The Added Value(s) of Agroecology

Posted on September 1, 2020
West Africa has all the ingredients to become an epicentre in the global agroecology movement, and one of the frontrunners in transition to sustainable food


West Africa is rapidly becoming a climate hotspot. With temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than the global average, intense climate variability, in combination with other stresses, is impacting agricultural productivity and leading to food insecurity and instability in a region with limited adaptive capacity.

West Africa's food systems are central to the region’s challenges, generating 35% of GDP and employing 60% of the population. Yet while small family farms produce 90% of its food, efforts to commercialize and industrialize food production are promoting export commodity zones, large-scale land acquisitions, and huge influxes of foreign investment. 

Agroecological systems are a viable alternative to the industrial agri-development pathway, improving resilience to the challenges of climate change and resource scarcity, and well-adapted to the structure and economic realities of West African agriculture. Yet despite the multiple efforts and initiatives to develop agroecology in the region, political support remains limited, and obstacles are emerging at multiple levels. 

Through a three-year participatory research process, IPES-Food identified eight key obstacles and four leverage points for agroecology in West Africa.

Obstacles

  1. Transitioning to agroecological systems is hindered by limited access to finance needed for transition costs. While smallholders, and particularly women struggle to access the credit, investment in flows to export commodities and high-value sectors.
  2. Rapid population growth and land and water grabbing undermine access to land and water resources, further complicated by land laws which fail to protect customary tenure and land use. 
  3. Farmer seed systems, accounting for up to 75% of Mali's crop varieties and 90% in some African regions, suffer from a lack of legal recognition and policy support, contrasting with privatized systems that benefit from donor- and industry-led initiatives.
  4. Despite consumer interest in agroecological produce, access to markets is hindered by the lack of differentiated labeling and competition with imports, affecting the profitability and local value chain development for agroecological products.
  5. Political buy-in for agroecology is limited, and competes against dominant conventional agriculture across policy and finance.
  6. The uptake of agroecological practices is challenged by its labor-intensive nature compared to industrial farming, perceptions of farming as outdated and the decline of  public agricultural extension services.
  7. Bringing evidence to bear on agroecology is difficult with only 14% of agricultural aid to Africa allocated for research, education, and extension. 
  8. While many initiatives and platforms are developing in the region to support agroecological transition, they often remain isolated, poorly documented, and insufficiently coordinated with each other.

Leverage Points

  1. Alliance-building and collective action within the agroecology movement is essential for advancing change on multiple fronts and unlocking transition in West Africa. 
  2. Reforming food system governance through integrated food policies can align sectoral policies with agroecological objectives, requiring only modest reorientation of existing regional frameworks including ECOWAP and CAADP, facilitating collective priority-setting and accountability.
  3. As economic models are reevaluated, recognition and support for agroecology's ecological and social contributions are growing, benefiting from the emergence of hybrid systems in resource sharing and market structures, and advocacy for food sovereignty and territorial markets.
  4. Positioning agroecology as a crisis response to disease and climate threats showcases its potential as a systemic solution to prevent and build resilience against future shocks.

While the challenge remains vast, West Africa has all the ingredients to become a frontrunner for agroecology and the transition to sustainable and equitable food systems. Agroecology may in fact be the most cost-efficient way, and perhaps the only way, for countries to meet the SDGs. This transformation relies most of all on the continued willingness for a strong regional agroecological movement to continue working together for change.