Sustainable Agricultural Development in Africa


Expanding populations combined with the effects of climate change have many development practitioners and policymakers wondering what sustainable agricultural development will look like in Africa over the next decades. Will farmers be able to build upon traditional farming methods, using planting, harvesting, and irrigation techniques that have been in place for millennia? Or will large-scale, industrial agriculture driven by genetically modified organisms and corporate profits overtake traditional farming practices, as it has in the United States?

The urgent and interconnected issues of climate change, hunger, and agriculture were at the heart of the global climate justice conference that took place in Dublin, Ireland in mid-April. World leaders outlined goals and metrics to address the world’s rapidly evolving needs for sustainable development.

What is sustainable agricultural development? Developing sustainable agricultural systems means increasing crop yields, achieving better nutrition, and creating income security for rural farmers. Sustainable agricultural development will achieve these goals using a set amount of inputs (water, land, knowledge, capital) while reducing negative environmental impacts.

Achieving sustainable agricultural development in Africa is no small task. The largest obstacle may be the current state of hunger and malnutrition in Africa: 239 million Africans are chronically undernourished and almost half of children under five have experienced stunted growth due to malnutrition. Combine the continent’s chronic hunger problem with a population expected to double by 2050, and you have the makings of a perfect storm.

Global rates of childhood stunting illustrate the need for food security and nutrition programs.

Global rates of childhood stunting illustrate the need for food security and nutrition programs.

Other obstacles to sustainable agricultural development include stagnant crop yields and widespread soil degradation. If current rates of African food production continue, the continent will meet just 13 percent of its food needs by 2050.

Sustainable agricultural intensification depends on the implementation of innovative practices based on sound scientific research that account for local and national needs and conditions. Agricultural intensification and development in Africa must remain directly relevant to the farmers whose lives depend upon it. Relegating Africa’s agricultural productivity to large-scale agribusinesses that rely on extensive chemical herbicide, pesticide, and fertilizer use to increase crop yields will not sustainably solve African food insecurity. Rather, sustainable agricultural development should be achieved through an integrated, systems-oriented approach that takes into account the social and environmental effects of agricultural intensification.

Sustainable agricultural development in rural Africa takes many forms. It can include fertilizer use in small, measured amounts, which substantially increases yields with minimal cost to farmers and the environment. Natural resource management is a critical component of sustainable intensification. Maintaining biodiversity of native species contributes to overall ecological health, as does minimizing the environmental impacts of agricultural production. Effective water harvesting and irrigation techniques are critical in arid environments. Finally, farming techniques such as crop rotation and interplanting can increase crop yields over the long run.

The work being done by non-profit organizations and NGOs like the 2Seeds Network is just one example of the many successful efforts to implement sustainable agricultural development in rural Africa. By utilizing interdisciplinary knowledge systems and building upon traditional and local values and practices, development organizations can lay the foundation for environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable agricultural systems in Africa.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: The Guardian
Photo: Flickr


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