According to a report, both international and local donors are increasingly investing in industrial agricultural projects to the disadvantage of interventional measures that convert food systems and safeguard the environment at the same time.
Developed by the UK Institute of Development Studies, Swiss Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development, as well as the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), the report showed that vulnerabilities in African smallholders toward negative environmental and social impacts such as severe droughts and insecure land rights, respectively, require a feasible agricultural method, known as agroecology, that builds resilient food systems and sustainable environment.
The report also revealed that agroecology is a kind of farming technique that supports the use of nature, such as plants, to fight agricultural pests, enrich soils, and also enhance the health of soils.
Large-scale production of animals and crops—that is, industrial agriculture—results in excess use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that have environmental hazards, such as pollution.
Scientists examined 445 agricultural research projects for development projects in Kenya, financially supported by institutions in Kenya, Switzerland, and by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). They also evaluated the contributions of these research projects toward the nation’s shift to sustainable food systems.
“As many as 85 per cent of projects funded by the BMGF and more than 70 per cent of projects carried out by Kenyan research institutes were limited to supporting industrial agriculture,” noted the report published recently on 10th June, 2020.
“Just 13 per cent of Swiss-funded projects focussed only on industrial agriculture and efficiency-based approaches,” added the report.
Olivier De Schutter, the study’s co-author and co-chair of IPES-Food, informed SciDev.Net that governments and large donors usually do not assume that agroecology can be adequately productive and fulfill the challenge of the growing food demand.
Big donors tend to neglect the potential of agroecology, in part, simply because of a lack of imagination. The green revolution technologies [such as chemical fertilisers] have since the 1960s been promoted as the only pathway that could be followed, without any serious consideration of the alternatives.
Olivier De Schutter, Study Co-Author and Co-Chair, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems
All the 445 research projects, which were adopted from 2013 to 2018, had an overall budget of almost US$1.2 billion.
However, as per the email statement made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, their agricultural development investments are looking to enhance nutrition, render smallholder livestock and crops more productive, and help empower female farmers.
“Over the past decade, we have worked closely with national partners in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, to identify and support a wide range of innovations, investments, and policies that empower farmers with the tools they need to improve their livelihoods and lift their communities out of poverty,” added the statement.
Smallholders should be allowed to select from a host of innovations that can help them adapt to stressful situations, like floods, droughts, high temperatures, diseases, and pests, added the statement.
The report recommends that the adoption of agricultural projects that target agroecology should be expedited. These involve a transition towards long-term funding models and the requirement for donors to demand projects that involve both communities and smallholders in jointly designing them.
De Schutter is also the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. According to him, investment should be made in agroecology training because the practice is not only knowledge-intensive but also supports highly context-specific techniques.
According to Denis Otieno, a resource economist at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology based in Kenya, the high returns on investment promoted by industrial agriculture render it more attractive when compared to agroecology.
Since the industrial revolution, industrial agriculture responds to our challenges of food security and raw materials. It is a business model that almost guarantees return on money invested despite pitfalls of pollution and loss of biodiversity that come with it.
Denis Otieno, Resource Economist, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology
However, Otieno added that policymakers should aim to strike a balance between agroecology and industrial agriculture, since both have benefits in terms of guaranteeing environmental sustainability and dealing with the growing food demands.
For example, agroecology could be supported by industrial agriculture via taxation that pays for the damage, like pollution, induced by the latter.
“Both models have strengths and [thus African countries] need a policy mix of the two. We cannot take low yields in exchange for a better environment. We need models that ensure food security and environmental sustainability,” Otieno informed SciDev.Net.