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BB59: The farmer’s perspective to agroecology: the case of West Africa - Ibrahima Coulibaly


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The Brussels Development Briefing n. 59 on “Agroecology for Sustainable Food Systems” organised by CTA, the European Commission/EuropeAid, the ACP Secretariat, CONCORD and IPES-FOOD was held on Wednesday 15 January 2020 (9h00-13h00) at the ACP Secretariat, Avenue Georges Henri 451, 1200 Brussels.
The briefing brought various perspectives and experiences on agroecological systems to support agricultural transformation. Experts presented trends and prospects for agroecological approaches and what it implies for the future of the food systems. Successes and innovative models in agroecology in different parts of the world and the lessons learned for upscaling them were also discussed.

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BB59: The farmer’s perspective to agroecology: the case of West Africa - Ibrahima Coulibaly

  1. 1. By Mr Ibrahima Coulibaly President of the Board of Directors of the ROPPA AGROECOLOGY PROSPECTS FOR FAMILY FARMS: WEST AFRICA
  3. 3. 1) SHORT PRESENTATION OF THE ROPPA The ROPPA: an initiative and desire by producer’s organisations (POs) to collectively promote and defend family farming though the following priority areas: Developing and increasing access for POs and family farms to appropriate and adequate services for the sustainable transformation of family farms. Developing/strengthening an inclusive political dialogue that promotes meaningful participation of POs in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of development policies and strategies in the agrosilvopastoral, forestry and fishing sector, with the aim of ensuring that the concerns, desires and dynamics of family farms are taken into consideration. The ROPPA’s actions have allowed the adoption of policies promoting food sovereignty and inclusion of family farming in current agricultural policies (ECOWAP, PAU). Support in strengthening the structure and institutional and organisational capacities of POs. The ROPPA has assisted with the creation of national platforms in 13 ECOWAS countries that serve to represent the opinions of POs in their respective countries.
  4. 4. 2) STRATEGIC ISSUES IN THE AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD ECONOMY IN WEST AFRICA Family farming is a production system that is affected by strategic issues in the agricultural and food economy in West Africa, however it receives little support from public policies. • Increasingly, the majority of demand for foodstuffs and agrifood by populations is handled through territorial markets. Trade involving foodstuffs currently accounts for 90% of food consumption in urban areas and around 50% of expenditure on food in rural areas. This demand is increasingly served by local agricultural and food products from family farms. • The food economy is currently the primary sector for wealth and job creation, despite the growth of the service and mining sectors. It accounts for USD 178 million, some 36% of regional GDP (OECD, 2018). Production, dominated by family farming, remains the biggest segment, contributing around 60% of the added value in the food economy; almost 32% of regional GDP and around 15% of export revenue. Around 60% of the active population of close to 280 million inhabitants depends on the agricultural production segment to cover their needs.
  5. 5. 2) STRATEGIC ISSUES IN THE AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD ECONOMY IN WEST AFRICA • Family farming dominates the production segment, providing over 90% of agricultural and food produce and cultivating nearly 80% of farming land. • This means that it ensures food security and sovereignty in production areas and regions while also preserving natural resources. • Despite this, family farming has long been severely marginalised with respect to agricultural development policies and strategies, which have focused on crops for export. At the same time, population growth, the effects of climate change exacerbating pressure on natural resources and constraints from implemented policies that have been decided on have over the years contributed to the weakening of family farming strategies and preventing family farming from fully playing its role in sustainable economic and social development in the region.
  6. 6. 3) FUNDAMENTALS AND FAILURES OF INTENSIFIED FARMING BASED ON THE GREEN REVOLUTION • The fundamental transformation of agriculture in West Africa began with the series of droughts that occurred at the beginning of the 1970s. • The resulting series of famines highlighted the limitations of the dual approach that supports intensification of production in export sectors but abandons family farming itself in favour of other production, in particular production oriented towards the needs of territories. • In this context, the solution devised and prescribed by international cooperation, with the blessings and complicity of the local political elites, was to spread agricultural intensification based on the principle of the green revolution. This approach encompassed all crops in production areas, with the aim of increasing yields and economic returns: mechanisation, improved seeds, chemical pesticides and fertilisers, etc.
