Agroecology: A better alternative in Sub-Saharan Africa

May 7, 2018, Lund University

Agroecology is a better alternative than large-scale agriculture, both for the climate and for small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to researcher Ellinor Isgren from Lund University in Sweden. This agricultural model preserves biodiversity and safeguards food supply while avoiding soil depletion.

"We must consider other, alternative models for developing , particularly in countries that have not already transitioned to large-scale rationalisation. Large parts of the world's soil have already been degraded by depletion and excessively resource-intensive agriculture," says Ellinor Isgren, a researcher at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies.

She maintains that today's intensive, large-scale agriculture brings a major environmental impact in the form of soil depletion, high use of pesticides, high energy and water consumption and reduced biodiversity. Large areas are often cultivated with one or only a few different crops, making this type of agriculture vulnerable to pests, diseases and climate change.

Large-scale agriculture also requires major investments in the form of machinery, grains and seed, while utilising little labour. This means that poorer farmers in many African countries are excluded from the advantages of intensive agriculture: technological development, increased food production, access to the agricultural market and general economic growth.

"A development that excludes a large number of small-holders creates income differences and a divided society. From a social and fairness perspective, transition to large-scale agriculture is not a positive technological conversion for the whole of society," she says.

In her doctoral thesis, focusing on Uganda, Ellinor Isgren proposes agroecology as a possible alternative for small farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The model is based on each farm being an integrated ecosystem, in which crops, plants and animals interact to create favourable conditions for cultivation. This alternative is knowledge-intensive, requiring farmers to have a lot of knowledge about the functioning of various components in the ecological system, as well as an ability to create synergies between plants, insects, crops and soil fertility. The model also rests on traditional farming methods.

"If farmers use the model correctly, they can increase their yields and ensure their food supply while preserving biodiversity and reducing their impact on the climate and soil depletion. They also become less vulnerable to climate change as they grow many different crops and improve the soil structure," she says.

Further benefits are that the system does not require major resources in the form of machinery, pesticides and fertiliser, as the cultivation model is mainly organic, so even poor small-holders can farm in this way.

There are also good conditions for scaling up the model for sale to domestic and international markets. This would require more research and better collaboration between various agricultural institutions to develop knowledge of how different ecosystems function together and how local conditions affect the fertility of plants and crops. Initiatives are also needed to train farmers in how to apply an agroecological model.

"There is currently no political will in Uganda to push development of the agricultural sector. This has left the market open to private investors and strong financial interests in the form of seed and pesticide companies," she says.

At the same time, there is growing interest in alternative models of agriculture in the civil sector, and she believes that a change could occur through that channel.

"Agroecology is a real alternative to conventional agricultural production, and a that safeguards both the climate and social development. However, it requires civil society to push for change from the bottom up in Uganda, and for markets worldwide to transition to supporting alternative ways of farming the land," she concludes.

Explore further: We know how food production needs to change if crisis is to be avoided – so why isn't this happening?

More information: … 2-3bb4034515e7).html

Related Stories

Climate-smart agriculture requires radical policy changes

December 13, 2017

At all levels of agricultural regulation – national, European, and international – important changes are required to be able to address the challenges of climate change. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is crucial, on ...

Small-scale agriculture threatens the rainforest

October 14, 2016

An extensive study led by a researcher at Lund University in Sweden has mapped the effects of small farmers on the rain forests of Southeast Asia for the first time. The findings are discouraging, with regard to environmental ...

Climate insurance is rarely well thought out in agriculture

September 25, 2017

Internationally subsidised agricultural insurance is intended to protect farmers in developing countries from the effects of climate change. However, it can also lead to undesirable ecological and social side effects, as ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.