Agricultural growth is not enough for Africa – resilient and sustainable growth is the answer

According to a new report by the Agriculture for Impact organization (The Montpellier Panel), based in London, the investment in resilient agricultural growth in sub-Saharan Africa can achieve sustainable food and nutrition security for the continent.

The authors had already argued in their 2010 report that:
• Food security underpins global security;
• Food trade is central to global trade; and
• Agricultural development is the best route to achieving economic growth that reaches the rural poor and most vulnerable in low income countries.

They also stress that failure to ensure universal food security threatens political stability, social welfare and economic growth.

However, resilient agricultural growth doesn’t happen by itself – it needs pro-active policy design and investment, the report suggests. They suggest that the creation of the following steps should be prioritized:
• Resilient markets that enable farmers to increase production and generate income through innovation and taking risks, while ensuring food is available at an affordable price.
• Resilient agriculture that creates agricultural growth out of knowledge and innovation, while simultaneously building the capacity of smallholder farmers to counter environmental degradation and climate change.
• Resilient people who are able to generate diverse livelihoods that provide stable incomes, adequate nutrition and good health in the face of recurrent stresses and shocks.
To achieve these goals we will also need political leadership that demonstrates the necessary vision and will.

These seem to be relatively simple and reasonable solutions for a widespread social problem, yet we don’t see political will to tackle it and implement such actions. Why is that?

Read the full report (pdf) here

Farming needs “climate-smart” revolution

BBC News has released an article on the “Planet Under Pressure” Conference, held by the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Chanfe. This conference is a four-day gathering of academics, campaigners and business people (in London), designed to inform policymaking in the run-up to the Rio+20 UNEP summit in Brazil, which will take place this June.
Bottom line is there is an urgent need for climate-resistent agriculture techniques, which do not depend on carbon fuels neither disrespect the environment. That way, soil and water systems are preserved and production outputs are safer and less disaster-prone.
Read the full report here.

Yes, organics can feed the world (by Michael Pollan)

I want to call your attention for this quick video from Michael Pollan (author of  “The Omnivore’s dilemma”). Organic agriculture CAN feed the world, specially in developing countries. We are talking about a production system that is not dependent on fossil fuels, is good for you and for the environment. What are we waiting for?

“Food Rules” by Michael Pollan – RSA/Nominet Trust competition from Marija Jacimovic on Vimeo.

World Environment Day 2012 – Green Economy

Coming from a family of coffee growers, when I was a kid I always wondered why there were banana trees in line with the coffee trees  in our little farm. One day I finally asked my dad, and he explained that the bark from the banana trees served as fertilizer for the coffee, and their leaves also served as shade to the coffee trees. (And of course we got to eat many bananas as well). Now, I know that the name of this old and simple technique is called intercropping, and it has been applied in other coffee growing countries, like Tanzania and Uganda.

The 2012 theme for World Environment Day is Green Economy: Does it include you?

Yes, it does. If you eat, you should be concerned about the future scarcity of resources (soil, clean water) to produce food. If you are a  farmer, you should be concerned about how to obtain high productivity using less inputs, and how to protect your natural resources. In other words, we want to have agriculture products that are produced respecting the environment and at the same time, requiring fewer investment. How do we achieve that? With a system that respects the environment and by doing so, becomes climate resilient.

And such system is possible. The tips described on the Evergreen Agriculture post lead you to a low cost, resilient, environmental friendly agricultural production system. And what is striking about it is that all the recommendations for the Green Agriculture are easy to follow – this is what our farmers used to do in the past, when there were no such things as high-tech tractors and “advanced” synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Conscious farmers do not  harm the environment to get a substantial increase in the short term, as they know that this will affect their production capacity in the long term. Conscious farmers use simple and effective solutions, like intercropping.

The UNEP has also published some successful histories related to Green Economy in developing countries. One of them is about Organic farmers in Uganda – and how they learned better post harvest techniques, and how to sustainably manage the natural resources. In a country that could easily be the victim of an agriculture sector highly dependent upon chemical imports, the rise of the organic sector is excellent news for the environment, and for the income of thousands of small farmers.

It’s histories like these that we like to read. Let’s get more people committed to the Green Economy cause!

