Worldwatch report attacks criminalising of seed saving and promotes agroecology

| 13th January 2011

Authors say there is 'growing' evidence that agroecological farming systems can meet the rapidly increasing demand for food

Green revolution approach of expensive fertilisers and seeds is failing and needs replacing with projects that prevent food waste, build resilience to climate change, and strengthen city farming

Agroecological methods of farming rather than a reliance on expensive and unsavable seeds, provide a sustainable solution to Africa's food needs, according to a report from the well-respected Worldwatch Institute.

Biotech companies are increasingly monopolising the seed market and banning farmers from saving their seed, forcing them to buy new seeds every season. The report authors said this 'criminalising of seed saving', was 'hard to believe' and took away the basis of farmers' livelihoods.

The report said the emphasis on advancing agriculture in Africa through more productive seeds and fertilisers was 'seductive' but not working. 'The seeds and fertiliser are often too expensive for the vast majority of poor farmers, or they are simply unavailable. And the benefits of many such projects go to a small number of large farmers who may produce abundant food but do little to promote rural development,' said the report.

It said their was 'growing' evidence that agroecological farming systems could meet the rapidly increasing demand for food and compete with monoculture fields of high-yielding seeds and agrochemical inputs. Often referred to as regenerative agriculture, agroecological farming methods, which include organic, rely on an integrated soil-plant-animal cropping system and a low use of expensive external inputs like pesticides.

'The debate on whether agroecological production practices in ecoagriculture landscapes will be able to meet the entire global food demand is misplaced. Evidence available now indicates that these approaches can feed a large portion of the world while at the same time addressing a host of present and looming problems of environmental degradation, livelihood in security, and poverty,' says the report.

Food waste and city farming

As well as promoting agroecology, the report said preventing food waste, improving storage facilities for farmers and encouraging city farming were the best available methods for combating hunger and poverty. The authors said the amount of food waste (25-50 per cent of the harvest) was staggering considering the amount of focus the world is putting on increasing food production.

With more than 60 per cent of Africa's population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, the authors highlighted the importance of urban farming. They cited the example of vertical gardens in Kibera, Nairobi, the largest slum in Kenya where more than 1,000 women farmers are growing food in sacks full of dirt poked with holes, feeding their families and communities.

The report also highlighted the importance of retaining local knowledge, for example pastoralists in South Africa and Kenya are preserving indigenous varieties of livestock that are adapted to the heat and drought of local conditions - traits that will be crucial as climate extremes on the continent worsen. Africa has the world's largest area of permanent pasture and the largest number of pastoralists, with 15-25 million people dependent on livestock, says the report.

Food campaigners welcomed the report, with Dr Tom MacMillan, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, saying it was a 'breath of fresh air' in the face of doom and gloom pronouncements that we need to industrialise farming in order to feed the world by 2050. 'Crucially it also describes countless ingenious ways that poor people are beating hunger and protecting the planet, which could achieve so much more if only they had wider support,' he said.

An example of an agroecological system of farming - integrating livestock and plants

Useful links
State of the World: Innovations that nourish the planet

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