A resilient food and farming system is highly dependent on the protection and preservation of biological diversity. While industrial agriculture and market based technologies destroy biodiversity, real farmers (small holder farmers) are faced with the challenge of making healthy food available in large quantities. In recognition of the vital role of small holder farmers, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), on 28 January 2021 brought farmers together to dialogue in Kano State, Nigeria. The dialogue examined the challenges and threats to Nigeria’s food system and defined the pathway for food sovereignty.

The issue of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and their implications were discussed, followed by discussions on alternatives to GMOs and agroecology as a viable solution to the food and climate challenges. Also discussed were the general and specific challenges farmers face in the cultivation of different crops; harmful farming practices; sustain-able and indigenous farming practices and suggestions for food sovereignty in Nigeria.

Knowledge was shared on how GMOs tamper with Nigeria’s ability to achieve food sovereignty. This is linked to the fact that many GM seeds come with patents that disallow re-cultivation of same seeds after the first planting season. This is coupled with the fact that the cultivation of GM seeds, especially the herbicide tolerant varieties lead to soil degradation and loss of biodiversity. 

The dialogue re-enforced the importance of preserving biodiversity and the indigenous food system in Nigeria. To strengthen this understanding, Joyce Ebebeinwe, HOMEF’s Programmes Manager who represented the Director, Nnimmo Bassey at the dialogue illustrated the connection between food and agricultural system, and disease invasions such as the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Ebebeinwe, “industrial agriculture and the attendant risky technologies thrive in monocultures and bring about reduced genetic diversity. Consumption of GMOs has been linked to immune disorders as well as other conditions that reduce our ability to fight infections”. 

Dr. Olugbenga Adeoluwa, a senior lecturer in the University of Ibadan and a practicing farmer, created an understanding that when farmers adopt farming techniques like the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and cultivation of Genetically Modified (GM) crops, they import foreign problems. 

The farmers noted that farming practices championed by the industrial agriculture are alien to Nigeria’s indigenous farming system. The impacts of these practices were mentioned and include: the loss of taste of some harvested crops like tomatoes, loss of firmness, slower crop growth, increased post-harvest spoilage and increased pests invasion which force the use of more pesticides. 

The farmers narrated different and related challenges that they experience with the cultivation of crops. For groundnuts, beans and maize, the challenge is pest invasion; for cotton, it is stunted growth; while the challenge with rice is rusting or bronzing. All these challenges are linked to use of inorganic chemicals which interfere with the balance of the agro-ecosystem.   

Indigenous and natural remedies were recommended for these challenges. One remedy is the use of compost or natural manure examples of which are cow dung, goat droppings and poultry manure. Another solution is the use of neem or dogonyaro leaves, seeds and oil, recommended for controlling pests that trouble crops like maize, cowpea and okra; and the use of chilli pepper to drive pests like grasshoppers. For better cotton heads, adequate use of phosphorous and potassium is recommended.      

The farmers acknowledged that the natural ways of achieving good yield and controlling pests and weeds are much more beneficial to the soil and ecosystem than the use of GMOs and/or inorganic chemicals. They shared their experiences with chemical fertilizers versus manure. According to the farmers, the application of chemical fertilizers on a farmland only allows short term use of the land- after which the farmer has to seek another land to plant on.  

Again, while the application of a mudu (a local measurement) of chemical fertilizer performs optimally for a short duration of two weeks, a mudu of compost like cow dung lasts almost a year. Also, farm produce, such as tubers of yam cultivated with chemical fertilizers, sometimes appear to be bigger in size but begin to rot within a short time. The heavy usage of chemicals in farming was connected to the infertile soils that farmers have to battle with as these chemicals destroy microorganisms and interfere with natural cycles that keep the soil and crops nourished.

The farmers shared insights on indigenous farming practices that they wish to preserve considering their huge benefits. The practices include mixed cropping, crop rotation, bush fallowing and shifting cultivation. Irrigation farming was named by the farmers as a way of boosting productivity and mitigating the harsh impact of climate change.

The Kano farmers complained about the loss of some indigenous crops such as bambaranuts and cocoyams. Also, they complained about challenges such as lack of capital, storage facilities, social amenities, land, inadequate water supply and lack of extension service.

At the end of the dialogue, the farmers unanimously agreed that for increased productivity and for a resilient food system our government should put a ban on GMOs and support farmers to produce food in healthy and sustain-able ways.

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