“Managing Ecosystems for Sustainable Livelihoods”.

The FAO (UN) has released a document on the relationship between energy and food production capability.

“A combination of small-scale renewable energy systems and improved use of traditional biomass can provide access to reliable and affordable energy for many rural, forest and fishing communities currently without basic energy services in low-GDP countries. In the short term, fossil fuels may also be required to address energy poverty in rural areas. However, where feasible, it would be preferable to leap-frog directly to renewable energy systems to avoid investments in technologies that will lock users into fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. The potential co-benefits of renewable energy on livelihoods, employment, health, rural development should be considered.”

Renewable energy is cheaper (on the long term), and frees the small farmers from fossil fuel-based systems. Many are concerned about the “energy crisis”and how it may affect industries, but we also seem to forget that agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

Read the entire document here.

Evergreen Agriculture

Dr Dennis Garrity, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, uses the word Evergreen to describe an Agriculture system that combines Agroforestry with the principles of conservation farming.

There is an interesting post about this practice on the World Agroforestry Centre’s website.

In this post, we notice that Evergreen Agriculture involves three main principles:

Disturbing the soil as little as possible (i.e. minimum or zero tillage)

Keeping the soil covered with organic material such as crop residues

Rotating and diversifying crops, especially making use of leguminous species that replenish soil nutrients.

The addition of agroforestry offers multiple livelihood benefits to farmers, including sources of green fertilizer to build healthier soils and enhance crop production, and providing fruits, medicines, livestock fodder, timber and fuelwood. There are environmental benefits too, in the form of shelter, erosion control, more effective water cycles and watershed protection, increased biodiversity, greater resilience to climate change, and carbon storage and accumulation. In fact, one tropical tree can sequester at least 22.6 kg of carbon from the atmosphere each year. In the current situation, in which we need to create alternatives to produce food for a constantly growing population, in a world of limited resources and in the face of climate change, Evergreen agriculture and the like are very welcome, and should be recommended for the small farmers of all over the world, specially from the food insecure countries.

Evergreen practices are being used by thousands of famers in Zambia, Tanzania*, Malawi, Niger and Burkina Faso, who are restoring soil capacities and increasing their incomes.  This is another great example of a simple solution with great results. Hope more farmers around the world can realize its benefits.

*For information on Evergreen Agriculture in Tanzania, go to:

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Climate Change and its Impact on Agriculture

The World Bank worked on a serious of maps that  show how global climate will change and how this will impact agriculture, water supply, the economy, etc.

Climate change will impact agriculture in tropical areas more than it will do on temperate countries. Effects expected so far are increased temperature and decreased supply of suitable water for cropping. The good news is that if we start now, agricultural systems can be made more resilient to such changes, by applying simple agroecological techniques that have been advocated by the FAO.

Take a look at the maps and know the impacts on your area. Act. Get involved. Warn people.

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Greenpeace supports ecological agriculture

Greenpeace organization has published on its website a post about ecological agriculture and organic farming, one of its subsets.

It argues that chemical intensive agriculture has resulted in food with high levels of toxicity in China, and encourage the small farmers from that country specifically to pursue more sustainable ways of producing food.

Here is an excerpt of Greenpeace’s pitch for Ecological Agriculture:

Ecological agriculture can feed the world, and do it in a safe and sustainable way.

Ecological farming defends nature and people by protecting soil, water and climate. It also promotes biodiversity, ensures healthy farming and healthy food and does not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs or genetic engineering.

Ecological farming relies on agro-ecological soil fertility. Growing legumes and/or adding compost, animal dung or green manure are some smart ways to increase the organic matter and fertility of the soil, without using chemical fertilisers. Natural nutrient cycling and nitrogen fixation not only reduce farmers’ expenses on artificial inputs, but they also make for a healthier, more fertile soil that is rich in organic matter, better able to hold water and less prone to erosion.

Ecological farming also relies on natural pest protection without the use of chemical pesticides, by making agro-ecosystems more pest-resilient.

