Stories tagged: agroecology

Investing in Technology Transfer to Ensure no Farmer is Left Behind

As part of our agroecology in action series, Arianna Giuliodori, Secretary General of the World Farmers’ Organization talks to Farming First about how technologies and innovations should be made more widely available for farmers. 

Farming lies at the heart of many of the world’s most urgent challenges. The farming sector will therefore play a key role in defining the path for future sustainable solutions.

Continue reading

OCT172018
CFS Side Event: The Future of Farming

17th October 2018

Rome, Italy

As the FAO’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) gears up for the high-level panel of experts report on Agroecology and Other Innovations, Farming First will be co-hosting a side event that will highlight some of the best examples of innovations to advance agroecological outcomes in areas the UN is calling for including: recycling, resource use efficiency, reducing external inputs, diversification, integration, and soil health.

Speakers will discuss solutions that are applicable to farms of all sizes and regions, and identify ways to design sustainable farming systems that respect and benefit from the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment.

When: Wednesday, October 17, 13:00 to 14:30
Where: Philippines Room, FAO, Rome

Panellists

Otmane Bennani Smires, OCP Group
H.E Maria Cristina Boldorini, Moderator
Craige Mackenzie, Global Farmer Network
Nancy Muchiri, African Agricultural Technology Foundation                                                                  Wade Barnes, Farmers Edge
Arianna Giuliodori, World Farmers’ Organisation
Chris Noble, Noble Farms
Rick White, Canadian Canola Growers Association

Follow the debate on Twitter #FutureOfFarming #CFS45 @farmingfirst

Science-Based, Smarter Farming for Africa

As part of Farming First’s agroecology in action series, Ishmael Sunga, CEO of SACAU writes about the importance of using data to mitigate the effects of climate change on agriculture

African farmers, the majority of whom are smallholders, face myriad challenges.

These challenges are related to the entire cycle of farming, from pre-investment and production to post-production and marketing. They result in low volumes, low productivity, low quality products, and high post-harvest losses. Typically, farmers operate in a high-risk-low-return environment.

Continue reading

Agroecology According to Generation Y

As the incoming custodians of the land, young farmers tell Farming First about the importance of practising agroecology to benefit today’s generation and those to come.

With agricultural needs and challenges varying greatly around the world, farming has always needed to be adaptive and agile.

And with a changing climate bringing extreme weather and conditions, it’s more important than ever to work with nature and farm in a way that fulfils each ecosystem’s potential to feed an ever growing population.

Young farmers especially are realising the benefits of incorporating ecological processes into their agricultural systems.

“From my personal experience, we know that if we look after our farm, our livestock, the environment, we will produce better crops,” Richard Bower, a cereals farmer from Staffordshire, UK, told Farming First. “The environment is a very big part of what we do on the farm, and we are only looking after the farm for a short period of time for the next generation as well.”

One way Richard is practicing agroecology on his farm is to consider wildlife.

“Crop rotation is very important and allows birds to nest,” he added. “Something else we do on our farm is welcome bird ringers, who are very passionate about the environment and they come and count the birds on the farm. They are also using technology so they will go in the night and count the number of birds on the farm.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, where the effects of global warming hit hardest, producing more extreme temperatures, one result has been the increase of crop-eating pests such as Fall Armyworm.

Innocent Jumbe, 28, who works for a seed company in Malawi, said an agroecological approach  can involve the responsible use of crop protection products.

“With climate change, all these pests coming in has been a real problem in Africa in the last year and we have been told by the government that we need to brace for impact,” Innocent said. “It’s not just about how we use chemicals but also about how we dispose of the chemicals.

“The blanket picture is that climate change is the biggest change, but we can see that people are not changing their lifestyles. We need to try to change the way that people look at things.”

Meanwhile, in Argentina, agroecology is a way to successfully support people, livestock and the environment in one ecosystem.

“Agroecology is about knowing how to work in the farm,” said Augustina Diaz Valdez, 22, a sheep farmer who is also training to be a vet. “This means knowing up to what limit you can produce and take advantage, always thinking about the environment and being sustainable.”

Dennis Kabiito, 34, a livestock and crop farmer in Uganda, agreed: “As farmers, we are stewards of the land and of the environment. It’s [about] using the right practices and the right methods at the given time.

“For example with Fall Armyworm and African swine flu – this cannot easily be controlled by organic practices but they can contribute. You need some help from chemicals.”

