African-based environmental groups have called on rich and influential donors to give “more investment and support” to smallholder farmers to boost agroecological farm practices in Africa.
The Southern African Faith Communities’ Institute, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), other environmentalists, and small-scale farmers said this is what African countries need to sustainably protect the continent’s biodiversity, mitigate climate change effects and as well provide a just food distribution for all.
They opposed monocropping which they said was promoted by some funders, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The donor organisation told PREMIUM TIMES its work is “guided by what smallholder farmers and local agriculture businesses say they need to succeed and by the priorities.”
The environmentalists made the call during a virtual meeting on August 3 and called on donors to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to shift funding to more effective and sustainable agroecology initiatives.
The discussion comes amidst clamour for the adoption of sustainable climate-smart agricultural practices as climate change manifestations such as flooding and drought are becoming major threats to food sufficiency.
Monocropping is an agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops or growing multiple crops on the same land. By contrast, agroecology takes into account natural ecosystems and uses local knowledge to plant a diversity of crops that boost the sustainability of the farming system as a whole. It aims to promote sustainable food systems, respectful of people and the environment.
SAFCEI’s Executive Director, Francesca de Gasparis, explained that in addition to damaging ecosystems, threatening local livelihoods, and increasing climate vulnerabilities, monocropping ignores and undermines smallholder farmers, whose efforts promote sustainable food production and protect the environment.
“What African farmers need is support to find communal solutions that increase climate resilience, rather than the top-down profit-driven industrial-scale farming systems proposed. When it comes to the climate, African faith communities are urging the world to think twice before pushing a technical and corporate farming approach,” she said.
The groups also urged the Gates Foundation and other similar influential donors to not promote the adoption of only certified varieties.
“This is particularly problematic for small-scale farmers in Africa, who nourish their families and their communities through seeds that are not certified,” they said.
The environmentalists explained that 80 per cent of non-certified seeds come from millions of smallholder farmers who recycle and exchange seeds each year, building an “open-source knowledge bank” of seeds that cost little to nothing but have all the nutritional value needed to sustain their communities.
They said focusing on only certified varieties “threatens to replace seed systems diversity and the agro-biodiversity system that is critical for human and ecosystem health and replace it with a privatized, corporate approach that will reduce food systems resilience.”
“This style of farming which has been pushed by big commercial farming entities in the US and Europe undermines community-spirited traditions of selecting, saving and sharing seed. It ignores indigenous knowledge regarding local food crop diversity and multi-cropping,” they alleged.
Joyce Brown, HOMEF’s programme manager, said Africa has what it takes to feed herself without the chemical-intensive, monoculture system of agriculture.
“Through Agroecology and sustainable use of our vast natural resources, we can overcome the challenges we are faced with today. This is what our governments should invest in and not models that are at war with our socio-economic, ecological, and cultural realities,” she said.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation told PREMIUM TIMES it only provides funds through its agricultural development work to African organizations and initiatives that are helping smallholder farmers and rural livestock keepers earn income for their families in order to provide people with nutritious and affordable food choices.
“Our work is guided by what smallholder farmers and local agriculture businesses say they need to succeed and by the priorities, their governments have embraced in their national agriculture investment plans,” the foundation said in an emailed response.
The funders stated that African farmers should be empowered to choose from a range of innovations that can help them adapt to stressful conditions like high temperatures, droughts, floods, pests, and diseases that continue to intensify due to climate change.
“We know it will take a collective effort to address the negative impact of climate change on developing countries, and that starts with making agriculture systems more sustainable and resilient,” the foundation said.