Some agricultural sector stakeholders in Africa have described as impractical a push by agroecology movements for the sole use of indigenous inputs in agricultural production. They are worried the model will most likely force a lot more people on the continent into food insecurity, poverty and hunger.
“The agroecology promoters will use terms like indigenous foods, indigenous crops, indigenous everything. Like we want to exclude new varieties that are coming. But even the corn we eat today is not from Africa. It’s from America,” Pacifique Nshimiyimana who is a young farmer and agricultural enterpreneur from Rwanda observed.
“Corn has been here for many generations. And the varieties my grandma has had are no longer responsive to today’s climate situation. This means we need to adapt to new seeds that are resilient to climate change,” he noted. Nshimiyimana was contributing to an Alliance for Science (AfS) Live panel discussion on the theme; “Agroecology: Opportunities, Constraints, Prospects and Limitations.”
Associate professor at the University of Ghana’s Department of Agricultural Economics Irene Egyir agrees production without external inputs will be difficult. “I have mango plantations. And in the last 4 months, I have not been able to harvest fruits because of BBS (Bacterial Black Spot disease). Am I saying that I am doing agroecology so if there are effective or efficacious pesticides that can help me to manage it very quickly, (I won’t use it?)” she quizzed.
Egyir says indigenous inputs are difficult to prepare and farming models that encourage them have committed women to a lot of suffering in farming communities.
“I haven’t seen much of organic pesticides. Even the organic fertilizers, some you have to do it yourself. And that is the problem I have. I just got back from northern Ghana. I’m studying some women in the north. These women are supposed to prepare their own biochar, prepare their own compost. It is too labor intensive and low input. The small tool they are using is so archaic. So much heat. So much smoke…
“That is not what we should be talking about in 2021 for countries in Africa that want to move forward… Don’t tell my aunty in the village to pound her own neem seed, or to turn their own compost, or to burn their own biochar. It is unfair. Women especially suffer for it,” Egyir said.
What is Agroecology?
On the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO’s) family farming knowledge hub platform, Agroecology is defined as the application of ecological principles with the aim of protecting the environment. It ensures the sustainable renewal of the natural resources necessary for production like water, soil and biodiversity. And it makes sparing use of non-renewable resources. By gradually eliminating the use of chemicals, it strives toward implementing organic farming, thus contributing to improving the health of farmers and consumers alike.
The FAO, Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) and some international aid organizations like ActionAid and Oxfam have been promoting agroecology in Ethiopia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal and other African countries as the future of agricultural production. On its website, AFSA’s list of agroecology principles include championing small African family farming/production systems based on agroecological and indigenous approaches, resisting industrialization of African agriculture, emphasizing African-driven solutions to African problems, and rejecting the genetic engineering and privatization of living organisms. Some Western academics and NGOs, including Pesticide Action Network, the Community Alliance for Global Justice and Regeneration International, are also pushing Africa to adopt a narrow definition of agroecology, to the exclusion of other forms of production.
Nshimiyimana wants Africa to reject the agroecological model of farming. “As a young farmer and a businessperson, I believe agriculture needs modernization in tools and assets.
“When fall armyworm pests come, there is no way you can say farmers should not use fertilizers or pesticides. So, when you talk of limiting synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, you are putting millions of farmers who earn their daily bread from farming into poverty. I believe agroecology is a dead theory,” he said.
Nassib Mugwanya, a Ugandan agricultural communications specialist who previously worked with the National Crops Resources Research Institute is worried “the current version of agroecology we have being pushed down the continent is conservative and not embracive of advances.” I would argue that there is an opportunity to embrace some of these emerging technologies, he added.
Agroecology promoters in Africa have defended the model, insisting it is the sure way to make sustainable production possible. Bernard Guri of the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development (CIKOD) in Ghana says agricultural intensification has failed to feed the world, hence the need for a new model.
“Although there is industrial agriculture, there is still hunger. And it’s because agriculture has been captured by a few people who are using technology to produce for the market. And so, if you don’t have access to the market, you don’t have that food that is there. And so, there is a lot of food in one part of the world. And then there is a lot of hunger in other parts,” he observed.
Nshimiyimana disagrees agroecology is a sustainable way of production. “Climate change is affecting everyone. There is no where you can produce enough if you have pests destroying your farms. If you say you can feed the world with agroecology, there are too many things you are trying to ignore,” he concluded.
By Joseph Opoku Gakpo