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Agroecology: Africa’s Eco-Justice Magic Wand

As a continent, Africa is very rich in terms of biodiversity, the continent is home to a quarter of the global biodiversity. Additionally Africa has diverse ecological zone and these include such as Humid, moist sub-humid, Dry Sub-humid,  and Semi-Arid zones as well as  savannah grasslands, flora and fauna, mountains, rivers , valleys and lakes. Many UN Heritage sites are also found in the continent such as Victoria Falls Ngorongoro Crater located in Tanzania as well as the Great Rift Valley. Africa harbours the second largest bloc of rainforest after Amazonia, and it represents more than fifteen percent (180 million hectares) of the world’s tropical forests[1].

Sadly, all this biodiversity is at an increased risk of loss due to human activities and the inherent techno-fixes being put up as solutions to the climate crisis. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Global Assessment Report (IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” [2]This deterioration is currently being experienced in Africa with the increasing cases of negative impacts of climate change on already vulnerable communities. For example in Mozambique, Cyclone Idai caused devastating havoc in Mozambique’s Beira , Malawi and Zimbabwe leading to mass losses in 2019[3].In, April 2019 Cyclone Kenneth struck Pemba, still in Mozambique,  droughts in Somalia and Ethiopia  and flooding in countries such as Kenya as well as mudslides. Areas that never experienced flooding are now experiencing thanks to human encroachment, the wild life population is also dwindling due to poaching and increased human appetite for wildlife for sale. With the changing climate, Africa has also been ravaged by desert locusts affecting countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda, Sudan and Eritrea[4] and with the locust infestation come losses of farm produce and existing vegetation in the affected areas.

These tech solutions such as climate smart agriculture in essence continue contributing to the climate crisis because of intensified use of chemicals. It is worth noting that when our soil is sick, our food becomes sick and our health becomes compromised.

2021-2030 have been declared the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and this calls for an immediate response to the  loss of biodiversity because of the inherent problems , additionally , emerging pandemics such as Covid 19  can traced to loss of biodiversity[5] , furthermore, despite the techno-fixes being pushed such as GM trials , overuse of  agro-chemicals and geo-engineering , the number of hungry people in the word continues to rise, implying that the techno-fixes are not working .As evidenced by the FAO State of World Food Report 2020  almost 690 million people in the world (8.9 percent of the world population) are estimated to have been undernourished in 2019[6] and this has been worsened by the Covid 19 pandemic as more people are sinking into poverty as a result of job losses and other forms of disruptions on sources of livelihoods and disease burden.

Agroecology presents a multi-faceted solution to the climate crisis as well as biodiversity restoration. As a science, practice and movement , agroecology provides a holistic approach to addressing the triple crises of climate change and food insecurity and biodiversity loss. Agroecology is a system of production that works with nature  and has  core principles which aim to develop and maintain  an agro-ecosystem that works with nature , creating a balance  in the ecosystem[7]. It is a form of agriculture that applies ecological principles and concepts in the design and management of agriculture. It based on multiple sources of production, diversifying crops and livestock production across spaces and over time.

With agroecology, landscape and biodiversity are integrated resulting into agriculture being multifunctional, biodiversity is maximised including species resulting into building healthy agro-systems. With agroecology, synergies are built between crops, livestock, landscape and trees and there is minimal dependency on external inputs.

Agroecology emphasises on adapting to local environments. This means that producers identify, analyse and resolve farm issues and gather in-depth knowledge of the land, the crops and the local environment. Producers further understand the capacity of the farm, types of crops that can grow in a given region then works towards harmonising farm systems and crops to their productive potential while taking into consideration the physical limitations of the farm. Agroecology does not emphasise on quality of food produced and does not promote the use of external additives such as agro-chemicals but works towards utilising local resources that rejuvenate the soil such as composting and bring life back to dead soil such as vermi-culture. Agroecology utilises landscape management systems that are natural for example planting trees around the farm as windbreaks to prevent loss of top soil through wind erosion. With agroecology crops are assessed prior to production to fit existing agroecological zones as opposed to “forcing nature” to adapt. With agroecology soil health is ensured through practices such as composting to retain organic matter, ensuring soil cover using mulching and planting of leguminous crops as well as intercropping to balance soil nutrients while at the same time preventing pests and diseases through crop rotation.

Agroecology contributes to biodiversity retention and replenishing through planting of multiple species and varieties, it also ensures that seed banking is practiced to avail indigenous varieties to the local communities either free (through exchange) or at affordable costs year after year. With agroecology, pests and diseases are managed through natural processes of push and pull or planting repellant varieties instead of spraying which kills insects and at the same time  makes the soil toxic due to interaction with chemical particles.

With agroecology use and loss of water and energy is minimised. Using mulching, soil is covered thus reducing temperatures while at the same time retaining moisture. Efficient water harvesting helps to retain water even long after the rains have stopped. Kitchen gardening , an agroecological practice helps supply the soil with compost materials year in year out. With agroecology beneficial biological interactions are enhanced for example cover crops to manage weeds and promotion of biological pest control. For a moment, imagine how much was damage has been caused by fall army worms in Africa. Agroecology appreciates local knowledge and traditional systems, it also emphasises on working together, reinforcing the value of building collectives among producers. Agroeocology also pays attention to intergenerational knowledge transfer .80% of food produced in Africa comes from smallholder farmers[8]  thus in Africa without smallholder farmers, the continent has no food. This makes it very important to listen to voices and concerns raised by smallholder farmers, especially in the African continent.

It is therefore very important not only to Africa but to the world at large that as we think about just transition and Building Back Better, let us embrace agroecology in biodiversity restoration and giving life back to the destroyed landscapes.







[6][7] Meriel Watts, Stephanie Williamson, Replacing Chemicals with Biology: Phasing out highly hazardous pesticides with Agroecology, Jutaprint, 2015


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