  7. 7. 3) FUNDAMENTALS AND FAILURES OF INTENSIFIED FARMING BASED ON THE GREEN REVOLUTION • As was the case in its European homelands, this vision of agricultural intensification was not able to achieve the expected results in West Africa. • In particular, the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) implemented from the middle of the 1980s crippled multiple farming and food systems promoted by family farming, resulting in measures that weakened investment and public services supporting development in the sector, such as those providing agricultural advice. • This resulted in West Africa becoming increasingly dependent on imports from the international market from the middle of the 1990s. This fracturing of the food system resulted in an annual food trade deficit of around 3 billion dollars (ECOWAS 2016).
  8. 8. 3) FUNDAMENTALS AND FAILURES OF INTENSIFIED FARMING BASED ON THE GREEN REVOLUTION • Public policies were also unsure of how to provide the necessary support so that the potential of young people and women to contribute to the transformation of the sector could be fully realised: lack of training, little access to productive resources, equipment and technology, etc. • To summarise, this intensification approach has, with the arrival of the SAP over the past 20 years, demonstrated the limitations of its marginal improvements in West Africa. The agrosilvopastoral, forestry and fishing sector thus faces challenges that have become both numerous and complex (sustainable nutrition and food security/sovereignty, securing land rights, climate change, profitability of family farms to be able to keep running them in the future, etc.). • For several years now, these challenges have resulted in a range of market crises, themselves provoking increased migration of young people and armed conflict, that are weakening social cohesion and peaceful coexistence in certain communities.
  9. 9. 4) AGROECOLOGY IN WEST AFRICA: A NECESSITY IN THE FACE OF THE CURRENT SITUATION AND CHALLENGES • Despite current challenges in the agrosilvopastoral, forestry and fishing production sector, it remains the primary source of livelihood and resilience in many communities in West Africa. • This is why, when faced with the dual crises in traditional production practices and reservations with respect to the effects of industrial agriculture, many communities have developed and/or consolidated initiatives based on the principle of agroecology in order to maintain and improve the productivity and production of family farms. • In West Africa, these innovations founded on the principles of farming agroecology are a result of an accumulation of practices, observations, experiences, knowledge and expertise by farmers and communities over the years.
  10. 10. 4) AGROECOLOGY IN WEST AFRICA: A NECESSITY IN THE FACE OF THE CURRENT SITUATION AND CHALLENGES • Across these innovations, the issue at stake is sustainable development and peace through the future of agriculture in West Africa, maintaining it and the role it should play with respect to the expectations of communities in the regions. This approach recommends rethinking the current agricultural and food system in order to move away from instability, dependency (technical, financial, cultural, etc.) and ecological fragility. • Agroecology thus appears to be a holistic response to the agricultural challenges in West Africa and contributes to the ensuring the right to food by proposing new foundations for a sustainable and nutritional food system. • It is backed by many farmer’s and civil society organisations. It is of course difficult to measure its progress due to lack of statistics, however the tangible results that it has allowed family farms to achieve suggest that an increasing number of farmers are adopting it. A large amount of research has also allowed the quality and relevance of farmers’ agroecology practices to be receive greater recognition.
  11. 11. 4) AGROECOLOGY IN WEST AFRICA: A NECESSITY IN THE FACE OF THE CURRENT SITUATION AND CHALLENGES Overcoming challenges and scaling up agroecology: The solutions identified focus primarily on two areas: Due to the cross-sector nature of the transition to agroecology, it requires simultaneous action in different spheres of influence (politics, research, farming and civil society) and at different levels (local, national, regional and international) to break free of the status quo. Each stakeholder, at their respective level, is essential for the desired change. The coordination of actions by different groups of stakeholders, the sharing of their experience and the strengthening of their technical capacities in agroecology are essential in providing the tools to allow scaling up.
  12. 12. 5) AGROECOLOGICAL TRANSITION: WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS FOR FAMILY FARMS AND THE ROPPA? At present, national platforms that are members of the ROPPA and their farmers’ federations have tools to provide training and guidance for family farms and their grassroots organisations to adopt an agroecological vision and practices adapted to their context, to move from the individual level of the territorial and national level. This is true of the CNOP in Mali, the CPF in Burkina Faso, the CNCR in Senegal and the PFPN in Niger which themselves hold large events such as the Agroecology Night in Senegal and the International Forum on Agroecology in Nyéléni, Mali, to name but two. ROPPA and its platforms are also committed to implementing peasant agroecology with a holistic vision, as expressed in the seven pillars of the Nyéléni Peasant Agroecology Manifesto1.
