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AFSA, food systems, climate resilience and African food policy

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By Judith Ufford

Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, AFSA is a network of networks operating in more than 50 African countries.

AFSA, a broad alliance of civil society actors are part of the struggle for food sovereignty and agroecology in Africa.

By the way, what is agroecology?
It refers to farming systems that work in harmony with nature, using cultivation techniques and breeding programmes that do not rely on chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or artificial genetic modifications. It builds on traditional agricultural practices using research, technology and existing indigenous knowledge, while at the same time ensuring that it is farmers that are in control of all aspects of food production.

Collaborating with MELCA- Ethiopia, a regional conference on agroecology was organised recently in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

The highly technical three day meeting brought together researchers, farmers, academia, pastoralists, government officials, United Nations and African Union officials.
Day one and two examined four thematic areas. These are practice, research, policy and scaling up. Day three laid conceptual grounds for drawing a road map towards a common food policy for Africa.

The Practice theme highlighted the best agroecological practices to address climate change, enhance soil fertility, increase productivity and enduring nutrition and health.
Group discussion was on why agroecology is best for climate change adaptation, questions agroecology must answer and what are the best agroecological practices that should be learnt and promoted.

Under the Research theme, research results related to climate resilience, soil fertility and productivity, gender sensitive and participatory technology development and labour were highlighted. Three presentations were made in this regard.

Timothy Wise in his recent research work and new book titled “Eating Tomorrow”, revealed how country after country agri business and its well- heeled philanthropic promoters have hijacked food policies to feed corporate interests.
The group work responded to such questions as the need for more evidence for the need of agroecology and further research, adding that everyone should be involved in the research.
The objective of the Policy thematic area was to explore policy space related to agricultural resilience to climate change. There were four presentations.

According to the presentation by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO), agroecology is a key tool in the transition to sustainable food systems. FAO is of the view that ” from tackling hunger, poverty and inequality to responding to climate to safeguarding biodiversity and expanding nutritional choice, agroecology echoes the goals of 2030 agenda

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The organization believes the agroecology approach is holistic, balancing focus on people and the planet – the three dimensions of sustainable development- social, economic and environmental, while straightening the livelihoods of small holder food producers, indigenous peoples, women and youth.

Continuing, the FAO is of the view that agroecology contributes directly to multiple SDGs through integrated practices that cut across many areas.

“Along with the SDGs, agroecology can also contribute to realising the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement, the Convention on Biological diversity and United Nations Convention to combat desertification”, it stated.

A key question that arose from this area is how to foster the linkages between pastoralism and agroecology for informed policy and decision making in the context of climate change.

Suggestions were also made for governments to adopt agroecology practice and put in place mechanism to ensure it’s implementation.
The Scaling up thematic area identified principles and guidelines for an effective process for scaling up agroecology for resilience to climate change.

Peter Byaruhanga of CROAN (Climate Resilient Organic Agriculture Network), sharing his experience on creating effective enabling environment to support local governments and rural communities rapidly adopting agroecology said biochar is the ready answer for sustainable soils.

According to him, biochar technology shows promise in mitigating climate change and improving soil quality as well as reducing waste and producing energy as a by product. But what exactly is biochar?

Biochar is a charcoal like substance made by burning organic material (from agricultural and forestry wastes) also called biomass in a controlled process called pyrolysis.

Although it looks a lot like common charcoal, biochar is produced using a specific process to reduce contamination and safely store carbon.

The last day of the conference focused on laying conceptual grounds for the road map towards a common food policy for Africa.
Mr. Laila Loksang, Food Security and Nutrition director, African Union, (AU), stated that there were loose food policy frameworks by various member States whether these were functional was a conversation for another day.

This not withstanding, he promised to be of assistance when AFSA was ready to present its Food Policy to the AU.

The conference also benefited from the experience of the development of a European Food Policy ( IPES -FOOD).

The group discussion and presentation on why we need a Food system policy in Africa admitted that there were problems related to the food systems in the continent and that a comprehensive food policy would resolve the problems.

The conference concluded with a four year road map for both national and regional dialogues.

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