To empower rural-based smallholder farmers for degradation mitigation, climate change adaptation and resiliency through agro-ecology
Purpose, Causation and Use of Agro Ecology:
We want to empower rural-based smallholder farmers to cultivate biodiversity for degradation mitigation, climate change adaptation and enhanced resiliency to climate change stressors. We want to do this through an inclusive framework that brings onboard different players.
The framework consists of six crucial actions that can be adhered to and carried out in the form of a project. We use Kenya as the test bed for the framework and implementation for the initiation.
Causation of Degradation of Ecosystem and Impacts of Climate Change:
Degradation of natural ecosystems has been identified as the main barrier to attainment of sustainable development. The ever continuing degradation of agricultural and landscape ecosystems negatively impacts the conservation of biodiversity and climate change. It is also responsible for reduced ecosystem services (https://www.iucn.org/drylands).
In particular, degradation of ecosystems reduces ecosystem function on agricultural farms (above and below ground), leading to poor soil health and fertility loss.
Figure 1: Feedback loop between land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change
Use Of Agro Ecology:
This proposal leverages on agro-ecology as a nature-based sustainable means of addressing ecosystem degradation while restoring lost biodiversity with special focus on rural-based smallholder farmers since they produce a significant percentage of all the food consumed globally.
The application of ecological principles and concepts at the smallholder farming level is very effective in creating a complete (balanced) agro-ecosystem on agricultural farms, leading to increased biodiversity on farms and landscapes, enhancement of ecosystem services, mitigation of degradation and adapting/mitigating climate change shocks and stresses.
Figure 2: Use of agro ecology to improve the ecosystem function
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
Framework Choice, Practices and Development Pathways:
It is estimated that there are about 475 million agricultural farms of less than two hectares around the world. These farms, cultivated by smallholder farmers, account for about 12% of agricultural land globally and produce 80% of all the food consumed globally (https://www.cropscience.bayer.com/en/crop-science/smallholder-farming).
In addition to such challenges as lack of access to farming resources, markets and agricultural know-how, climate change and its impacts continue to present a serious risk to smallholder farming. This is because smallholder farmers largely depend on natural resources including ecosystem services for their productivity.
It is, therefore, not surprising that degradation of both agricultural farms and landscapes impact on the wellbeing of 3.2 billion people globally (GPFLR, 2018).
Indeed, smallholder farming is gradually becoming untenable. Smallholder farmers who are currently living on the margins of productivity could be pushed over the edge (http://www.fao.org/3/ca1439en/CA1439EN.pdf).
Given the importance of smallholder farming, there is serious need to build resilience of farms and landscapes. This can easily be achieved by addressing degradation of natural ecosystems on both farms and landscapes. The ultimate beneficiaries are the environment (restoration of ecosystems) and humanity (food security and livability).
Proposed Development Pathways:
This proposal, therefore, presents a simple yet effective development pathway in the form of agro-ecology with three objectives:
- Stop degradation of natural ecosystems that the survival of humanity and general life forms depend on.
- Bring back biodiversity and build resilience capacity of agricultural farms and landscapes for enhanced food production and climate change adaptation/mitigation.
- Promote agro-ecology as a natural, cost-effective and sustainable farming system locally and globally especially amongst smallholder farmers.
Choice of Agro-ecology:
Agro-ecology has its root in ecology – the understanding of natural ecosystems. Therefore, agro-ecology is a science that borrows from social, biological and agricultural sciences. It integrates the three science disciplines with both traditional and farmers’ knowledge.
At the heart of agro-ecology is the fact that a healthy agro-ecosystem should mimic the functioning of local ecosystems in order to enhance biodiversity, build complex beneficial structures and enhance nutrient recycling.
- Agro-forestry for modification/improvement of micro-climate, reduction of soil erosion, maintenance/improvement of soil fertility, maintenance/addition of organic matter and support of complex soil food web.
- Polyculture for biological complementaries, pest regulation and enhancement of crop yield.
- Crop rotation for season-to-season nutrient conservation, interruption of pest/disease life cycles.
- Cover cropping and mulching for reduced soil erosion, provision of nutrients to the soil, biological control of pests, enhanced weed suppression and reduction of soil moisture loss.
- Crop/livestock integration for high biomass output and optimum nutrient recycling.
- Land use planning and ecosystem management.
- Establishment of fallow systems for mitigation of fire outbreaks.
