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EbA-driven Agriculture in Africa – a comprehensive framework to upscale and outscale food security in the continent

A new paradigm for agricultural development suggests integrating EbA & value-chain approaches for more productive, socially inclusive & sustainable food systems in Africa.

Towards a comprehensive Strategic Framework to Upscale and Out-scale Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EbA) driven agriculture in Africa

This article is based on the report “Towards a comprehensive Strategic Framework to Upscale and Out-scale Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EbA) driven agriculture in Africa” released ahead of the 2nd Africa EbA for Food Security Conference which will be hosted by the UNEP in Nairobi during 30-31 of July, 2015. Conducted by The Continental Task Force on Ecosystem Based Adaptation on Food Security in Africa, the report offers a new paradigm for agricultural development, suggesting integrating ecosystem-based adaptation and value-chain approaches for more productive, socially inclusive and sustainable food systems in Africa.

Main messages of the report:

  • Investing in sustainable food systems makes a lot of economic sense, people suffering from hunger are not able to productively contribute to economic growth.
  • Promoting and investing in Eba driven approach to agriculture offers efficient use of natural resources, enhanced productivity without environmental degradation, climate resilience and social inclusion.
  • Analysis of the case studies from across Africa offers grounds for upscaling Eba driven agriculture providing a package of policy actions that are based on the common features from different contexts.

Ending Africa’s paradox – A time for change

In 2000 the Economist called Africa the “Hopeless continent”, in 2011 the narrative changed to “Africa rising”. Indeed, the continent has been showing an impressive economic growth rate – averaging 5% since 2000, and is home to six of the world’s fastest growing economies. However, according to the 2014 Africa Progress Report this growth cannot be called inclusive – 50% of Africa’s population still live on the poverty line, lacking food security, proper nutrition, healthcare and employment opportunities for its growing young population.

Paradoxically there is immense agricultural potential with an estimated 65% of the world’s arable land, 10% of internal renewable freshwater resources and 60% of labor available within the agriculture sector. Yet, Africa is highly dependent on food imports. A changing climate is adding one more dimension to the problem, an increasing probability of harvest failure cascade into food and nutrition deficiencies and then to labor availability and productivity, ultimately resulting in even higher poverty levels. Without investing effort and money in sustainable food systems, hungry Africa won’t be able to rise for real.

Ecological base – the first brick in the building of food security

While it is clear that focusing on agricultural development is one of the fastest ways out of poverty for Africa, it is also important to look at how to go about it. Conventional approaches focus on on-farm increases in production with less or no attention to the post production value chain processes, and thus lead to potential food losses through – for example, pollution, forest clearance, post-harvest losses and land degradation.

According to UN FAO food security is a condition where all peoples at all times have social, economic and physical access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary and preferential needs for an active and healthy life. Going further, food security realization rests on the four pillars: physical availability of food, economic and physical access to food, food utilization and stability.

The authors of the report on EbA for Food Security in Africa argue that “although these are important points for understanding of what food security is, the environmental dimension, the very basis of food production, is missing.” They further suggest that “this might have been the reason why environmental health has been often neglected in agricultural policy and offer to re-orient towards an approach that would focus on the ecological foundation of food production as well as appropriate value addition strategies.”

Ecosystem-based (EbA) + value chain approach = green food systems

The approach has two major elements – the ecosystem- based approach and the value chain approach. The Ecosystem-based approach is a strategy of natural resource management that focuses on enhancing food production while also safeguarding ecosystems and their services which underpin agricultural productivity and enhance resilience under climate change.

It includes traditional practices such as conservation agriculture, crop rotation, inter-cropping, agroforestry and biological control of pests. These practices are implemented to prevent soil erosion, improve soil fertility and enhance biological diversity, and thus can enhance the productivity of ecosystems and, consequently, improve potential yields. Because many of these practices have been traditionally used by local communities, they are easily adaptable in most rural communities, and are thus likely to be cost effective relative to conventional approaches.

The value chain approach in the context of food systems goes beyond on-farm production level and suggests following a product from farm to fork, recording and analyzing each step and then making enhancements of a value chain by better energy and water management, more effective distribution and logistics, improved storage, easier market access and incorporation of innovative techniques.

The integration of the two can be described as “greening of the value chains”, which involves implementing green activities with the full range of actors, including agricultural input providers, farmers/producers, service providers, traders, cooperatives, agri-businesses and other actors, acting along the value chains of specific commodities and building synergies along such value chains to reduce environmental impacts.

Green activities in this context are understood as “the processes that proactively facilitate environmentally sustainable food system development and promote adaptation and resilience to a changing climate through efficient use of natural resources; minimizing environmental pollution and the vulnerability of human and natural systems to extreme climate events.” Special attention is paid to post-harvest losses (PHL) along the value chain, though, among other measures, application of innovative technologies to reduce losses in storage, processing and transportation.

It’s not just theory

There is growing evidence that successful examples provide a basis for policy action. The report presents examples of ecologically sound practices that have been implemented with positive results in different parts of Africa including specific EbA techniques such as; small scale water harvesting; crop diversification to include moisture resistant species; management and improvements of soil organic matter (SOM) through agroforestry; use of crop residues, green manure and cover cropping; and integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) through micro-dosing.

Drawing on the successful case studies from Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – chosen from 200 EbA projects analyzed across Africa – the analysis identified some measures and principles required for scaling up and out EbA for food security in Africa:

  • EbA practices are heterogeneous and context specific, hence it is essential to consider unique national and regional approaches
  • Address Eba adoption barriers among farmers through building awareness about its advantages and affordability as well as through knowledge transfer especially in terms of new technologies.
  • Pay attention to smallholder farmers, it can be done by providing economic and legal stimuli for value chain actors, especially the government
  • Enable private sector to invest in market driven solutions
  • Ensure affordable, sustainable and accessible financing/credit schemes to enable growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
  • Integrate EbA and its principles in formal education curricula at all levels (elementary to tertiary)
  • Ensure accountability of EbA actors by monitoring the progress through clear metrics and benchmarks
  • Develop locality specific (agro-ecological zone and farm system specific) EbA techniques info packages that can be used as a guide to optimize EbA benefits across the different contexts of application
  • Reform international free trade regulations that disadvantage African farmers in the global markets
  • Recognize and sustain the vital role of continental and regional intergovernmental organizations, such as the African Union and the regional economic communities (RECs), in policy interventions for implementation of EbA approaches

From here to there – how to operationalize EbA driven approach in African Agriculture

The Continental Task Force on Ecosystem Based Adaptation on Food Security in Africa calls for a new paradigm and offers a framework that integrates value chain and ecosystem- based approach, stressing efficient resource use, waste management, social inclusion and added value beyond the farm level.

Shifting to this way of doing things in African agriculture can potentially bring about five distinct benefits to African food sector: enhance food and nutritional security; enhance ecosystem productivity; build community climate resilience; enhance value chains by linking on farm production with opportunities for both demand and supply value chains; create jobs and increase incomes.

In order to operationalize EbA approaches in the continent, the report puts forward the following five key recommendations for a paradigm shift to safeguard Africa’s food and livelihood security:

  1. Reform policies and institution, embedding ‘good’ policies in both the public and the private sector, for example, through budgetary allocation to programmes and projects that can enable scaling up of EbA approaches
  2. Strengthen knowledge management by including both indigenous and scientific knowledge
  3. Increase communication and outreach
  4. Support capacity building
  5. Reinforce economic incentives and private sector engagement

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