Using experienced practitioners as extension leaders is effective in spreading the agroecology message, natural farming champions have said.
Speaking during the launch of a book on scaling up agroecology, speakers at a webinar organised by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) noted that to become a successful farmer trainer one should have practised agroecology first so that “successes and difficulties can be shared.”
Taking agroecology to scale: learning from the experiences of natural farming in India, published by AFSA with support from the Andhra Pradesh Community Managed Natural Farming Programme (APCNF) was launched on October 27th in a virtual event.
The APCNF model applies nine key principles of agroecology. They are keeping green cover for as long as possible, and soil disturbance to a minimum, encouraging crop diversity (eight -12 different plants in one area), and use of biostimulants to speed up soil regeneration, and integrating animals into the farming system.
Still other principles are Organic matter addition through mulching, indigenous seeds which are more adapted to local conditions and do not need chemicals to thrive, pest management by understanding their life cycle, and avoiding all chemicals – be they pesticides, herbicides, or fertilisers.
AFSA General Coordinator Million Belay said the book, which is the fruit of the collaboration between APCNF programme and AFSA, was the pride of the alliance between Indian and African farmers.
John Wilson, a freelance facilitator, who helped work on the book, hailed it as a perfect example of a
South-South learning exchange where experiences were shared on successes and difficulties.
“What got our ears was the number of farmers involved. We started wondering: How do we get to this scale? A visit to India in early 2020 by AFSA members for an Agroecology Fund meeting further boosted the learnings,” he said while reliving the journey of the collaboration.
According to AFSA’s Healthy Soil Healthy Food Project Officer, Charles Tumuhe, who moderated the session, besides exchange visits the partnership also involves virtual training sessions.
Roseline Mukonoweshuro of Towards Sustainable Use of Resources Organisation Trust in Zimbabwe said the success of the APCNF model provided them with working examples that boosted their agroecology efforts back in Zimbabwe.
“It (the online exchange programme) helped us to identify gaps. We are now working with the government to boost their extension efforts. Women participation, complete with their saving and lending scheme, was a big learning for us too,” said Mukonoweshuro.
Tsuamba Bourgou of Groundswell International West Africa said a visit to Andhra Pradesh enabled them to learn a lot on soil health, farmer-to-farmer strategy, and self-help innovations.
“Through the programme, we saw how agroecology works. We also saw how the government can support civil society and the role of women as catalysts,” Bourgou noted.
Eliane Ubalijoro, an adviser to the Government of Rwanda, said one of the big lessons from the collaboration was the need for knowledge-intensive farming as opposed to resource-intensive agriculture.
Catalysts for change
G. Muralidhar, the Co-Lead, at APCNF, launched the book and said peers are the best extension leaders. He added that the self-help groups, working with the government and champion farmers, also stood out as catalysts for change.
Rose Hogan, A Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Advisor at Trocaire, said having wholehearted government support was key in scaling up agroecology as state-supported initiatives have higher chances of adoption.
Hogan quoted Dr Abdoulaye Seck, a former agriculture Minister of Senegal, who said the objective of developing countries must be sustainable food and nutritional security via a policy of food sovereignty. This, she said, will free the continent from the vagaries of the international market.
She said there was need to shift the mindset and the money, noting that currently, agroecology gets only a miniscule amount of public green climate of agriculture funds.
The need to entrench agroecology in the education system so that more youths take it up also came up as was the call to translate agroecology learning material to local languages to help in scaling up natural farming.
The book can be accessed through the following links in English and French respectively,
in-india/ and https://afsafrica.org/faire-passer-lagroecologie-a-lechelle-apprendre-des-experiences-dagriculture-naturelle-en-inde/?lang=fr .