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Africa at the Crossroads: Time to Abandon Failing Green Revolution

As COVID-19 threatens farming communities across Africa already struggling with climate change, the continent is at a crossroads. Will its people and their governments continue trying to replicate industrial farming models promoted by developed countries? Or will they move boldly into the uncertain future, embracing ecological agriculture?

It is time to choose. Africa is projected to overtake South Asia by 2030 as the region with the greatest number of hungry people. An alarming 250 million people in Africa now suffer from “undernourishment,” the U.N. term for chronic hunger. If policies do not change, experts project that number to soar to 433 million in 2030.

The evidence is now convincing that the Green Revolution model of agriculture, with its commercial seeds and synthetic fertilizers, has failed to bring progress for Africa’s farmers. Since 2006, under the banner of the billion-dollar Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA), that strategy has had an unprecedented opportunity to generate improved productivity, incomes, and food security for small-scale farmers. African governments have spent billions of dollars subsidizing and promoting the adoption of these imported technologies

According to a recent report, “False Promises.” evidence from AGRA’s 13 countries indicates that it is taking Africa in the wrong direction. Productivity has improved marginally, and only for a few chosen crops such as maize. Others have withered in a drought of neglect from donor agencies and government leaders. In AGRA’s 13 focus countries, the production of millet, a hearty, nutritious and climate-resilient grain, fell 24% while yields declined 21%. This leaves poor farmers with less crop diversity in their fields and less nutritious food on their children’s plates.

Small-scale farming households, the intended beneficiaries of Green Revolution programs, seem scarcely better off. Poverty remains high, and severe food insecurity has increased 31% across AGRA’s 13 countries, as measured by the United Nations.

Rwanda, the home country of AGRA’s president, Agnes Kalibata, is held up as an example of AGRA’s success. After all, maize production increased fourfold since AGRA began in 2006 under Kalibata’s leadership as Agriculture Minister. The “False Promises” report refers to Rwanda as “AGRA’s hungry poster child.” All that maize apparently did not benefit the rural poor. Other crops went into decline and the number of undernourished Rwandans increased 41% since 2006, according to the most recent U.N. figures.

Green Revolution proponents have had 14 years to demonstrate they can lead Africa into a food-secure future. Billions of dollars later, they have failed. AGRA wrapped up its annual Green Revolution Forum September 11 without providing any substantive responses to the findings.

With a pandemic threatening to disrupt what climate change does not, Africa needs to take a different path, one that focuses on ecological farm management using low-cost, low-input methods that rely on a diversity of crops to improve soils and diets.

Many farmers are already blazing that trail, and some governments are following with bold steps to change course.

In fact, two of the three AGRA countries that have reduced both the number and share of undernourished people – Ethiopia and Mali – have done so in part due to policies that support ecological agriculture.

Ethiopia, which has reduced the incidence of undernourishment from 37% to 20% since 2006, has built on a 25-year effort in the northern Tigray Region to promote compost, not just chemical fertilizer, along with soil and water conservation practices, and biological control of pests. In field trials, such practices have proven more effective than Green Revolution approaches. The program was so successful it has become a national program and is currently being implemented in at least five regions.

Mali is the AGRA country that showed the greatest success in reducing the incidence of hunger (from 14% to 5% since 2006). According to a case study in the “False Promises” report, progress came not because of AGRA but because the government and farmers’ organizations actively resisted its implementation. Land and seed laws guarantee farmers’ rights to choose their crops and farming practices, and government programs promote not just maize but a wide variety of food crops.

Mali is part of a growing regional effort in West Africa to promote agroecology. According to a recent report by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has developed an Agroecology Transition Support Program to promote the shift away from Green Revolution practices. The work is supported by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as part of its “Scaling Up Agroecology” program.

In Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal, farmers’ organizations are working with their governments to promote agroecology, including the subsidization of biofertilizers and other natural inputs as alternatives to synthetic fertilizers.

In the drylands of West Africa, farmers in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ghana and Niger are leading “another kind of green revolution.” They are regenerating tree growth and diversifying production as part of agro-forestry initiatives increasingly supported by national governments. This restores soil fertility, increases water retention, and has been shown to increase yields 40%-100% within five years while increasing farmer incomes and food security. It runs counter to AGRA’s approach of agricultural intensification.