  13. 13. Pillar 1: Ensure that land, water, and other natural resources are safeguarded This is the essential pillar. There can be no harmonious agricultural development without the safeguarding and rational management of land and water by, and for, rural communities. Farmers are the principal investors and the main food providers. Their rights to land and natural resources must be safeguarded. This means: The safeguarding and legal recognition – with the exclusion of privatisation and commodification – of traditional collective landholding rights and rights to natural resources of villages and families. Protecting the community rights of hunters, gatherers, fishers, and nomadic herders to use and have access to common goods, namely forests, pastures, transhumance routes, and water sources; simultaneously promoting the ecological and cultural restoration of the past abundance of these common goods by means of local agreements for the fair and balanced management of natural resources. Establishing local institutions for conflict management and conflict resolution at the village level that are inclusive of all community members, particularly women and young people. Adopting a territorial and holistic approach to social and economic questions concerning natural resources.
  14. 14. Pillar 2: Place value on and safeguard biodiversity, peasant seeds and local breeds. Natural biodiversity and the diversity of crops and farm animals is the mainstay of present and future life. It must be fostered and this means: Making an inventory of the diversity of local peasant varieties and animal breeds, working towards their multiplication and recognising their nutritional and therapeutic qualities. Guaranteeing the collective rights of peasants and communities to freely use, save, exchange, and sell their peasant seeds (putting into effect Article 9 of the ITPGRFA). Preventing the bio-pirating of our natural resources and the privatisation of life. Resisting efforts by corporations and institutions to misappropriate agroecology and their attempts to use it as a way of promoting GMOs and other false solutions and dangerous new biotechnologies. ITPGRFA: International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
  15. 15. Pillar 4: Promote local food systems that provide a range of foods that are nutritious and therapeutic. Our local food systems are the primary guarantors of our health, our jobs, our environment and our identity. This means: Promoting local markets and local products: valuing these products because they are healthy, flavourful, nutritious, therapeutic...  Supporting the development of infrastructure, institutions and alternative means of financing in order to assist producers and consumers. Promoting peasant agroecology as the best way to reduce losses and waste in the food system. Ensuring that production, processing and marketing regulations are adapted to the realities of local and peasant agriculture, in order to relocalise food systems.
  16. 16. Pillar 5: Support and value the participation of women and young people. The participation of women, who bring with them their knowledge, values, vision and leadership is essential in order for agroecology to progress and to fulfil its potential. The development and practice of peasant agroecology, with its potential for social and ecological transformation now and in the future, depend to a great extent on the participation of young people and women. This means: Fairness and equality with regard to landholding, decision-making, access to services, rights, social status and remuneration. Creating secure situations where women and young people can develop their autonomy and providing them with the tools to do so. Within the framework of peasant agroecology, establishing and supporting social initiatives to keep young people in the countryside by creating a flourishing collective life and providing decent incomes. Encouraging the exchange and handing on of knowledge, especially from one generation to the next.
  17. 17. Pillar 6: Strengthen synergies and alliances and collective organisational processes. It is of crucial importance to increase the development of peasant agroecology on a larger scale through self-organisation and collective action. This means: Expanding and strengthening networks by promoting discussion spaces and activities relating to peasant agroecology, from local to regional level. Encouraging and supporting collective organisation directed towards dynamic and living agroecological areas that contain a wealth of environmental, productive and human diversity. The expansion of our peasants’ and citizens’ movement to include public research institutions and organisations, in order to serve the interests of the people by giving priority to subjects related to peasant agroecology and by developing truly collaborative research programmes that put peasant knowledge at the heart of solutions. Establishing continuing education training programmes to ensure the sustainability of Agroecology.
  18. 18. Pillar 7: Act at the institutional, legislative and regulatory levels. Ensure that peasant agroecology, according to the definition in this document, is recognised and put into effect by our governments and by international institutions – as has begun to happen with the FAO – and by local and regional authorities. This means:  Including peasant agroecology in public policies, particularly in policies concerning agriculture, health, nutrition and education.  Ensuring that 10% from Maputo goes towards supporting family farming based on peasant agriculture and food sovereignty, while protecting our local economies in a context of regional integration involving the actors of the AEP.  Ensuring that produce from peasant agroecology is supplied to all food programmes and restaurants linked to public services. This includes food that is served during workshops, forums, meetings and summits.  Creating and maintaining peasant agroecology green belts, in conjunction with the relevant local authorities and administrations, through the promotion of genuinely participative decentralised planning processes.  Opposing any agreement or treaty that jeopardises our peasant economies and identities.  Peasant agroecology is the answer to the need for protection, security and sustainability for the world and for humankind. Solidarity between peoples, as well as between rural and urban populations, is an essential element in bringing it to fruition.
