Peter Byaruhanga is a mixed farmer originally from Kabale distrcit. He fled the area due to degradation and settled in Luwero. Byaruhanga describes himself as an environment refugee. Like many farmers in Uganda and Africa at large, he has to deal with the vagaries of nature caused by climate change, in addition to the usual challenges like finding market and access to information.
Byaruhanga says conventional agriculture was failing him, so he turned to agro-ecology. Agro-ecology is a holistic sustainable approach to agriculture that combines indigenous knowledge with cutting edge technology.
Agro-ecology respects nature, this approach works with ecosystems and not against them, so it is easier to implement and scale up. Through this system, farmers recycle water and vital nutrients.
Small-scale farmers like Byaruhanga feed Africa, contributing up to 80% of the food that reaches our tables. Yet there is no comprehensive food policy at the regional and continental (African Union) level to protect and support them.
Byaruhanga has also planted trees at his farm in Luwero and he says the results are remarkable. Tree based farming can save agriculture and the planet. Trees act as a carbon sink, taking carbon from the air and trapping it in the soil where it is needed most.
He says carbon must be captured and put back in the soil. He uses biochar and charcoal dust not only to capture carbon and put it back in the ground, reducing greenhouse gases, but also to act like a sponge, holding water in the soil.
According to Byaruhanga, this method also increases productivity, helps overcome pests and diseases in addition to healing the soil and air. In regions that are more drought-prone, digging Zai pits for micro water catchment helps rehabilitate degraded land.
Combating Climate Change
“For every 1% increase in global warming over 30 degrees, agricultural yields decrease by 10%,” Andre Leu, the international director for Regeneration International, said in a presentation to the conference. Agroforestry can reduce carbon in the air by 20 billion tonnes.
Leu said the soils hold three times as much carbon as the air.
“We need to store more carbon in the soil,” he told at the conference, concurring with Byaruhanga. “This can be done by increasing the soil organic matter through organic farming practices such as intercropping, intensive application of animal manures and compost and agro-forestation. Compost turns dry soil into a carbon sink and acts as a sponge, holding water for when it is most needed.”
Speaking with urgency, Leu said if these interventions are not put in place and climate change continues to accelerate at the current pace, violent and extreme weather events such as storms, droughts and floods will become more intense and frequent, leading to mass extension.
Agro-ecology increases the resilience of all species, because it promotes genetic diversity, unlike industrial monoculture which promotes farming of a single strain of a single crop. Local seed varieties are being replaced with seeds from laboratories (such as GMOs) and there is a need for seed banks to preserve local seed varieties.
Gebremedhin Belay, the executive director for the Institute for Sustainable Development, says research, extension and training of smallholder farmers is in tandem with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as ending poverty and hunger. Agro-ecology bridges gaps – between culture and nature, traditional knowledge and modern science, and the youth with elders.
The current methods of conventional large scale industrial agriculture are environmentally unsustainable as they lead to biodiversity loss, soil degradation, greenhouse emissions, water pollution and unsustainable use of natural resources. Industrial scale agriculture contributes 23% of greenhouse gases released.
However, because power is concentrated in the hands of a few multinational food corporations, this type of agriculture leads to social inequality, poverty, disempowerment and inequitable land use.
This system is profit-oriented and as a result consumers get a raw deal in terms of nutrition and access to quality tasty food as they aim at producing the largest number of food at the cheapest cost. The biggest threats to health currently are from diets, from the types of food we eat. Hunger, micronutrient deficiencies, obesity, NCDs (cardiovascular, respiratory conditions, cancer and diabetes) are all on the rise due to a disassociation of food production from consumption.
As one delegate from Germany said at the sidelines of the conference, Europeans will soon be coming to Africa in the future to regain indigenous knowledge on farming.
Filed by Ahumuza Muhumuza and Joshua Kato