Senegal, which cut the incidence of severe hunger from 17% to 9% since 2006, is one of the regional leaders. Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Senegal’s Ambassador to the FAO, summarized the reasons the government is so committed to the agroecological transition in a foreword to the IPES report:

“We have seen agroecological practices improve the fertility of soils degraded by drought and chemical input use. We have seen producers’ incomes increase thanks to the diversification of their crop production and the establishment of new distribution channels. We have seen local knowledge enriched by modern science to develop techniques inspired by lived experience, with the capacity to reduce the impacts of climate change. And we have seen these results increase tenfold when they are supported by favorable policy frameworks, which place the protection of natural resources, customary land rights, and family farms at the heart of their action.”

Those “favorable policy frameworks” are exactly what African farmers need from their governments as climate change and COVID-19 threaten food security. It is time for African governments to step back from the failing Green Revolution and chart a new food system that respects local cultures and communities by promoting low-cost, low-input ecological agriculture.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams

Agro-Eco Filipinas ayuda a los agricultores filipinos a realizar la transición a prácticas regenerativas agroecológicas y orgánicas

DAVAO, FILIPINAS – Hace ya un año, Regeneration International (RI) firmó el pacto “Regeneración Filipinas”, un Memorando de Entendimiento entre la Liga Filipina de Municipios, Ciudades y Provincias Orgánicas (LOAMCP) y RI.

Hoy, un año después, tenemos la suerte de haber vuelto a contactar virtualmente con nuestros amigos en Filipinas, esta vez, mediante la incorporación de un nuevo socio de RI, Agro-Eco Filipinas (AEP), una organización que se dedica a “construir comunidades agrícolas resilientes y economías sostenibles”.

AEP comenzó su trabajo con pequeños agricultores en Mindanao en el sur de Filipinas en 1991. Hoy, la organización gubernamental sin fines de lucro (ONG) trabaja con 4.000 agricultores individuales en 300 organizaciones de agricultores en Mindanao, Visayas oriental y Luzón oriental.

Su misión es defender el derecho de los filipinos a una alimentación saludable, mitigar el hambre en las comunidades agrícolas afectadas por la pobreza y capacitar a los agricultores en prácticas orgánicas regenerativas y agroecológicas que les permiten producir alimentos saludables, aumentan el sustento socioeconómico de los agricultores y desarrollan la resiliencia contra los efectos del cambio climático.

AEP también invierte en el desarrollo de mercados locales a través de la investigación liderada por la comunidad para ayudar a aumentar los ingresos de los pequeños agricultores.

En nuestra serie de videos “Caminos de regeneración”, que muestra historias de regeneración en todo el mundo, te presentamos a AEP y su trabajo para apoyar a agricultores filipinos a hacer la transición de prácticas convencionales a prácticas agroecológicas y regenerativas orgánicas.

En nuestro último episodio, “Agro-Eco Filipinas ayuda a los agricultores a ser orgánicos”, el director ejecutivo de AEP, Geonathan Barro, explica cómo la ONG ha capacitado a un número impresionante de agricultores en prácticas orgánicas. Barro nos dijo en una entrevista de Zoom:

“Hasta ahora, hemos capacitado a aproximadamente 10,000 agricultores convencionales para que hagan la transición a prácticas orgánicas. La clave está en aprovechar el arduo trabajo de los años anteriores sin depender de intermediarios o entidades corporativas para distribuir y procesar nuestros productos ”.

AEP cree firmemente que el papel que desempeñan los seres humanos en las granjas es un componente clave de la agroecología. Según su sitio web:

“Los agricultores . . . son actores críticos en la práctica y la transformación agroecológica. Son administradores de la biodiversidad y verdaderos guardianes del conocimiento relevante para esta transición. Por lo tanto, es importante que los conocimientos y tecnologías agroecológicas se desarrollen sobre la base del conocimiento y la experimentación de los agricultores. Además, esto significa que la agroecología tiene que ser específica al contexto y culturalmente apropiada. La agroecología aprovecha al máximo el capital humano, social y ambiental disponible a nivel local”.

 

La Revolución Verde obliga a los agricultores a adoptar un modelo agrícola degenerativo

El futuro no siempre ha sido tan brillante para algunos agricultores de Filipinas.

