To enable small-scale farmers, produce food optimally with methods that are ecologically sound and economically viable, and in response to the overwhelming dominance of huge transnational conglomerates in agriculture, who are monopolizing food in Africa and beyond, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) on 12 and 13 of October 2022 hosted a practical training on Agroecology with farmers in Rivers State.

The two-day training was both discussion-based and practical with over fifty persons in attendance. Participants included about farmers from communities in five local government areas in Rivers state, journalists  and HOMEF team members. The training exposed the myths and implications of GMOs and inorganic pesticides, provided space for farmer-to-farmer learning, and  equipped the farmers with practical knowledge on Agroecology.

Discussions were centered on GMOs and their implications for our food system, health and environment; Agroecology as a viable solution for the food and climate crises; and  the dangers of chemical intensive Agriculture. Day 2 of the event featured practical preparation of organic fertilizer from Neem leaves and organic Pesticides from Neem seed. Farmers also learnt how to prepare Garlic, Onion and Chilli pesticides  as well as how to prepare compost. The facilitators were Tatfeng Mirabeau, a professor of Medical Microbiology at the Niger Delta University; John Baaki, Agroecology Expert and Executive Director at Women Environment programme and Joyce Brown, Programmes Manager at Health of Mother Earth Foundation.

It was noted in the first session that Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) crops / foods are being released into our food system and are increasingly being alluded to as the future of our agricultural system although evidence abound connecting GMOs with health disorders, environmental damage and violations of consumers’ and farmers’ rights.

Some of the myths of GMOs are that they are an extension of natural breeding and do not pose different risks from naturally bred crops; they are safe to eat and can be more nutritious than naturally bred crops; they are strictly regulated for safety, increase yields, reduce pesticides use;  will help feed the world, benefit farmers and make their lives easier; bring economic benefits, environmental benefits, reduce energy use and can help solve problems caused by climate change. In reality, however, GMOs are laboratory-made, using a technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks to human, animal and environmental health; can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts;  are not adequately regulated to ensure safety; do not increase yield potential; do not reduce pesticides use but increase it; create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-intolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops.

The current agriculture and food systems orchestrated as the Green Revolution, promoted by World Bank, Gates Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) etc and it is still the old high energy consuming mode of production. This failed system also favors fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides while contributing significantly to climate change. Industrial agriculture is responsible for at least a third of all the greenhouse gases. The current food system also causes a lot of health problems such as obesity and diabetes.

We need a good balance of different stable crops together with lots of vegetables and fruits to have a good diet and avoid the problems we currently encounter with obesity and diabetes. It’s time for a “food revolution.” We need to push for enabling policies and a supportive economic environment. Small holder farmers who produce most of the world’s food should be adequately supported with needed infrastructure, credits schemes, extension service and access to land.

The session on Agroecology as a Viable Solution for the Food and Climate Crises revealed that Agroecology is a system of farming that aligns well with nature. It sustains the health of soils, builds biodiversity and nourishes ecosystems while assuring food sovereignty – ensuring that all people have access, at all times to food that is safe, healthy and produced using sound ecological methods. It relies on ecological processes and nutrient cycles adapted to local conditions rather than use of external inputs with adverse effects.

Africa can nourish herself by setting her agricultural and food systems right. Agroecology is the key to transforming our food systems. It is a diversified regenerative farming method that encompasses the three dimensions of sustainable development, that is, the environment, social and economic dimensions. The transformation path which ensures Africa’s ability to nourish herself is hinged on ‘diversified agroecological farming. This system adds the ingredients of connections to markets, crop diversity, mechanization and knowledge building to subsistence agriculture. It transforms industrial agriculture by inputting the elements of food system localization, diversification of crop, reduction in chemical input as well as knowledge advancement to replace the degenerative and degrading elements of pesticides, herbicides, unfair competition to local farmers, mono-culture agriculture (e.g. corn or cocoa plantation) among others.

It was emphasized that agroecology is the real solution for the food system challenges including climate change.

The next session was the screening of a documentary which revealed how industrial agriculture impacts the environment through erosion of indigenous farming practices, the marginalization of smallholder farmers, degradation of soils and loss of biodiversity. Industrial agriculture significantly contributes to climate change which is a big threat to food security and food sovereignty. In conclusion, the video identified Agroecology as a viable solution to the climate and food crises stressing that it cools the planet while ensuring stable and optimum food productivity. 

Further in the programme, the farmers considered the following questions in groups:Are there species of crops that have gone extinct? How does your farming community preserve resources e.g seed? What are the major challenges with farming now? What are the challenges with markets, roads? The challenges identified include bad roads, insecurity, theft of farm produce, high cost of transportation of farm produce, excess taxation, lack of storage facilities etc. The farmers also listed some  species of crops that have gone extinct including cocoyam, water yam and red cassava. It was emphasized in this session that the government and all concerned stakeholders should ensure the protection of indigenous seeds/varieties.

Day-two gave space for farmer-to-farmer knowledge transfer on best practices and solutions to common problems.Thereafter the production of organic fertilisers and pesticides were demonstrated practically.

At the end, the farmers expressed their gratitude for the training and shared excellent feedback. One of the successes was the huge turnout of farmers at the training. Evidently, there was  increased knowledge and capacity to produce food Agroecologically. Farmers denounced the use of GMOs and inorganic chemicals,  made commitment to embrace agroecology, and work in solidarity to promote, a safe, resilient and profitable food system. 

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