A virtual roundtable bringing together African smallholder farmers from across the continent and international funders as well as other civil society organisations to learn about mutual perspectives and better understand key debates and practical needs of farmers towards addressing climate justice.
While 23 percent and more of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP comes from agriculture, most African countries are still dependent on food imports (UN). Many African governments see agriculture as a growth sector, yet they often focus on attracting (foreign direct) investments for large-scale commercial farming enterprises. That increases the risk of land grabbing and diverts resources from the backbone of African agriculture: Small-scale farmers, who make up 60% of the African population and work 80% of Africa’s arable land.
Furthermore, the strong focus on productivity increases through external inputs and large-scale mono-cropping in conventional farming contributes to soil depletion and land degradation, which is further exacerbated by the effects of climate change. According to UNCCD estimates, nearly three-fourths of land that is vital for agriculture and food production in Africa is already degraded, mainly due to climate change effects and unsustainable land use practices.
In recent years, regenerative forms of agriculture including agroecology have gained prominence as a possible pathway, both towards ecosystem restoration and climate resilience but also regarding food security, supported by African movement like AFSA – Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, ESAFF- the Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum, ROPPA, African Centre for Biodiversity, PELUM Association, ActionAid International as well as other local and international organizations. such as AGRA and One Acre Fund.
There has been a great diversity of approaches promoted under the frame of regenerative practices, from climate-smart agriculture to conservation agriculture. These approaches are based on a plethora of different definitions for “regenerative”. Many social movements criticize these approaches running under the frame of regenerative practices as too narrowly focused on offering technical quick fixes, access to inputs and markets, while underlying questions of social justice and rights for small-scale farmers, particularly for indigenous people, women and youths involved in agriculture, of land tenure and food sovereignty are ignored.
As a reaction to the shortcomings of those rather technical solutions, the concept of agroecology has gained quite some traction – not only with international organizations such as FAO, but also with social movements in Africa, as a promising and more systemic approach to a just and sustainable transformation of agriculture and food systems, that aims not only at food security but at food sovereignty for African communities as well. The “narrow” definition for agroecology advocated for by actors like AFSA is, however, contested by other players in the field, and there are very different positions on how agroecology should incorporate farming technology and the use of fertilizers and pesticides to ensure productivity.
In the middle of this rather polarized discussion is a vast and fragmented civil society space of local and regional farmer’s associations, women’s and indigenous movements that offer a wide range of perspectives on regenerative agriculture, agroecology and food sovereignty in Africa.
ESAFF define agroecology as “As a set of agricultural practices that enhance agricultural systems by mimicking natural processes, thus creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies among the components of the agroecosystem. It provides the most favourable soil conditions for plant/animal growth, particularly by managing organic matter and by raising soil biotic activity. The core principles of agroecology include recycling nutrients and energy on the farm, rather than introducing external inputs; integrating crops and livestock; diversifying species and genetic resources in agroecosystems over time and space; and focusing on interactions and productivity across the agricultural system, rather than focusing on individual species. Agroecology is highly knowledge-intensive, based on techniques that are not delivered top-down but developed on the basis of farmers’ knowledge and experimentation”.