East Africa: Building regenerative, sustainable Agricultural industry

Joseph Checky Abuje

Agriculture is an essential part of East Africa’s economy and by extension the African continent. In most cases, rural farmers play a critical role in the sector’s growth.

Statistics from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), indicate that the agricultural sector directly contributes up to 25% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 27% indirectly through linkages to other sectors and also accounts for more than 60% of Kenya’s export earnings.

In other East African countries like Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, the sector plays a pivotal role in their sustainable development agenda. In Uganda, 80% of her land is arable with a paltry 35% under agriculture.

The sector accounts for 24% and 35% of the country’s GDP and Exports respectively with 68% of the population employed in agriculture. This is the same scenario in Tanzania where the main economic activity is agriculture at 70%. Agriculture also accounts for 75% of jobs in the country, with 80% of agricultural produce produced by smallholder farmers.

However, with rapidly growing population and climate shocks threatening the agricultural sector at both local, regional and continental levels due to extreme weather conditions, land subdivisions, soil degradation, overcropping, overgrazing and poor farming techniques, food security in Africa is endangered and this has compelled the continent to spend huge budget of billions of tax payers’ money on importing food stuffs and fertilisers to gap the deficit in a bid to address the insecurities and poverty situation in continent.

Experts largely attribute this to climate change phenomena like floods and erratic rains as well as the linear model of farming which most African countries have adopted.

However, the narrative is positively changing for the better.

Caleb Omollo, an expert and trainer in the regenerative farming model across East Africa said that over-reliance on the linear farming model in Africa has created a vacuum in food security and adds that there is need for a paradigm shift to circular farming, popularly referred to as “regenerative Agriculture”.

Mr Omollo who also runs Sustainable Village Resource Centre, noted that Africa is on the positive trajectory in embracing circular economy for sustainable agriculture through organic farming.

“With current global emphasis on adoption of circular economy in all sectors of production, there is a foreseeable hope to reverse the African food insecurity narrative to food self-reliance and sustainable agriculture as well as climate change mitigation towards sustainable development in Africa,” he remarked.

Omollo says he has trained over 500 farmers in Kenya, 250 (Rwanda) and 350 (Uganda) adding that in order to build farmers resilience in Africa and for the continent to realize its potential in food security and environmental conservation, regenerative agriculture is the option where this model involves rejuvenating soil fertility to increase production and reduces carbon emissions which is not only good for agriculture, but also a climate change mitigation measure.

In semi-urban areas in Eastern Africa, the food security narrative is shifting towards organic farming as agricultural production is constantly under threat due to risks of climate change, over population and poor farming practices.

According to omollo, local farmers in Western Kenya are gradually shifting towards regenerative agriculture which he says is changing their fortunes. Syprine Oniala is a widow and a member of “Mbeka Widows Coffee farmers’ group’ based in Kisumu rural and confirms her venture into regenerative farming of vegetables has seen her economic fortunes and food security interventions change positively.

“I eat these vegetables and feel very strong. The orphans that I take care of are very strong and have good and healthy skin because they feed on leafy vegetables free from chemicals,” said the elated widow.

Another group member Susan Akinyi, disclosed to Africa Science News that before they were trained on regenerative agriculture, they used conventional chemicals and fertilizers that destroyed their crops and depleted key nutrients from the the soils besides health complications.

“Before we were trained by  Omolo on regenerative farming practices, we used to make huge losses from our shambas. We could not afford to buy fertilizers for our farms in a move that led us towards being food insecure” reiterated jubilant Akinyi.

Mbeka Widows Coffee Farmers’ group comprises of 25 widowed women who came together to practice circular farming as a trend for global sustainable agriculture that is eco-friendly to mitigate against climate change by eliminating use of chemicals and fertilizers in their farms.

Pamela Adhiambo, the group’s secretary, discloses the socio-economic benefits of her reverting into organic farming that includes and not limited to meeting school fees requirements of her children.

Mr Victor Kaluwa, a lecturer at the University of Zambia underscores the importance of regenerative agriculture as a counter to risks of climate change  in the sector, adding that the model plays a crucial role in stabilizing soil fertility and thus improves yields and also encourages water conservation.

According to Dr Imelda Mianda Khachofwe, a lecturer at the Copper Belt University in Zambia,  regenerative agriculture gives the farmer a choice of growing a variety of crops on a small piece of land for maximum production for food security.

“The African population is growing and the continent must find ways of producing enough food against diminishing land. We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where we are only dependant on foreign food aid as a continent,” she remarked.

Speaking during an exchange programme visit to Kenya,  the two lecturers said African continent must change the farming narrative from linear farming model to circular farming model, which they say has a promising future in terms of food, health and environmental security.

Mr Christian Makokha (HSC), a Kenyan environmentalist, there is core-relation between organic farming and climate change mitigation measures.

He says organic farming reduces greenhouse emissions that are energy active through sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere into the soil, adding that it replaces synthetic fertilizers with biomass which enhances soil fertility and increased soil carbon that supports agricultural sustainability.

Mr Saxton Banda, an Agricultural engineer at the University of Zambia reiterated that in order to ensure food security in ‘our countries’ and urged other farmers across the continent to invest more in organic farming to help the continent come out of food imports bondage.

“We are here today in Kenya on exchange programme on permaculture. Our essence is to learn about permaculture so that the young generation can adopt the concept of regenerative farming as a way of mitigating diverse threats of climate change in Africa,” said Banda.

He however lauded effort by rural farmers in Western Kenya in adopting regenerative farming.

Nonetheless, Khachofwe observes that Africa is not coping well in being food secure and there is need for incorporating young people into such exchange programme to ensure continuity in sustainable agriculture.

She noted that farming systems in Africa have been destroyed and regenerative agriculture has the potential of restoring back the soils to bring the system back to life for high yield.  

“Let Africa go back to older ways of farming practised by our forefathers to achieve the much needed food security.”

However, Mr Omollo warned that as organic farming provides a new frontier for food security in Africa, multinational fertilizer companies could corrupt the system for their own selfish interest.

He notes that organic farming is labour intensive and could discourage small holder farmers from venturing in it fully thus the need to work closely with them and offer solution to challenges that my arise.

Photo, Videos credits- Josephy Abuje

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