The world is grappling with the challenge of how to address climate change. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) underpins the urgency of taking global action to halt climate change and deal with its growing effects. The report which was released on August 9, 2021, cautions that without immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it will be impossible to limit global warming close to 1.5°C or even 2°C.
In response to this challenge, several solutions have emerged including genetic engineering of trees for industrial tree plantations that will be used as agrofuels and “carbon sinks”; ocean fertilisation (for example dumping iron particles in the sea); Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) including fossil fuel combustion with CCS and bioenergy with CCS; soil carbon sequestration schemes linked to industrial agriculture.
Corporations are promoting questionable solutions for climate change adaptation including genetic engineering – using patented genes to induce resistance in crops to drought, salinity and extreme temperatures.
These solutions fail to address the issue of climate change from the root, they harm biodiversity, communities and ecosystems and will further destabilise the climate. They also result in the displacement of, and the loss of rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.
The world needs solutions to climate change which address the problem without further harming our ecosystem or destroying the livelihoods of our peoples. One of such solutions is Agroecology.
On August 30, 2021, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) organised a workshop with researchers, policy experts and representatives from the Ministry of Environment as well as the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to examine the importance of Agroecology in climate change mitigation/adaptation as well as in ensuring food sovereignty. Stakeholders at the workshop considered policy entry points for Agroecology.
In his opening remarks, the Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, stated that, to successfully address the challenge of climate change, we must change the way we relate with our ecosystem; the way we exploit natural resources and the way we produce the food that we consume.
“Climate change increases the vulnerabilities and uncertainties of Nigerian farmers while agroecology reduces environmental footprint of agriculture as opposed to fossil-fuels driven industrial agriculture. We must desist form production measures which disrupt ecosystem balance and which pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” he added.
Speaking on “Agroecology as a Viable Solution to the Climate and Food Crises”, food sovereignty activist, Mariann Bassey-Orovwuje, explained that Agroecology is a bottom-top approach which harnesses local/traditional knowledge as well as scientific innovation in agriculture.
According to her, Agroecology uses a range of practices including mixed cropping, crop rotation, composting, agroforestry, biological pest control, cover cropping, and biomas recycling. which do not only help to optimise and improve yields but help with resilience to the impact of climate change. She added that Agroecology promotes biodiversity which is a key principle in climate change mitigation.
“Agroecological initiatives aim at transforming industrial agriculture by transitioning existing food systems away from fossil fuel-based production largely for agro-export crops and biofuels towards an alternative agricultural paradigm that encourages local and national food production by small and family farmers based on local innovation, resources and solar energy. This implies ensuring the access of peasants to land, seeds, water, credit and local markets through the creation of supportive economic policies, financial incentives, and market opportunities; as well as the scaling-up of agroecological technologies,” she further explained.
While industrial farming claims to have raised yields, it has done so at great cost, with large amounts of GHG emissions (e.g from production of inorganic fertilisers) with extensive soil damage, huge biodiversity loss, and negative impacts on food sovereignty. Agroecology offers a wide range of sustainable benefits far beyond yields. Agroecological farming help to trap and store carbon in the soil.
Where conventional agriculture seeks to streamline, agroecology embraces complexity. Where conventional agriculture aims to eliminate biodiversity, agroecology depends on diversity, and builds upon it. Where conventional agriculture pollutes and degrades, Agroecology regenerates and restores, working with nature, not against her. Agroecology works in harmony with nature, using cultivation techniques and breeding programmes that do not rely on chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or artificial genetic modifications.
Building resilience in agricultural systems means, first taking care of soil health. Healthy soils absorb water more easily. Enriched by organic manure, compost, mulches or nitrogen-fixing trees, such soils are able to hold a large amount of moisture over a sustained period, protecting farmers longer in drought conditions. Communities have been able to build resilience by increasing the agricultural biodiversity of their farms, mainly through expanding the range of crops being grown, in particular those naturally adapted to climate stresses.
They also build resilience by increasing their crop diversity through community-based seed production, farmer managed seed systems and seed sharing practices. Despite so much bad news about the growing severity of climate change impacts in Africa, the tools provided by agroecology give farming communities much reason to face the challenges with confidence and courage.
The food we eat and the food systems we enjoy are shaped by a variety of distinct and disparate policy frameworks: agriculture, food safety and public health, nutrition, trade, environmental protection (including biodiversity), climate and energy, economic and social cohesion, rural development and international development, employment and education.
Speaking on “Promoting Agroecology For Climate Resilient Agriculture and Food Security In Nigeria – Realigning Policies”, climate change specialist, Professor Emmanuel Oladipo of the University of Lagos, noted that although Agroecological practices are understood as representing the most effective way to achieve sustainable food security and nutrition for all in a changing climate, particularly in a developing economy like Nigeria, their importance and relevance to helping society adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change in the food security value chain is still not fully explored because of policy constraints.
Professor Oladipo called for more advocacy and a powerful movement to bring together governments, international agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), communities, and academics from all disciplines to promote the value of agroecology to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change on national food security for sustain-able development.
In 2020, HOMEF carried out a review of the policy landscape and found that no policy specifically related to agroecology exists within the current national climate change and agriculture policy arena.
The National Agricultural Resilience Framework (NARF) was found to be the closest related national framework that can be adapted for agroecological policy intervention in Nigeria. Other significant ones are National Climate Change Policy; National Climate Change Programme; NASPA-CCN; NDC; and Agricultural Promotion Policy.
Oladipo further stated that Agroecology has a large potential space in climate policy dialogues but that a number of actions need to be put in place to elevate Agroecology to a high level of policy discussion including by expanding the evidence based approach; advocating for agroecology-specific policy framework in the context of addressing the climate change challenge; building capacity of relevant national and local institutions for agroecology advocacy; facilitating local and international financing; and embarking on practical field demonstrations.
“The obvious approach is to review relevant and related policies regarding negative consequences for adoption of agroecological practices and reform as necessary, coupled with positive development of policies that encourage adoption of agroecological practices in an integrative manner across different sectors and scales,” he concluded.
Stakeholders agreed on the importance of Agroecology in climate change mitigation as well as food security and the need for its integration in our climate change and agriculture policies. This, they said, is the sure way to increase the resilience of farmers against the threats of climate change.
By Kome Odhomor (Media/Communication Officer, Health of Mother Earth Foundation – HOMEF)