The current chemical-intensive mode of agriculture is polluting the environment, producing contaminated food, ravaging farmers’ livelihoods and undermining food security. On the other hand, ecological agriculture is critical to feeding the world, protecting human health and the environment and safeguarding farmers’ livelihoods, especially in a time of climate change.

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What companies, universities, you, I, can do to improve food production?

I am a big fan of Jason Clay and his work at WWF. Since most of our food comes from big companies, WWF has partnered with around 60 major agribusiness companies, that account for around 40% of the world’s supply of some key commodities (see the video below for further details). This partnership will bring about some sustainable improvements on the sourcing of commodities, some conduct codes and guidelines for the farmers and for the companies as well.

We can expect significant improvements with great impact with these partnerships. Since we can’t stop the big multinationals, we must leverage them to follow sustainable guidelines that will improve the lives of farmers as well as reduce their impact on the environment.

Agriculture is the biggest threat to biodiversity, water resources, land degradation, and greenhouse emissions. Yes, agriculture is a big issue. But we can’t live without food. That is why how we produce our food matters so much. Specially when we foresee almost 2 more billion people sharing the same space with us by 2050.

Watch the video for inspiration!

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Education, training and knowledge will be critical in scaling up CSA

How to scale up CSA? Here are some ideas that experts shared with the New Agriculturist website on how to scale up CSA practices, and hopefully, gain governments’ and small farmers’ buy in.

Policies need to be developed to incentivise and reward climate smart practices, including carbon sequestration. Education, training and knowledge will also be critical – including early warning systems to alert farmers to weather changes, along with support and promotion through farm extension services. In addition, we need increased support for research, development and technologies, to ensure wider availability of drought tolerant crop varieties.
George Jacob

Our future agriculture needs to be flexible and able to deal with a range of uncertain impacts of climate change. It should be highly productive while at the same time low in emissions. This will only be possible if we have resourceful farmers, farmers that are well-educated, have access to infrastructure, inputs, varieties, markets, knowledge and information. So, above all, let us invest in empowering smart agriculturalists!
An Notenbaert, International Livestock Research Institute

Immediate priorities should include the realisation of the G8 funding commitments made in L’Aquila; national government commitment to earmark specific funding to re-establish and improve extension services; a strong and global commitment to supporting public-private partnerships as a means to advance research and the adoption of new practices and technologies; and specific commitments to research funding in key crops and on key issues, such as water use.
Farming first coalition

Early action is needed to identify, pilot and scale-up best practices to strengthen institutional capacities and enhance experiences that can help make informed choices to transform agriculture. Tools and knowledge on Climate Smart Agriculture must be further enhanced and shared. We must invest in education, capacity development and communication of climate-smart practices.
Alberto Sandoval

If Climate Smart Agriculture can increase food production and be sustained over time, it may lead to higher global food security. However, producing more food is only one of many chords that need to be orchestrated before every human on the planet can consume the minimum daily calories required to sustain life. Currently, food is available – the challenge for poor people across the globe is accessing food they can afford. Increased productivity is necessary but not sufficient to ensure food security.
Marco Rondon

Climate Smart Agriculture adds mitigation to a focus on well-established agricultural strategies around raising productivity, growth through modernisation, technology development and the green revolution. Yet whilst the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture reinforces the status quo around growth, the evidence base to suggest that growth approaches are the solution to, and not just the cause of, the climate problem, remains at best inconclusive.
Rocio Hiraldo/Andy Newsham, Institute of Development Studies/Future Agricultures Consortium

CSA is the latest attempt to reconcile the dual, competing, prerogatives for achieving global food security: increasing agricultural productivity whilst maintaining environmental integrity through a combination of mitigation and adaptation strategies. Unfortunately the practical results of these dualistic trade-offs often create unforeseen consequences, such as an increased reliance on technological and other inputs. This can further marginalise those that are already excluded from the global development agenda, thereby exacerbating existing inequalities in the food system.
Laura Pereira, Oxford University/Future Agricultures Consortium

CSA practices propose a transformation of agriculture, in the way we grow food and treat the environment in a changing climate. Think about it. Share this post with whom you need to leverage. Let’s spread the word. Let’s have the policy makers listen to this. Let’s change the way food is produced so people in 2050 have sustainably produced food in their tables.

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