Desde el lanzamiento de la Revolución Verde en la década de 1960, los agricultores filipinos han dependido en gran medida de modelos agrícolas degenerativos. Estos modelos han obligado a millones de agricultores a endeudarse debido al alto costo de los fertilizantes químicos y pesticidas que, con el tiempo, erosionaron el suelo y contaminaron los cursos de agua.

Hace más de medio siglo, el gobierno filipino, con la influencia de la Fundación Ford y la Fundación Rockefeller, creó el Instituto Internacional de Investigación del Arroz (IRRI). En 1962, el IRRI cruzó las cepas de arroz Dee-Geo-woo-gen y Peta para crear el IR8 o “arroz milagroso”. En 1981, el “arroz milagroso” representaba más del 80 por ciento del total de cultivos de arroz en Filipinas.

El “arroz milagroso” produjo altos rendimientos, diez veces más que las variedades de arroz tradicionales, lo que permitió a Filipinas pasar de ser un importador de arroz a un exportador mundial.

Desafortunadamente, los beneficios de la Revolución Verde fueron de corta duración. También se vieron contrarrestados por el aumento de los costos de las altas deudas, la caída de los ingresos y las consecuencias ambientales de la agricultura intensiva en productos químicos.

Esta cadena de eventos se da en muchos países en desarrollo que fueron víctimas de las grandes corporaciones agrícolas que venden semillas de alto rendimiento que proporcionan cosechas productivas el primer año, pero el año siguiente requieren mayores aumentos en los insumos químicos.

El atractivo de los altos (pero insostenibles) rendimientos de estos cultivos ha llevado a un sistema de agricultores esclavizados cuyas tierras de cultivo se han vuelto improductivas sin la aplicación de insumos sintéticos y químicos.

Con el tiempo, los pesticidas destruyen microbios clave en el suelo y alteran su capacidad para retener nutrientes y agua, lo que hace que los agricultores sean más vulnerables a la sequía, las inundaciones, las plagas y las enfermedades relacionadas con los cultivos. Esto aumenta los costos de producción y pone a los pequeños agricultores en riesgo de quiebra.

Agricultores filipinos haciendo campaña contra el arroz dorado de Monsanto, promoviendo sistemas regenerativos de intensificación del arroz y defendiendo la soberanía local de semillas.

AEP capacita a los agricultores en prácticas regenerativas orgánicas que benefician al medio ambiente y a la comunidad

AEP está trabajando para romper los patrones de los sistemas alimentarios y agrícolas convencionales proporcionando a los pequeños agricultores acceso gratuito a semillas nativas locales e información sobre prácticas como el compostaje, cultivos de cobertura, conservación de semillas, rotación de cultivos e integración del ganado.

También enseña a los agricultores sobre agrosilvicultura, la incorporación de árboles a la agricultura y fomenta el intercambio de conocimientos entre compañeros agricultores.

Las prácticas agroecológicas y regenerativas orgánicas nunca antes habían sido tan importantes. Como en muchos países del mundo, la pandemia de COVID-19 ha provocado escasez de alimentos en Filipinas.

El lado positivo, sin embargo, es que los estantes vacíos de las tiendas han animado a los lugareños a comprar directamente a sus agricultores. Esto no solo ayuda a los pequeños agricultores, sino que también les brinda a las familias alimentos seguros y nutritivos que fortalecen el sistema inmunológico, dijo Barro a RI.

Vender directamente a los consumidores y eliminar las tiendas de comestibles de la ecuación ha permitido a los agricultores filipinos vender sus productos más baratos.

Luz Astronomo, miembro de AEP y pequeño agricultor de la ciudad de Davao, Filipinas, dijo a RI en una entrevista de Zoom que puede vender sus productos por un 60% menos que los otros porque todo lo que necesita para cultivarlos proviene de su granja, incluidas las semillas e insumos orgánicos.

“Por lo tanto, no tenemos que vender nuestros productos a un precio alto”, dijo.

En muchas localidades, los agricultores convencionales ahora compran alimentos de los agricultores orgánicos porque los sistemas de monocultivo de los que dependen no pueden competir con los sistemas agroecológicos diversificados que practican los miembros de la AEP. Barro dijo a RI:

“Estos son tiempos muy difíciles a causa de la COVID-19, pero estos tiempos tan difíciles nos han hecho ver de manera clara qué tipo de agricultura necesita el mundo para superar tales crisis”.

