Baobab Magazine

Issue 069 - Family Farmers Feeding the World

Family farmers produce more than half of the world’s food. The United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. This is a very important recognition of the multiple social, economic, environmental and cultural functions of family farming. For example, family farmers produce more than 50% of the world’s food, and are important guardians of biodiversity.

Creating the conditions for family farming to thrive is essential for a sustainable future. The threats to family farming are multidimensional. But family farmers have proven to be innovative and resilient under the right socio-political framework and conditions – especially when supported by public and institutional policies.

Family farmers exert a large degree of autonomy. They do this through the use of agro-ecological practices and the creation of new markets that are suitable to their context. They pool their labour and resources, and increase their yields. They organise themselves and make their voices heard. They build their own educational spaces where they learn from each other and teach others. Women play a key role in these strategies, which are often carried out in close collaboration with local decision makers, researchers, and consumer platforms

This issue shows a range of experiences in East Africa and beyond that set examples that may be amenable to replication.

Issue 068 - Re-thinking Agriculture and Extension Education

Recent developments have radically changed conditions that small-scale farmers have relied on for generations for food production and livestock rearing globally. Among these include: reduction of land available for farming due to population pressure and land grabbing; deterioration of soil fertility and health as a result of extractive farming practices; and unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change. These challenges call for an equally radical shift in the mode of training for extension agents.

Many experiences are showing that agricultural education can do much more; it can be a powerful tool in strengthening the social value attached to farming. It can make people aware that there are low-cost and sustainable alternatives to “modern agriculture” which, for many small-scale farmers, can be a route into debt and misery. Agricultural educators – whether extension agents from public or private sector, university professors, school teachers or farmers themselves – need to become agents of change. They need to support farmers in the task of reconnecting to the agro-ecosystems that they manage, rather than becoming increasingly disconnected from them. This issue shows a range of experiences in East Africa and beyond that set examples that may be amenable to replication.

Issue 067:Alternative markets for improved livelihoods

The greatest challenges that family farmers face are developing strategies to improve market access and adding value to their agricultural production. There is a clear need for small scale farmers to find an alternative to the formal market that is mainly dominated by big transnational agri-business. In East Africa, there is already a high demand for farm produce by markets that are to be found quite close to farmers.

Often the challenge lies in the fact that most agricultural production in the region is rain-fed, a situation that often leads to a glut in the market, particularly for fresh produce, because farmers tend to grow similar commodities when rains are good. For non perishable commodities such as maize, farmers often miss a fair market due to pressure from brokers who get to their farm gates offering non-competitive prices. This issue shows a range of experiences in East Africa and beyond that set examples that may be amenable to replication.

Issue 066 - SRI, More Rice, Less water

The quest for technologies that enable more efficient and environmentally friendly agricultural practices has intensified as the reality of climate change has become universally evident. One such technology is the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which was developed in Madagascar, becoming available to the rest of the world from around 2000. In this issue Erika Styger captures the progressive adoption of the technology outside Madagascar in an interesting chronology in her article titled: How is SRI evolving, and what are we learning?

In East Africa, Professor Bancy Mati spearheaded introduction of the SRI technology in Kenya. See her interview by Fiona Imbali. Farmers’ testimonies from two major rice growing areas in Kenya, namely: Mwea (Kirinyaga County) and Ahero (Kisumu County) attest to the effectiveness of SRI in increasing yields and improving their livelihoods. Efforts to introduce SRI have met some initial resistance of both farmers and the scientific community. Farmers learnt about the technology, adopted it and other farmers learnt from them. Today the technology is well supported by research. Read more on SRI here.

Issue 065-Desertification: A Threat to Livelihoods in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands

The threat posed by desertification and land degradation has drawn global attention in recent decades as projections of the world’s population show that there will be an enormous demand for food by 2050. Yet land available for farming is not expanding. At the same time, awareness about damage created by intensive use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, degraded soils and reduced biodiversity is leading more people to push for an alternative path towards achieving global food security.

The twin phenomena of climate change and variability are further complicating the outlook, especially because they have a strong negative impact on the world’s arid and semi-arid lands. Experts at the United Nations long foresaw the threat posed by desertification and decided to focus the attention of the global community on it when the UN declared 2010 - 2020 the Decade for Deserts and the fight against Desertification (UNDDD). Read more on Desertification and how it is a threat to livelihoods and Arid and Semi-Arid lands.

Issue 064 - Farmers' Organisations

This issue of Baobab focuses on Farmers’ Organisations. The theme is informed by the reality that farmers are able to achieve better outcomes for themselves and for national and global aspirations of food security and food sovereignty when they are well organised and able to speak in one voice. Globally, it is becoming increasingly common for agencies that support farmers, particularly small scale farmers, to seek out and listen to farmers directly where this is possible.

Whereas it is good and beneficial for other groups such as civil society organisations,cooperatives and ministries of agriculture to advance the cause of farmers, the truth is that farmers are most familiar with the challenges they face with respect to optimising production in a sustainable manner; accessing needed inputs and eventually fair markets for their produce.

Read more on Farmers’ Organisations and their role in food security and sustainable development

Read more on Desertification and how it is a threat to livelihoods and Arid and Semi-Arid lands.