In South Africa, agroecology is about balancing productivity with sustainability.

“It’s about finding the right balances in terms of practices. For me, it’s about the foundation for establishing these practices,” said Brenda Tlhabane, a 37 year old farmer from South Africa.

“At the end [of the day], we are the consumers of nature so we need to do it in a sustainable manner and make sure that we leave a legacy.

“As a young person, I need to be profitable and make sure that I am preserving the environment and planet as a whole. I would want our policy makers to look at the overall approach and think how do we become sustainable in terms of soil health and making sure that we preserve good quality soils as well?”

Yaouza’s Story: How Forest Conservation Can Boost Incomes in Niger

Barrett Alexander, Program Manager for Food Security and Livelihoods at World Vision, explains how Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration can help empower farmers and boost crop yields in the Sahel.

In Niger, the encroaching Sahel is a daily constraint for farmers – the wind, sand, dust, soil degradation, water scarcity, and recurring drought make it hard for farmers to provide for their families.

In the northeastern part of Niger, in the Maradi Region, World Vision works with local farmers on Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) to combat the encroaching Sahel. FMNR is part agro-forestry, part environmental conservation, part Disaster Risk Reduction, and part economic driver. It works by finding indigenous tree species, once abundant in Niger but decimated by drought and human population pressure in the 1970s and 80s, and teaching farmers about pruning methodologies to allow those trees to regrow. The regrowth of the trees has shown to reduce surface wind speeds, increase soil fertility, increase ground water availability, increase yields, and reduce surface temperatures.

Since the inception of FMNR in the 1980s, its growth throughout the country cannot be understated. Currently, there is roughly 5 million hectares of land re-greened through FMNR, with approximately 200 million indigenous trees. In some of World Vision’s project sites, there is a 250 percent increase in tree/shrub density on FMNR sites and the average tree density increased from 35.57 trees per hectare in 2014 to 123 trees per hectare in 2017. This increase in density is helping farmers increase their staple crop production, primarily millet, by 58 percent due to soil revitalization, increased ground water availability, reduced wind speeds that take top soil away, and reduced surface temperatures in this very arid environment.

Champion Farmer Model

One farmer stands out among the rest – Yaouza Harouna. After incorporating FMNR on his 4.5-hectare rain-fed and 0.5-hectare irrigated land in 2013, he now can fully provide for his family. Yaouza has re-grown roughly 310 new trees, including 60 Sahel apple trees. By implementing FMNR, Yaouza increased the productive capacity of his land and became a sustainable farmer. In the Guidan-Roumdji district where he lives, the average millet yield is 547 kg/hectare,—he produced 937 kg/hectare by planting nearest the bases of his trees. He also produced 450 kgs of peanuts, 250 kgs of cowpeas, 375 kgs of sorghum, 2,000 watermelons, and 833 kgs of Sahel apples from his new trees.

Yahouza Harouna showing his millet stock at his house in the village of Tambara-Sofoua Yahaya

All of this production provided Yaouza and his family with approximately $2,534 in income generation on the staple crops and $943 in income for the Sahel apples. Furthermore, roughly 70 percent of the millet and sorghum were used for direct consumption and to provide food for his extended family. With all this income, Yaouza has provided his household with sustainable food and firewood provision, put his children in private school, supported relatives, branched out into more income generating activities (small trading, sheep fattening), purchased a motorbike, extended his land by two hectares, and employed a local man to help watch the land and tend the crops. In effect, our Champion Farmer, based on initial interest in FMNR, has rightfully gained his moniker.

Recommendations for FMNR Implementation

Based on the current trend of FMNR as a sustainable agriculture model and the usage of World Vision’s Champion Farmer Model, there are several recommendations for agriculture implementers.

The first, is engaging the community at the start. A deep explanation of FMNR, the requirements (including community by-laws and enforcement mechanisms), economic benefits, and social cohesion should be the first actions for new implementers

Next, it is important to identify key community actors that will take on promoting FMNR in the community and use their skills, land, and leadership in the community to become “Champion Farmers” like Yaouza. Farmers learn best and incorporate new practices when they see and learn it from other farmers – use this to your advantage and encourage the free exchange of information and site visits between your Champion Farmers and new, doubtful farmers

For more information on how to implement FMNR initiatives, you can visit World Vision’s FMNR Hub for training resources, research, and technical guidance: http://fmnrhub.com.au/

Agroecology in Action: Harnessing the Power of Orphan Crops

Howard-Yana Shapiro, Chief Agricultural Officer of Mars, writes on Farming First about how orphan crops can benefit African farmers and the wider world.