 

La agricultura regenerativa orgánica ayuda a combatir el cambio climático

Además de producir alimentos más saludables, las prácticas agrícolas regenerativas orgánicas  y agroecológicas ayudan a mitigar el cambio climático porque favorecen la salud del suelo y el almacenamiento del exceso de carbono atmosférico en el suelo.

Los agricultores son fundamentales para abordar el cambio climático porque justamente experimentan los impactos de un clima cambiante, dijo Barro.

AEP también reconoce esto, por lo que ahora ofrece un curso sobre gestión de la calidad del suelo para enseñar a los agricultores cómo gestionar mejor el suelo cuando se enfrentan a plagas, enfermedades y climas extremos.

El Sr. René García, también pequeño agricultor y miembro de AEP, dice que las prácticas de agricultura regenerativa ayudan a restaurar microbios clave en el suelo. García nos dijo en una entrevista de Zoom:

 “Estamos practicando la agricultura regenerativa para devolver los microorganismos al suelo que alimenta a las plantas. Lo hacemos mediante el uso de sistemas de intensificación del arroz, que pueden reducir las inundaciones en los arrozales, reducir drásticamente las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero y también pueden ayudar a conservar el agua y aumentar los rendimientos “.

AEP cree que todos los agricultores pueden volverse resilientes a los efectos del cambio climático cuidando su suelo, deshaciéndose de los químicos tóxicos, produciendo y distribuyendo alimentos localmente y practicando y defendiendo sistemas agrícolas orgánicos regenerativos.

“Las historias de éxito de los agricultores que están trabajando para mitigar y adaptarse al cambio climático inspirarán a la gente de todo el mundo”, dijo Barro, y agregó que da a la gente la esperanza de saber que otros se están uniendo para hacer de este mundo un lugar mejor.

Estén atentos para más historias de regeneración tanto en Filipinas como en todo el mundo.

 

Oliver Gardiner representa a Regeneration International en Europa y Asia. Para mantenerse al día con noticias y eventos, regístrese aquí para recibir el boletín de Regeneration International.

 

Agro-Eco Philippines Helps Transition Filipino Farmers to Agroecological and Organic Regenerative Practices

DAVAO, PHILIPPINES – Nearly one year ago today, Regeneration International (RI) signed the “Regeneration Philippines” pact, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Filipino League of Organic Municipalities Cities and Provinces (LOAMCP) and RI. 

Fast forward to today and we are blessed to have reconnected virtually with our friends in the Philippines, this time, through the addition of a new RI partner, Agro-Eco Philippines (AEP), an organization dedicated to “building resilient farming communities and sustainable economies.”

AEP began its work with small farmers in Mindanao or the Southern Philippines in 1991. Today, the non-profit government organization (NGO) works with 4,000 individual farmers in 300 farmers’ organizations in Mindanao, eastern Visayas and eastern Luzon. 

Its mission is to advocate for Filipino’s right to healthy food, alleviate hunger in poverty-stricken farming communities and teach farmers organic regenerative and agroecological practices that produce healthy food, increase the socio-economic livelihood of farmers, and build resilience against the effects of climate change. 

AEP also invests in the development of local markets through community-led research to help boost profits for smallholder farmers.

AEP and its work transitioning conventional Filipino farmers to agroecological and organic regenerative agriculture practices is showcased in our “Trails of Regeneration” video series, which highlights stories of regeneration throughout the globe. 

In our latest episode, “Agro-Eco Philippines Helps Farmers Go Organic,” AEP’s Executive Director Geonathan Barro discusses how the NGO has trained an impressive number of farmers on organic practices. Barro told us in a Zoom interview:

“So far, we have trained roughly 10,000 conventional farmers to go organic. The key is to build on the hard labor of the previous years without relying on middle men or corporate entities to distribute and process our products.”

AEP is firm in its belief that the role humans play on farms is a key component of agroecology. According to its website

“Farmers . . . are critical actors in agroecological practice and agroecological transformation. They are stewards of biodiversity and the real keepers of relevant knowledge for this agenda. It is therefore important that agroecological knowledge and technologies are developed on the basis of farmers’ own knowledge and experimentation. Further, this means that agroecology has to be context-specific and culturally appropriate. Agroecology makes best use of the human, social, and environmental capital available locally.”