Figure 3: A case for agro-ecology
It must be appreciated that agro-ecology, as a farming system, is not only applicable to growers of crops. It is also applicable to pastoral farming (agro-pastoral). Furthermore, different agro-ecology principles and practices suit arable, semi-arid, arid and desert landscapes.
Agro-ecology practices do not only stop degradation of natural ecosystems. The practices also build resiliency of agricultural farms and landscapes, meaning that extreme climatic events do not cause much havoc as is currently witnessed around the world.
Figure 4:Benefits of using agro-ecology framework to prevent extreme climatic events (FAO)
Proposed Actions of The Framework:
In order to realize the indicated objectives, this proposal proposes six (6) critical actions; Establishment of a model agro-ecology farm, training of trainers (TOTs), development of farmer outreach programs, design of biodiversity action plans, choice of community crop insurance scheme and project monitoring/evaluation. Kenya is used as the example and the initial test bed for the framework as the situation curbs around the area.
1. Establishment of a Model Agro-ecology Farm
The establishment of a model agro-ecology farm is important in motivating, attracting and encouraging smallholder famers to embrace agro-ecology.
In addition to displaying how agro-ecology can positively transform farms and landscapes, the model farm will also be used to train smallholder farmers on agro-ecology principles and practices.
This project aims at establishing agro-ecology model farms at the village in all ecological zones in Kenya as it scales up its activities. This is with the aim of reaching more farmers.
In addition to educating farmers on practicality of agro-ecology, the farms will also earn revenue from the sale of farm produce. This is the revenue that will be utilized in sustaining the project particularly in replicating agro-ecology to other ecological zones in Kenya.
The model agro-ecology farms will be established on agricultural land donated to the project by County governments. Target country governments have been consulted and the response is overwhelming.
2. Training of Trainers (TOT)
Training of trainers (TOTs) aims at recruiting and training of qualified and competent personnel to work as agro-ecology extension officers (advisors) in rural areas. The advisors are to work closely with rural-based smallholder farmers at the village level in implementing agro-ecology principles and practices on their farms.
In the local context (Kenya), there are agriculture graduates who are unemployed. These are the personnel this proposal targets to train as agro-ecology extension officers.
It is important to point out that the necessary training materials are already available. A good number of organizations including Resource Efficient Agricultural Production of Canada (http://reap-canada.com) have developed relevant agro-ecology training materials that can easily be accessed.
3. Development of Outreach Programs
The development of outreach programs is critical for successful implementation of the proposed project.
Because there is no uniform formula for implementing agro-ecology practices as it depends on ecological zone, culture and local tradition, the development of any outreach program must consider the existing habitat including flora and fauna within the implementation area. Therefore, outreach programs are to be developed only after visits and overview of targeted farms and/or landscapes.
The project outreach programs developed will not only be for reaching out to farmers to promote agro-ecology. Educating and empowering the farmers will be the ultimate objective of the programs.
The project is to adopt both formal and informal education processes in educating farmers. The two-thronged approach makes it easy to introduce agro-ecology to both adults and students to agro-ecology and what it offers.
4. Design of Biodiversity Action Plans (BAP)
This is the strategic framework and road map for the implementation of agro-ecology practices aimed at improving biodiversity on targeted farms and/or landscapes.
The design of the framework is to consider existing approaches to faming or landscape use. This allows for assessment of existing approaches with regard to local situations and existing flora and fauna.
It is from assessment findings that agro-ecology extension officers are able to identify and implement the most appropriate agro-ecology practices to increase biodiversity.
Figure 5: Biodiversity Action Plan
5. Choice of Community Crop Insurance Scheme
Crop insurance has of late become very important in the wake of climate change. Unlike in the past when crop insurance policies only targeted agricultural companies, insurance companies in Kenya have now come to appreciate the importance of smallholder farmers. Appropriate crop insurance including community insurance schemes have already been developed.
The project will engage both smallholder farmers and insurance companies in identifying the right and affordable community crop insurance scheme for trained farmers. Trained smallholder farmers will be encouraged to register as members of relevant cooperative societies in cases where they are not registered with any.
A common element in almost all crop insurance policies offered by insurance companies in Kenya is the use of certified seeds. Luckily, Kenya Seed Company and other seeds companies in Kenya have developed certified seeds including seeds of indigenous vegetables. This project will not only encourage farmers to use certified seeds but will also educate them on the benefits of using such seeds; disease resistance and tolerance to adverse weather conditions among other benefits.