Africa has thus far missed out on having its own ‘green revolution’. One reason for this is that it has no large, homogenous ecosystem, such as India’s Deccan Plateau. Any approach to boost productivity and food security must fit Africa’s myriad, small and distinct ecosystems.

The term agroecology refers to using ecological processes in agriculture, and maintaining balanced and healthy ecosystems. Pursuing an agricultural revolution that makes use of African crops that are already adapted, already grown and eaten by local farmers, would therefore be a good place to start.

At the African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) our goal is to improve these varieties –  “orphan” in that they have received very little scientific attention – so that they are more nutritious, higher yielding and hardier in the face of weeds, pests and the changing climate that is already altering Africa’s smallholder cropping systems. We do this by working to sequence the genomes of 101 of these important African orphan food crops and making the data publicly available, and training African scientists to make rapid improvements to them, benefitting smallholder farmers and consumers across the continent.

This plan was hatched back in 2011 by myself at Mars, Incorporated, Ibrahim Mayaki at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, and Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). It quickly won the backing of the African Heads of State meeting at the African Union Assembly. Today the consortium contains 15 government organisations, scientific and agricultural bodies, universities, companies, regional organisations and NGOs, along with a network of 20 agricultural and horticultural organisations.

The AOCC’s African Plant Breeding Academy (AfPBA), based at ICRAF in Nairobi, will have trained 84 of its target 250 African plant scientists to work on the genome ‘maps’ by the end of 2018.

This approach could benefit the 600 million who constitute Africa’s rural population, most of whom grow much of their own food.

How does this relate to agroecology?

First, more than a quarter of the chosen species are trees, such as the baobab, the leaves of which contain twice as much calcium as spinach, three times the vitamin C of oranges and four times more potassium than a banana. Many of these tree crops are native to their ecosystems and provide other benefits, such as shade, water management and food for wildlife. Our work serves to preserve and improve these species, so they can continue to perform these important natural functions.

Second, many of the crops being sequenced have been in their given regions for a few centuries, are non-invasive and do not harm the local ecosystems. A cornerstone of agroecology is to maintain balance in ecosystems. Protecting and improving native crops will lead to increased diversity on farms, which will contribute to this goal.

Finally, using genetic interventions to make these crops more resilient and adaptable to a changing environment often means farmers need to apply fewer additional inputs to them in order to harvest a bumper crop.

Africa seems unable to get enough of the orphan crops approach. Two members of the 2017 class have started a continuing education program for MS-level scientists in their home country of Ethiopia.  Four graduates from West Africa are collaborating to raise funding for training more than 70 graduate students on breeding of orphan crops. Members of the 2017 class are establishing an African Plant Breeders Association to cover the whole continent.

The benefits of orphan crops

The AfPBA and its lab have some of the best sequencing equipment in the world, certainly the best in Africa. Students – and these students are already among the best plant scientists in their countries – can use the equipment, but graduates also continue to have access to it.

One great benefit of this approach to education is that it is either done locally by AfPBA graduates or in Nairobi. The plant scientists are not taken to Europe or the United States, only to stay and contribute to Africa’s brain drain.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) decided recently to join the consortium. This has led to an ambitious letter of intent between the two organizations. It calls upon the two to work together to assist FAO member countries to develop and implement appropriate policies, regulations and laws that facilitate the genetic improvement of orphan crops; to strengthen institutional and human capacities of FAO member countries activities for research and development, especially in molecular genetics, plant breeding and seed delivery systems, and to advocate for enhanced crop diversification, crop rotations, associations and crop sequencing in a way that orphan crops are integrated and can become part and parcel of sustainable cropping systems.

We believe this could help spread the benefits of orphan crops throughout the planet. Already there has been talk of a Chinese Orphan Crop Consortium and an Indian Orphan Crop Consortium.  

As The Economist’s science editor commented after a visit to our facility last year:

“Bananas, mangoes, pineapples and pawpaws are all tropical fruit that have gone global. If some of Africa’s orphan crops, suitably improved by genetic knowledge, were to follow suit, the benefits to African farmers would be huge.”

This future is within grasp, and can be done by harnessing the power of what nature already has to offer.