 123 million while the World Bank reported that as many as 350 million Africans will be undernourished by 2050.

Good news: An alternative approach offers a progressive transition to nations and regions in subsistence farming or trapped in the predominant model of dependency on mostly large foreign corporations to more autonomy and resilience in food production, marketing and consumption: Agroecology.

The ecological and social approach to agriculture involves an integrative and holistic approach and emphasizes interconnectedness of ecological, social and economic factors in agricultural systems can offer alternatives and more sustainable approaches to these challenges that African food systems face.

Agroecological practices involve using closed loop systems, in which minimal waste is released to the environment (such as recycling of crop and animal waste into manure or reusing water for irrigation).

Use of natural local inputs to control pests and combining traditional knowledge with modern scientific technologies to solve food system challenges can bring ecofriendly, resilient and just food production.

As part of a unique dynamic in Eastern and Southern Africa to develop national strategies for an agroecological transformation (or “organic ecological agriculture” ), Tanzania launched its National Ecological Organic Agriculture Strategy (NEOAS) early this month.

It seeks to improve livelihood and income of smallholder farmers through coordinated support to the ecological organic agriculture value chain. National Agroecology Strategies in Kenya and Uganda are being developed in a participatory way, including various food system actors and the government.

These strategies cover a wide range of policy interventions “from farm to plate” and can concern production practices, natural resources governance and use, market development for agroecological products and actors or steering of consumption patterns.

They usually concern multiple policy fields and areas (like agriculture, landscape conservation, public health and nutrition) rather than focusing on a single issue with an ambition to avoid silos in food system and aims to structure other policy changes.

Last month, the Food Policy Forum for Change, an initiative by the Biovision Foundation and partners, organised a peer-to-peer exchange with 25 government and CSO representatives from Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda in Nairobi to discuss the development of National Agroecology Strategies and support one another through exchange of best-practices.

The gathering asked African governments and decision-makers to jump on the train to set the course for a healthier, more secure and sustainable future. Let them give farmers the tools to produce sufficient and healthy food for our populations with ecological and socially acceptable means through National Agroecology Strategies!

- Dr Juma (LinkedIn: @mwatima-juma) is chair of the board, Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM). Mr Wamunyima (LinkedIn: @ muketoi-wamunyima) is country coordinator, Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), Zambia.