The project anticipates building the capacity of cooperative societies through insurance training provided by personnel from insurance companies in order to manage the community crop insurance scheme for the benefit of their members.
6. Project Monitoring and Evaluation
Like with any other project, the proposed project will be monitored and evaluated to identify and address any shortcomings and successes. The monitoring and evaluation process will be continuous and will cover all aspects of the project.
The monitoring and evaluation of the project will be critical particularly during the launching phase. It will inform shortcomings that will be addressed during the scale-up and replication of the project in other ecological zones.
The world human population is projected to hit 9+ billion by 2050. Demand for food will certainly double from the current level. At the same time, climate change, interacting with dwindling natural resources, will greatly exacerbate adverse climatic conditions.
Continued degradation of agricultural farm and landscape ecosystems, if not addressed, is bound to cause serious food shortages and natural hazards in the future. There is serious need for urgent measures to be taken to address degradation that destroys ecosystems thus reducing resiliency. Implementation of agro-ecology on both farms and landscapes as a nature-based solution is a sure way of turning things around.
Introduction of agro-ecology to and practice by smallholder farmers, is, therefore, an assured sustainable way of reversing degradation, bringing back lost biodiversity on farms and landscapes to build resiliency and build capacity of farmers to adapt to climate change for enhanced food production.
Who will take these actions?
Smallholder farmers are at the center of this project. Like other smallholder farmers in other parts of the world, smallholder farmers in Kenya are hard-hit by the impacts of climate change. The farmers are always in search of and on the lookout for measures that they can employ on their farms to increase farm productivity.
Agriculture is a devolved function in Kenya. The development and implementation of agricultural policies and programs is the sole responsibility of county governments. The sale and provision of fertilizer and subsidized seeds is also the responsibility of county governments.
Migo Ranch & Farms will work closely with departments of agriculture in the counties in the development and implementation of agro-ecology policies and farmer outreach programs. Most importantly, targeted county governments (Machakos and Makueni) have already been consulted for allocation of agricultural land for the establishment of model agro-ecology farms with positive response and support.
Kenya has a well developed cooperative movement. Majority of the cooperative societies have structures down to local towns that are easily accessible by smallholder farmers. The cooperative societies provide their members with several services including savings accounts and micro-loans among other services.
Crop insurance is properly developed in Kenya. Indeed, crop insurance policies targeting both agricultural companies and smallholder farmers are already in place. However, the uptake of crop insurance by smallholder farmers remains very low. This is mainly because smallholder farmers have not been educated and sensitized on the benefit of acquiring crop insurance.
Research institutions and in particular Kenya Forestry Service and Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization have already been engaged on the possibility of seconding their researchers to the project to train project agro-ecology extension officers who will in turn be responsible for training farmers.
Migo Ranch & Farms will engage local education institutions for the purpose of securing and using their infrastructure to train farmers.
Migo Ranch & Farms
Migo Ranch & Farms will be the overall project implementing organization. The organization is to mobilize all project players and coordinate all project actions. The organization will also manage its agro-ecology model farms for the benefit of the smallholder farmers and project operations. The responsibility of monitoring/evaluating the project and replicating the project in other ecological zones will also remain the responsibility of Migo Ranch & Farms.
Where will these actions be taken?
This project is specially designed for rural and peri-urban areas. Therefore, the proposed actions will be implemented on agricultural farms and landscapes in both rural and peri-urban areas.
Rural-based smallholder farmers feed city residents. They produce a significant percentage of food stuff sold and consumed in cities. Smallholder farmers are, therefore, better placed to implement agro-ecology practices to stop degradation of natural ecosystems, restore lost biodiversity and revamp ecosystem services.
The proposed actions will initially be undertaken in Kenya, where there are approximately 6 million smallholder farmers (producers and pastoralists). The project will then scale up its activities to cover neighboring countries including Uganda and Tanzania.
However, agro-ecology action plans will at the beginning target one (1) ecological (semi-arid) region with at least 700,000 smallholder farmers. The proposed actions will then be scaled gradually to cover the whole country.
Migo Ranch & Farms will certainly generate revenue from the sale of produce from its model agro- ecology farms. It is the revenue generated that will be used in scaling up and replicating the project in other ecological zones.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
No country selected
No country selected
No country selected
What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
Estimated Framework Impact on Greenhouse Gas Emissions and/or Climate Change Adaptation:
Agro-ecology remains the only cost-effective and simple yet effective nature-based solution to degradation of natural ecosystems. It is the most effective way of reclaiming lost biodiversity and reclaiming ecosystem services. Agro-ecology has the positive impact of increasing ecosystem function, leading to reduced vulnerability to climate change stressors and natural hazards.
