By Venter Mwongera
Various reports reveal that more than 820 million people worldwide are hungry while 2 billion are food insecure. This underscores the immense challenge that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals must meet, especially the goal of Zero Hunger by 2030.
Agriculture is the mainstay of most economies and hugely contributes to many economies’ GDP of the developing world, specifically, including job creation, manufacturing, and distribution, among other services.
Fertile soils, sufficient rains, an enabling policy environment, confident smallholder farmers, and reusable seeds are factors that support agriculture to play its crucial role.
Food sovereignty goes hand-in-hand with seed sovereignty. Therefore, when the smallholder farmers are confident about food production without depleting the natural resources, they are assured about the market for their produce, given the freedom to use and reuse their indigenous seeds, which enables agriculture to remain a significant contributor to the economies GDP. These sustainable farming approaches promote healthy and harmonious living among the various elements found in the soil while protecting biodiversity.
Practices of sustainable farming approaches
Smallholder farmers from Ghana, Benin, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia, among other African countries, say that sustainable farming approaches are dependable.
More than 5,000 smallholder farmers from these countries that we have interacted with confess that they have practiced sustainable farming and have met their families’ nutritional needs, increased their income through the sale of surplus farm produce, improved their farms’ soil fertility, and improved their health animals.
“We have managed to recuperate many indigenous seeds. We farm our lands using indigenous methods to grow our food. This indigenous food has a unique taste; it is more nutritious and helps us women recover faster after childbirth while also providing rich breast milk for our infants,” Hawa Aragaw, a smallholder farmer from the Boruselassie community in Ethiopia, observes.
The president of the Federation of Agroecology in Benin ((FAEB), Mr. Pierre Bediye reiterates that sustainable agriculture offers holistic health.
“Sustainable agriculture cares about the health of humans, animals, plants, soil, the environment, among other living organisms. It cares for the ecosystem services while also protecting the biodiversity,” he states, adding, “the smallholder farmers in Benin continue to embrace the use of sustainable farming approaches since they have seen and tasted the fruits of healthy biodiversity. With continuous sustainable farming practice, more than 2,000 farmers in our network say that besides increased soil fertility, pests and disease continue to decrease on their farms, increasing their yield each season.”
Most smallholder farmers who have continuously practiced sustainable farming approaches have rich testimonials.
Mr. Haruna Salifu, a mixed crop farmer from Tamale in the Northern region of Ghana, can’t find any other better farming approach for sustainable food production.
On behalf of his fellow farmers in the group, he said, “Our lands were too infertile due to continued use of fertilizers. We put much money into the farming activities each season even though our incomes were meager,” Mr. Salifu laments adding, “But, the yields were too little to feed our families. Until when we decided to use manure from our animals and keep the farm residues into the farms, is when our farms started improving yields each season.”
Smallholder farmers mostly pass on agricultural knowledge among themselves. Over time, many indigenous nutritious seeds are extinct to many smallholder farmers.
However, their yielding and nutritional value is essential to families’ livelihoods. “We propagate our yams cuttings and share them among our group members. We exchange our indigenous seeds among us. Most families from our groups now have diversified indigenous seeds to grow on their farms,” Mr. Salifu reveals.
Could Kenya borrow a leaf from other countries?
In Kenya, the agricultural sector contributes to about 33% of the GDP and more than 40% of employment opportunities.
Looking at the trends of drought in the country for a decade now, about 3.5 million people lacked food and depended on food aid.
Most Kenyan households’ expenditure on food is approximately 42% and they sometimes lack food. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN Hunger Hotspots Report of 3 months (February to May) 2022 estimated that 2.8 million Kenyans are food insecure and over 368,000 are critically food insecure.
Could the Kenyan farmers borrow a leaf from the farmers from 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, the health and well-being of his family.”
This is the universal right for citizens not to suffer from hunger. Article 43 of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution states, “Every person has the right to be free from hunger and have adequate quality food.”
Suppose the conventional farming approaches have been in existence for the longest time. Yet, food insecurity seems a chronic scourge. Can the Kenyan government provide an enabling policy framework for farmers to practice sustainable agriculture? Kenya is also a signatory to the Malabo Declaration of 2003, where various African countries signed to allocate 10% of their national budgets to agriculture. Can the government honour this commitment?
Smallholder farmers face many challenges in exercising their rights due to inhibiting laws and policy gaps, freedom to operate, and in some cases, criminalizing farmers’ right to use, save, exchange freely and sell farm-saved seed and propagating material.
Unsustainable approaches and their effects on biodiversity
Besides the perennial food insecurity glitch, unsustainable farming also directly impacts biodiversity loss, a global challenge. Continuous use of chemical fertilizers for farming and spraying crops against pests and disease affects the health of the soil, which is a crucial component holding many lives on earth. Much of the loose soil is washed away during the rainy seasons and drains into the sea and oceans. Such soils mostly contain chemical fertilizer residues that don’t easily dissolve in water. These chemicals affect the marine habitats and the biodiversity of the global oceans, which are interconnected. Unsustainable farming approaches are not only a danger to food security but also a threat to the amazing biodiversity directly and indirectly.
The UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (2016) estimates that the overexploitation and degradation of the biodiversity ecosystems will result in the loss of 50% of Africa’s bird and mammal species and 20-30% of lake productivity by the end of the century.
The loss of biodiversity alters the structures and functions of ecological systems. This compromises 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 manage forests sustainably, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss.
Governments’ goodwill and sustainable support to rural life are crucial to address food insecurities sustainably while conserving biodiversity. Provision of enabling policy frameworks and honouring various agreements supporting the smallholder agriculture farmers could reverse the trends of food insecurities, land degradation, and loss of biodiversity while also mitigating the ravaging effects of the climate crises.
The writer 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 reached at email@example.com