By Venter Mwongera
Various reports reveal that more than 820 million people in the world suffer from hunger while 2 billion are food insecure. This highlights the immense challenge facing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, in particular the goal of zero hunger by 2030.
Agriculture is the backbone of most economies and contributes immensely to the GDP of many economies in the developing world, in particular, including job creation, manufacturing and distribution, among other services.
Fertile soils, sufficient rains, a favorable policy environment, confident smallholder farmers and reusable seeds are factors that help agriculture play its crucial role.
Food sovereignty goes hand in hand with seed sovereignty. Therefore, when smallholder farmers have confidence in producing food without depleting natural resources, they are assured of the market for their products, given the freedom to use and reuse their indigenous seeds, which allows agriculture to remain a significant contributor to the economies’ GDP. . These sustainable agricultural approaches promote a healthy and harmonious life between the different elements present in the soil while protecting biodiversity.
Practices of sustainable agricultural approaches
Smallholder farmers in Ghana, Benin, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, among other African countries, say sustainable farming approaches are reliable.
More than 5,000 smallholder farmers in these countries with whom we have interacted say that they have practiced sustainable agriculture and met the nutritional needs of their families, increased their income through the sale of surplus agricultural products, improved the fertility of the soil on their farms and improved their health animals.
“We managed to recover many indigenous seeds. We farm our land using indigenous methods to grow our food. This indigenous food has a unique taste; it is more nutritious and helps us women to recover faster after childbirth while providing rich breast milk to our infants,” observes Hawa Aragaw, a smallholder farmer from Boruselassie community in Ethiopia.
The president of the Federation of Agroecology in Benin ((FAEB), Mr. Pierre Bediye recalls that sustainable agriculture offers holistic health.
“Sustainable agriculture is concerned with the health of humans, animals, plants, soil, the environment, among other living organisms. It takes care of ecosystem services while protecting biodiversity,” he says, adding that “Beninian small-scale farmers continue to adopt the use of sustainable agricultural approaches since they saw and tasted the fruits of healthy biodiversity. With continued sustainable farming practices, more than 2,000 farmers in our network say that in addition to increasing soil fertility, pests and diseases continue to decline on their farms, increasing their yield each season.
Most smallholder farmers who have consistently practiced sustainable farming approaches have rich testimonies.
Mr. Haruna Salifu, a mixed crop farmer from Tamale in the Northern Region of Ghana, cannot find any other better agricultural approach to sustainable food production.
Speaking on behalf of his fellow farmers in the group, he said, “Our land was too barren due to the continuous use of fertilizers. We were investing a lot of money in agricultural activities every season, even though our income was meager,” laments Mr. Salifu, adding, “But the yields were too low to feed our families. Until we decided to use manure from our animals and keep farm residues on the farms, that’s when our farms started to improve yields every season.
Smallholder farmers mainly transfer agricultural knowledge to each other. Over time, many native nutritious seeds have disappeared for many small farmers.
However, their yield and nutritional value are essential to family livelihoods. “We propagate our yam cuttings and share them among our group members. We exchange our indigenous seeds among ourselves. Most of the families in our groups now have diverse native seeds to grow on their farms,” Salifu reveals.
Could Kenya borrow a leaf from other countries?
In Kenya, the agricultural sector contributes about 33% of GDP and more than 40% of job opportunities.
Considering the drought trends in the country for a decade now, around 3.5 million people were starved of food and dependent on food aid.
The food expenditure of most Kenyan households is around 42% and they sometimes run out of food. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 3-month (February to May) 2022 hunger hotspots report estimated that 2.8 million Kenyans are food insecure and over 368,000 are critically food insecure.
Could Kenyan farmers borrow a leaf from farmers in Ghana, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and other countries whose sustainable farming approaches are working for them? Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for himself and the health and well-being of his family”.
It is the universal right of citizens not to suffer from hunger. Article 43 of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya states that “Everyone has the right to be free from hunger and to have access to adequate and quality food. »
Suppose conventional agricultural approaches have been around for a very long time. However, food insecurity appears to be a chronic scourge. Can the Kenyan government provide a policy framework for farmers to practice sustainable agriculture? Kenya is also a signatory to the 2003 Malabo Declaration, where various African countries signed on to allocate 10% of their national budgets to agriculture. Can the government honor this commitment?
Smallholder farmers face many challenges in exercising their rights due to laws and policy gaps, freedom to operate and in some cases criminalization of farmers’ right to use, to save, freely exchange and sell seeds and farm propagating material.
Unsustainable approaches and their effects on biodiversity
Besides the persistent problem of food insecurity, unsustainable agriculture also has a direct impact on biodiversity loss, a global challenge. The continued use of chemical fertilizers for agriculture and spraying crops against pests and diseases affects soil health, which is crucial for many lives on earth. Much of the loose soil is washed away during the rainy season and drains into the sea and oceans. These soils mainly contain residues of chemical fertilizers which do not dissolve easily in water. These chemicals affect the marine habitats and biodiversity of the global oceans, which are interconnected. Unsustainable agricultural approaches are not only a danger to food security, but also a direct and indirect threat to incredible biodiversity.
The United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Center (2016) estimates that overexploitation and degradation of biodiversity ecosystems will lead to the loss of 50% of Africa’s bird and mammal species and 20 to 30% of lake productivity by the end of the century.
The loss of biodiversity alters the structures and functions of ecological systems. This undermines efforts to achieve some of the UN SDGs. These are; Zero Hunger; Good health and well-being; Clean water and sanitation; Affordable and clean energy; Responsible consumption and production; climate action; Life below water and SDG 15, which aims to sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss.
Government goodwill and sustained support for rural life are essential to sustainably address food insecurity while preserving biodiversity. The provision of enabling policy frameworks and compliance with various agreements supporting smallholder farmers could reverse trends in food insecurity, land degradation and biodiversity loss while mitigating the devastating effects of climate crises.
The author is a Communications and Advocacy Specialist with the African Biodiversity Network (ABN) and the Treasurer of the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK). For comments, she can be contacted at [email protected]