Returning to the basics in agriculture preserves the environment

A French Parliamentarian and former Agriculture Minister, Stephane Le Foll, is making a strong case for ecological agriculture which replaces chemical fertilisers with natural methods such as intercropping – a practice that African farmers have utilised successfully for centuries.

It is not uncommon to see maize farmers intercropping with beans or other crops, while most farmers in the country apply compost with positive effects for yields. He cites Asia, where farmers who grow rice also rear fish in the same fields to increase income and reduce weeds.

Planting trees amid crops and rotating foods grown to improve soils is something that is known to every indigenous smallholder farmer; but with modernisation and the increased application of agro-chemicals they are abandoning their age-old practice for agro-chemicals, believing that this will result in increased yields.

However, with the onslaught of climate change and global warming, agriculture is in transition in many parts of the globe – with farmers resorting more to agroecology principles in response.

At a three-day ecology conference held under the auspices of the FAO recently, experts complained how global food production is currently based on the extensive use of costly chemical fertilisers and pesticides which are harmful to the environment and human health.

Yet in spite of all this obvious knowledge, our agricultural experts are pushing for the extensive use of these harmful chemicals at great cost to the economy.

The experts noted that introducing agroecology principles reduces the risk of exposure to climate change. Donors’ focus on commercial agriculture in Africa could make the continent miss an opportunity to promote agroecology for increased and improved yields.

At every opportunity, we tend to discard what is positive in our tradition for foreign solutions that do not exactly fit our peculiar situation – and we end up more confused. Agro-chemicals are being encouraged for our farmers, who are often unlettered and need direction for their proper application, yet the ratio of extension officers to the farming community is woefully inadequate.

Let us retain some of the positive aspects of our tradition which have been handed down over the years, because they tend to be more eco-friendly and healthy as well as being more economical.