Agroecological Farming is Key to a Sustainable Future
More than 220 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have enough to eat, and nearly one in four are undernourished. With population growth outpacing food production, and sixty percent or more of the region’s population depending on agriculture for food and income, those numbers are growing.
Rising temperatures and drought, among other extreme weather events, already threaten food production for some of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries. Improving agricultural output of smallholders through agroecological farming could be massively beneficial in delivering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2: to end world hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
What Does Agroecology Offer Farmers?
Agroecology addresses the root causes of hunger, poverty and inequality by helping to transform food systems and build resilient livelihoods through a holistic approach that balances the three dimensions of sustainability – social, economic and environmental. Agroecological agriculture (of which organic is one system) supports small farms that are diverse, integrated and use low levels of input to ensure the long-term balance between food production and the sustainability of natural resources.
A number of international organisations and African NGOs argue that agroecology should be the future of agriculture on the continent. But broader adoption requires training and support for farmers to embrace the approach, instead of relying on the short-term convenience of expensive chemical inputs.
The Soil Association, in partnership with Send a Cow, has promoted training programs and demonstrated the long-term viability of smallholder agroecological farming. This training includes resource planning, conflict resolution and enterprise development, as well as supporting access to assets such as livestock, seeds and tools.
The Wider Benefits of Agroecological Farming in Sub-Saharan Africa
A 2008 UN study on the productivity performance of organic and “near organic” agriculture in Africa found that average crop yields increased by 116 percent (128 percent in East Africa specifically), with a corresponding increase in household food security.
Send a Cow’s projects highlight that agroecology’s benefits extend far beyond food production. A training program in Uganda helped increase the education level of participant’s children by 145 percent. In Kenya, female decision-making in the home increased by 147 percent while simultaneously raising earning power of women.
Agroecological techniques can improve the resilience of farming systems by increasing diversification through poly-cropping, agroforestry, integrated crop and livestock systems, and the use of local varieties. This resilience can reduce the risks of pests and diseases and the costs of seeds. The management of soil fertility through rotations, cover crops and manuring can increase soil water retention or drainage, offer a better response to droughts and floods, reduce the need for irrigation, and help avoid land degradation. Moreover soil quality is improved with higher levels of organic matter, which helpsmitigate climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil.
To find out more about the Soil Association’s work to promote sustainable farming, see our report Feeding the Future about the role of organic farming in feeding the world, or visit IFOAM Organics International, the global organization of the organic movement. More information on agroecological farming is available through the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.