The 5th Assessment Report of the IPPC (2014) provides adequate evidence of increasing changes in climate. The report predicts widespread impacts on food security, water availability, livelihoods and human health particularly on African continent. This is mainly because many in Africa depend on such primary sectors as agriculture.
Like other smallholder farmers on the African continent, smallholder farmers in Kenya now have to contend with irregular rainfall patters, long periods of drought and emergence of crop pests/diseases hitherto unknown on a yearly basis. Natural hazards are now very common.
On average, rural-based smallholder farmers in Kenya cultivate on about two (acres) of land. The average earning per farmer is approximately US$600 per season of six months. The level of earnings has become unpredictable because of climate change impacts.
By taking up and implementing agro-ecology on their farms and landscapes, the famers will be able to restore biodiversity on their farms (above and below the ground) and landscapes with positive results; increased production thus increased earnings, minimization of crop losses because of reduced natural hazards and maintenance of optimum micro-climate due to restoration of healthy ecosystems.
This project assumes that it will launch with the training of at least 1,000 smallholder farmers. With restoration of lost biodiversity, each of these famers will be able to increase his/her farm earnings from the average of US$600 to at least US$2500 per season. Farm earning per farmer is bound to increase as biodiversity improves over time.
In addition to enhanced farm income to be realized by smallholder farmers, the restoration of ecosystem services on both farms and landscapes is bound to yield climate change impact resiliency benefits.
Agro-ecology also has agro-forestry as one of its practices. Assuming that each of the 1,000 farmers will plant at least 20 carefully chosen indigenous trees on his/her farm and landscape, the 1,000 farmers will help in the sequestration of at least 354,000 lbs of carbon. This is according to calculations by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, EPA (https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gases-equivalencies-calculator-calculations-and-references).
What are other key benefits?
Different Project Benefits:
Agro-ecology provides for enhanced economic, environment and societal benefits;
- Economic benefits – Increased income, marketing and trade (cultivation/commercialization of traditional foods, increased food and valuation of environmental services).
- Environmental benefits – Increased biodiversity, improved micro-climate, healthy soils and water availability (recognition of traditional and diversified land use coupled with increased food production).
- Social benefits – Gender/social inclusion, appreciation of local tradition/culture as a key element of sustainability, improved health and social integration.
Kenya has developed and finalized its National Climate Change Adaptation Plan (NAP, 2015-2030). The plan consolidates the country’s vision on climate change adaptation with the support of macro-level adaptation actions relating to different economic sectors and vulnerabilities. This is to enhance long-term climate change resiliency and adaptive capacity (http://www.kcckp.go.ke/adaptations/).
The take up and implementation of agro-ecology practices particularly in rural areas by smallholder farmers will, therefore, compliment the nation’s goal of climate change resiliency and adaptive capacity.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
Projected Costs of the Framework:
The launch and implementation of this project is projected to cost US$9400. The project will hence be able to finance its scale-up and expansion programs through revenue generated from its model agro- ecology farms. The project will be self sustaining after six (6) months of launching.
The Figure below would be estimating the cost of different items and materials to be used :
Figure 6: Item and Estimated Cost of Framework
The author has identified two critical challenges to the implementation of the proposed actions. The challenges particularly apply in the local context (Kenya); receipt of ‘soft’ inputs and policies.
- ‘Soft’ inputs – This refers to acquisition of agro-ecology knowledge and skills. It is a fact that agro-ecology is both knowledge and management intensive. Rural-based smallholder farmers may refrain from attending training sessions for lack of time and resources to invest in acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills.
This project does not intend to impose any training levy on smallholder farmers. The training will be provided at no cost whatsoever in order to make it possible for the farmers to spare time to attend training sessions.
Most importantly, the planned training sessions will be conducted in education institutions located at the village level. This will save farmers from incurring travel expenses.
- Policies – This refers to agricultural policies currently in place in Kenya. It turns out that agricultural policies in Kenya have been developed with major agricultural companies in mind. Smallholder farmers are never considered during the development of such policies.