  19. 19. 5) AGROECOLOGICAL TRANSITION: WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS FOR FAMILY FARMS AND THE ROPPA? • The ROPPA is also committed to taking advantage of all events and opportunities to advocate and work towards the development and implementation of policies to promote peasant agroecology in West Africa and its inclusion in PNIASAN, PRIASAN and PCD/TASAN to coordinate between agricultural, trade and environmental policies. For this, the ROPPA is committed to supporting and defending the rights of communities and rights- holders, especially land and seed use, and to include them in these public policies. • In order for the changes to be effective and support broad scaling up, PO and CSO networks must coordinate their actions in synergy, in the short-, mid- and long-term. This mainly concerns:
  20. 20. 5) AGROECOLOGICAL TRANSITION: WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS FOR FAMILY FARMS AND THE ROPPA? • Strengthening coalitions to create a critical mass by involving all of the various stakeholder groups at the local, national and regional level. • Assisting farmers through consolidation of their training and apprenticeship tools and by developing synergies with the tools of other stakeholders (NGOs, public authorities, projects, etc.). • Promoting the consumption of agroecology products (developing local supply chains, strengthening participatory guarantee systems in certain countries and the creation of a regional PGS – participative certification, etc.). • Reorienting research priorities and approaches via decompartmentalisation and by ensuring participative creation of technologies and improved dissemination (production of standards, support in the participative certification process). • Encouraging producers to adopt agroecology practices (risk management, making agroecology products synonymous with a quality standard, dissemination of tools adapted to agroecology, etc.). • Strengthening ownership of agroecology through policies (food programme purchases by local authorities, inclusion of agroecology in public health policies, appropriate measures and instruments to encourage and support agroecology, strengthening innovation management instruments, promoting the protection of natural resources and biodiversity, easing access to lucrative markets for products produced via agroecology, etc.).
  21. 21. 5) AGROECOLOGICAL TRANSITION: WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS FOR FAMILY FARMS AND THE ROPPA? • It is with these prospects that the ROPPA, in collaboration with IPES/FOOD and other stakeholder groups, has founded the West African Agroecology Alliance (Alliance pour l’Agroécologie en Afrique de l’Ouest – 3AO) with the aim of consolidating efforts and deepening discussions on agroecology. It is an inter- sector cooperation platform that aims to (i) promote and assist with the agroecology transition in West Africa and (ii) strengthen synergies between various bodies and action at different levels to increase advocacy, the visibility of the movement and the impact of agroecology initiatives.
  22. 22. What are the objectives of 3AO? West African Agroecology Alliance (Alliance pour l’Agroécologie en Afrique de l’Ouest – 3AO) is an inter-sector cooperation platform, that aims to: • Promote and assist with the agroecology transition in West Africa • Strengthen synergies between various bodies and action at different levels to increase advocacy, the visibility of the movement and the impact of agroecology initiatives.
  23. 23. 3AO action plan The 3AO action plan includes around 50 initiatives, categorised into five priority areas: Improve and strengthen the governance of food systems and reorient farming funding. 1 Maximise the combination of science and farmer expertise: Participative research and consolidation of knowledge. Consolidate the agroecology network and mobilise civil society. Strengthen our training and farmer-to-farmer apprenticeship systems. Develop and strengthen the local food system, local and collective partnerships/market access. 2 3 4 5 The Alliance’s activities are organised around an evolving action plan that is used as a reference and coordination framework.
  24. 24. How we operate Members of the Alliance are involved in action plan initiatives, either: - by being initiative leaders - or being part of a support group The initiatives listed in the action plan are generally the responsibility of so-called ‘leaders’, but these leaders receive support, expertise and experience from organisations in the ‘support group’. This pooling of knowledge and expertise: • Develops contacts • Promotes the exchange of best practices • Increases the visibility of work by members • Avoids the risk of duplications efforts to achieve shared objectives