Green Revolution forces farmers into degenerative farming model

The future hasn’t always been so bright for some farmers in the Philippines.

Since the launch of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, Filippino farmers have largely depended on degenerative agricultural models that have forced millions of farmers into debt due to the high cost of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that over time eroded the soil and polluted waterways. 

More than half a century ago, the Filipiino government, with influence from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, created the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). In 1962, the IRRI crossed Dee-Geo-woo-gen and Peta rice strains to create IR8 or “miracle rice.” By 1981, “miracle rice” accounted for more than 80 percent of total rice crops in the Philippines.

The “miracle rice” produced high yieldsten times the amount of traditional rice varietiesallowing the Philippines to go from being an importer of rice to a global exporter.

Unfortunately, the benefits of the Green Revolution were short-lived. They were also outweighed by the rising costs of high-debt, falling income and the environmental consequences of chemical-intensive agriculture. 

This chain of events is found in many developing countries that fell victim to big agricultural corporations selling high-yielding seeds that provide productive harvests the first year, but then require major increases in chemical inputs the following year. 

The allure of high (but unsustainable) crop yields has led to a system of enslaved farmers whose farmlands have been rendered unproductive without the application of synthetic and chemical inputs.

Over time, pesticides destroy key microbes in the soil and alter its ability to retain nutrients and water, which makes farmers more vulnerable to drought, floods, pests and crop-related diseases. This escalates production costs that put smallholder farmers at risk of bankruptcy. 

Filippino farmers campaigning against Monsanto’s Golden Rice, promoting regenerative systems of rice intensification and defending local seed sovereignty.

AEP teaches farmers organic regenerative practices that benefit the environment and the community

AEP is working to break the patterns of conventional food and farming systems by providing smallholder farmers with free access to local indigenous seeds and information on practices such as composting, cover cropping, seed saving, crop rotation and the integration of livestock. 

It also teaches farmers about agroforestry, the incorporation of trees into agriculture, and encourages the exchange of knowledge between fellow farmers.

Agroecological and organic regenerative farming practices have never been more important. Like many nations around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to food shortages in the Philippines. 

The silver lining, however, is that empty store shelves have encouraged locals to buy directly from their farmer. Not only does this help small farmers, but it also provides families with safe, nutritious food that builds a strong immune system, Barro told RI.

Selling direct to consumers, and removing grocery stores from the equation, has allowed Filippino farmers to sell their products for less money. 

Luz Astronomo, an AEP member and small farmer from Davao City, Philippines, told RI in a Zoom interview that he’s able to sell his produce for 60 percent less than other produce because everything he needs to grow it comes from his farm, including the seeds and organic inputs.

“So, we don’t have to sell our products at a high price,” he said. 

In many localities, conventional farmers are now buying food from organic farmers because the monoculture systems they depend on are failing to compete with the diversified agroecological systems practiced by AEP’s members. Barro told RI:

“These are very difficult times brought about by COVID-19, but these very difficult times have painted us a picture of what kind of agriculture the world needs to overcome such crises.”

Organic regenerative agriculture helps fight climate change

In addition to producing healthier food, agroecological and organic regenerative farming practices help mitigate climate change by building healthy soil that draws down excess atmospheric carbon and stores it in the ground.

Farmers are instrumental in addressing climate change because they experience the impacts of a changing climate, Barro said.

AEP recognizes this, too, which is why it now offers a course on soil quality management to teach farmers how to better manage soil when dealing with pests, disease and climate extremes. 

Mr. René Garcia, also a small farmer and member of AEP, says regenerative agriculture practices help restore key microbes in the soil. Garcia told us in a Zoom interview:

 “We are practicing regenerative agriculture to return microorganisms to the soil that feed the plants. By using the systems of rice intensification, which can reduce flooding in rice paddies and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and can also help conserve water and boost yields.”

AEP believes that all farmers can grow resilient to the effects of climate change by caring for their soil, ditching the toxic chemicals, producing and distributing food locally, and practicing and advocating for organic regenerative farming systems.

“Success stories of farmers that are working to mitigate and adapt to climate change will inspire people all over the world,” said Barro, adding that it gives people hope to know others are coming together to make this world a better place. 

Stay tuned for more stories of regeneration both in the Philippines and around the world. 

Oliver Gardiner represents Regeneration International in Europe and Asia. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.