Agroecology a pathway to building sustainable food systems even during covid-19 pandemic

 Kenyan scientists are fronting agroecological farming approaches as a pathway to building affordable and resilient food systems.

Agroecology principles is a diversified farming system that aims for longer-term sustainability of the natural ecosystem and social livelihoods besides the production of safe and sufficient food.

“Having agroecology embedded in existing agricultural, food, environmental and climate change policies is important so that when implementation and budgetary allocations are made for such policies, agroecology can also be part of it,” Mary Nyasimi, Executive Director of the Nairobi-based Inclusive Climate Change Adaptation for a Sustainable Africa.

A recent study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Biovision Foundation and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) shows a strong positive link between the application of agroecology principles and climate resilience in Kenya.

The comprehensive study “The Potential of Agroecology to Build Climate-Resilient Livelihoods and Food Systems” compiles and assesses evidence from scientific literature and from the field showing how agroecology builds climate resilience for smallholder farmers. Increased soil health, (bio-)diversity in farming approaches as well as the creation and sharing of locally, peer-generated knowledge have proven to be powerful effects of Agroecology for this.

The report shows how sustainable agroecological farming practices can help tackle climate change on three levels, including strengthening resilience and adaptation as well as increasing mitigation. Nonetheless, it is still struggling with insufficient political backing to actually take off.

The study reveals several insights on the policy potential of agroecology in Kenya and describes existing opportunities and challenges to institutionalizing agroecology. For example, no policy specifically related to agroecology exists within the current national agriculture and climate change policy arena, even though there are some closely related frameworks. A further factor limiting scaling up and out of agroecological approaches is low awareness about their resilience potential.

William Odhiambo, 60, a farmer in Busia county, who grows maize and indigenous vegetables says due to the rising cost of farm inputs, agroecology provides various options of farming techniques that use locally available farm inputs such as animal manure.

Agroecological farmers also more commonly use land management practices such as agroforestry, crop rotation and manure/composting to increase the temporal and spatial heterogeneity when compared to their non-agroecological counterparts.

“The crop yield has increased and land productivity has improved because of embracing environmentally-friendly methods of farming,” says Odhiambo, who has practiced the new system of farming for nearly five years.

A community-based approach, Sustainable Land Water Management (SLM) measures, reforestation as well as diversification (such as beekeeping), has shown to have the potential to increase the communities’ resilience to face climate change-related short-term impacts.

Looking at the study results, Frank Eyhorn, CEO Biovision Foundation says that “decision-makers must reset the course towards Agroecology and Agrobiodiverstiy based approaches in order to be able to deal with climate change and provide farmers a decent economic and social livelihood.”

There is initial dawn of hope for this: devolution has provided a chance for county governments to develop policies based on the prevailing circumstances. For instance, Kiambu county has developed a policy on agroecology as the first one among all the 47 counties while on the national level an Intersectoral Forum on Agroecology and Agrobiodiversity (ISFAA) was established only recently.