Because Kenya is in the process of implementing its county government structures, the project will engage county governments for the development of agro-ecology policies for the benefit of smallholder farmers. Luckily, smallholder farmers in Kenya are already benefiting from subsidized fertilizer, which the project will capitalize on to help farmers enhance their farm productivity.
The launch and implementation of this project depends on availability of funds. The project author is very optimistic about success of the project considering that smallholder farmers in Kenya are very receptive of new farming methods that enhance their productivity.
Kenya has eight (8) ecological zones including arid and semi-arid zones. The project will initially focus on one ecological zone (semi-arid) during the launch period. It is anticipated that the project will have covered all the country’s ecological zones within 15 years of launching to serve at least 6 million smallholder farmers including pastoralists.
It must be appreciated that it takes time for agro-ecology practices to yield desired benefits. However, there must be a starting point. Even so, this project provides for several impacts in the short-term:
- Access to community crop insurance by 1,000 smallholder farmers within the first year of project launch.
- Acquisition of knowledge and skills by 1,000 smallholder farmers about agro-ecology within the first year of project launch.
- Increased biodiversity on farms and landscape after three years of project launch.
- Increased biodiversity and improvement on micro-climate in the project launch zone.
- Mitigation of degradation on at least 2,000 acres of agricultural farms and at least 1,000 acres of landscape.
- Restoration of ecosystem services in the project launch ecological zone after 3 years of project launch.
- Access to community crop insurance by at least 300,000 smallholder farmers in four different ecological zones within a period of 15 years of project launch.
- Acquisition of knowledge and skills by at least 300,000 smallholder farmers about agro-ecology within 15 years of project launch.
- Enhanced biodiversity on farms and landscape.
- Increased biodiversity and improvement on micro-climate in four ecological zones.
- Mitigation of degradation on at least 600,000 acres of agricultural farms and at least 300,000 acres of landscape.
- Enhancement of ecosystem services in four ecological zones.
- Access to community crop insurance by at least 3 million smallholder farmers in all the country’s eight (8) different ecological zones including arid and semi-arid zones.
- Acquisition of knowledge and skills by at least 3 million smallholder farmers about agro-ecology.
- Enhancement of biodiversity nationally on both agricultural farms and landscape.
- Increased biodiversity nationally and improvement of national micro-climate.
- Mitigation of degradation nationally on both agricultural farms and landscape.
- Enhancement of ecosystem services nationally.
About the author(s)
About the Authors :
Tom Gard is a practicing fish and organic farmer in one of Kenya’s semi-arid regions.
He has over 7 years experience in organic farming and is also experienced in community mobilization and training of smallholder farmers.
The author has succeeded in training over 200 smallholder farmers in the semi-arid region on sustainable farming methods/practices, water harvesting/storage and entrepreneurship.
The author received entrepreneurship training and funding by the Tony Elumelu Foundation (https://tonyelumelufoundation.org) of which he is an alumnus. This is in addition to another round of entrepreneurship training provided by SEED (https://www.seed.uno).
The author has also received business capacity building training by Bridges for Enterprise (https://www.bridgesforenterprise.com), a society at the University of Cambridge and he is an alumnus.
The Co-Author and Contributor (Tushar Narula) is a senior in university pursuing an undergraduate degree in Sustainable Design with a concentration in Business, Economics and Policy at UC Berkeley.
He is currently researching on Building Vulnerability to Heat Waves at Harvard Graduate School of Design
He managed project development of a unique sustainable off grid technology in rural India to make a cooler for the agricultural field areas was my first step into design and its management and assisted with the data analysis, literature and sustainable policy options of the project, 'Protecting Health in a Warming Climate'. ‘BeSmart: Smart Campus Solutions’.
Tushar has also worked on the development of Sustainable Development Index (SDI) and formulation of Sustainable Development Goals ( SDG's) across industries in India and consulted for the Airport Authority of India.
The linked project relates to the proposed project perfectly. The linked project's strong point is crop insurance, something that is a component of the proposed project.
1. International Union for Conservation of Nature: https://www.iucn.org/drylands
2. Agro-ecology Fund: https://www.agroecologyfund.org/what-is-agroecology
5. FAO: Farming matters- Cultivating diversity (https://www.ileia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/30_1_Agrobiodiversity.pdf)
7. United States Environmental Protection Agency https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gases-equivalencies-calculator-calculations-and-references
8. ECA working group (2009) Shaping climate-resilient development: A framework for decision-making, a Report of the Economics of Climate Adaptation (ECA) Working Group.