Why restrictive agroecology can’t be a solution to food insecurity in Africa


Bags of rice at Mwea Rice Growers Multipurpose Cooperative Society. FILE PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

Late last month, world leaders gathered at the UN Headquarters in New York to review the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.

The UN recognises the urgency to end hunger and achieve food security across the globe.

Covid-19 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine have caused a devastating impact on Africa's food security, triggering a shortage of at least 30 million tons of food across the continent, especially sugar, sunflower oil, wheat, maize and soybeans.

A report by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) indicates that despite a decade of pro-growth and food security policies and programmes such as the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), 200 million Africans are chronically malnourished and five million die of hunger annually.

Proponents of agroecology have always fronted it as the ultimate solution to the African food security problem. They champion indigenous approaches, resisting the industrialisation of African agriculture, and rejecting both the use of genetic engineering and the privatisation of living organisms. 

But when locusts for instance invade a farm, would you advise farmers not to use pesticides, for example? 

The argument for “limiting synthetic pesticides and fertilisers” does no good to the farmer but surely directs that farmer into perpetual poverty. To solve the problem of hunger in Africa, we must start by enhancing food production. We must embrace technological advancements such as plant breeding, tissue culture, animal husbandry and the like.

Several studies have shown that African farmers are moving towards large investments in agriculture which has a positive effect on local communities’ livelihoods through employment, newly generated livelihood opportunities and the uptake of technological farming practices and by improving access to modern agricultural inputs.

For the African farmer to realise a profitable and reliable production for the global market, investing in industrial/commercial agriculture which increases productivity and income is essential.

Improved agricultural production increases the availability of food in the market and reduces prices for consumers.

Despite the call to adopt technologies and “climate-smart agriculture” that will help make crops more resilient to future extreme weather events.

Erratic farming practices such as the failure to apply mineral or organic fertilizers and soil erosion, are depriving croplands across sub-Saharan Africa of 30-80kg per hectare of essential plant nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen.

A model of agroecology that limits farming inputs to solely indigenous materials is too restrictive to transform the sector.

It is prone to meet resistance from farmers. Such rigid paradigms shall at their best seek not to transform, but to trap farmers in unending poverty.

The urgent need to transform Africa’s agriculture has led to the rise of several advocacy groups. Others, however, in the name of advocating for holistic and sustainable models, are knowingly or unknowingly pushing Africa to traditional methods that have proved futile over the years.

Africa needs to transform its economic structure to sustain growth with the right policies and enabling environment in place, it has the potential to bring the best of agricultural, manufacturing, and services sectors.

Otieno Panya is a Sustainable Supply Chain Management lecturer at Jomo Kenyatta University(JKUAT).

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