Agriculture is a key sector of the African economy. It provides employment, income, and food security for millions of people.
However, the current agricultural policies and practices in Africa are often characterised by low productivity, soil degradation, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss.
These challenges are exacerbated by the impacts of climate change, population growth, and market liberalisation, which are placing increasing pressure on the natural resources and social systems that underpin food production.
Therefore, there is a need for innovative and sustainable agricultural policies and practices that can enhance the productivity, resilience, and equity of food systems in Africa.
This opinion piece highlights the significance of agricultural policies and sustainable food production systems in Africa while suggesting practical measures that can be taken to achieve this goal.
Agricultural policies should promote agroecological practices that are ecologically sustainable and socially just
Agroecology is a scientific and social approach that integrates traditional and modern knowledge to promote the diversity and resilience of agroecosystems, and to support the livelihoods and well-being of farmers and rural communities (Altieri & Toledo, 2011).
Agroecological practices include crop diversification, intercropping, agroforestry, natural pest control, and conservation agriculture, which enhance soil fertility, water use efficiency, and biodiversity conservation.
Agroecology has been shown to be effective in enhancing food security and resilience in diverse agroecosystems and socio-economic contexts (FAO, 2018). Therefore, agricultural policies should support the development and scaling-up of agroecological practices through education, research, extension, and financial incentives.
Agricultural policies should promote sustainable land use and management practices that conserve biodiversity and ecosystems
Land degradation is a major threat to food production and environmental sustainability in Africa, with an estimated 80% of agricultural land being degraded to some extent (FAO, 2015).
Unsustainable land use practices, such as deforestation, overgrazing, and excessive use of chemical inputs, are contributing to soil erosion, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.
Therefore, agricultural policies should promote sustainable land use practices that enhance the productivity, resilience, and ecological integrity of agroecosystems. These practices include agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and integrated water resource management, which promote soil conservation, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity conservation.
Agricultural policies should promote equitable and inclusive food systems that support the livelihoods and well-being of smallholder farmers, and rural communities
Small-scale farmers are the backbone of African agriculture, producing up to 80% of the food consumed in the continent (IFAD, 2019). However, they often face numerous challenges, including a lack of access to land, credit, markets, and information, which limit their productivity and income.
Moreover, women and youth farmers are often excluded from decision-making processes and access to resources. Therefore, agricultural policies should promote inclusive and equitable food systems that enable smallholder farmers to access markets, finance, and information, and to participate in decision-making processes.
This can be achieved through the development of appropriate policies, laws, and regulations that support smallholder farmers, and through the creation of networks and alliances that represent their interests.
Agricultural policies and sustainable food production systems are critical for enhancing the productivity, resilience, and equity of food systems in Africa
They can promote ecologically sustainable and socially just agroecological practices, sustainable land use and management practices, and equitable and inclusive food systems. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to adopt integrated and participatory approaches that involve the participation of multiple stakeholders, including farmers, researchers, civil society organizations, and policy-makers.
Such approaches should recognise and respect the diverse needs, priorities, and knowledge of local communities and promote their active participation in decision-making processes.
Moreover, there is a need for increased investment in agricultural research, education, and extension services to generate and disseminate knowledge besides technologies that are appropriate while chiefly relevant to local conditions.
Moreover, the implementation of agricultural policies and sustainable food production systems should be supported by appropriate monitoring, evaluation, and learning mechanisms, to ensure their effectiveness as well as adaptability over time. By adopting these measures, Africa can build sustainable and resilient food systems that enhance the livelihoods and well-being of its people, while conserving its natural resources and cultural heritage to live in harmony with nature.
The author is a Communications and Advocacy Specialist at the African Biodiversity Network, a mentor at the African Women Leaders in Agroecology-Initiative, Chairperson of National and International Engagements at the Inter-Sectoral Forum on Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology (ISFAA) and Treasurer of the Board at the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK).