Deputy Minister for Food and Agriculture, Dr. Sagre Bambangi is warning the push for Ghana and Africa to adopt agroecology solely as the main agricultural production method will jeopardise the continent’s food security.
Dr. Bambangi, an economist and Member of Parliament for the Walewale Constituency is convinced although agroecology is an acceptable way of production, it cannot be used to feed the growing world population.
“Agroecology is a very good method of production in agriculture. And we have not lost sight of it. The only challenge is that where we are, if we are to insist that we are only going to go that way and no other way, immediately, we will encounter serious food security challenges,” he explained.
“There are people who want to eat foods that’s produced using organic fertilizer and all, some people can afford to do that. There are some people that if you want to restrict them, they will starve and die before the kind of sicknesses you think will come in the long term will come. Some children will suffer malnutrition and they can’t even go beyond five years.
“So, we have to be careful. These are ideas we can pursue, but the generality of our population, they need food. And these other fast methods need to be used to make us food secure. So, I must be frank with you, we cannot strictly say we are going this method (agroecology),” the Deputy Minister told a public forum in Accra organized by the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana to analyze the manifestos of the NDC and NPP ahead of the December 7 elections.
The Ghana Alliance for Agroecology and Food Sovereignty describes agroecology as a farming and food production system which works with the natural ecology, rather than trying to control local ecology.
It says agroecology is organic, meaning no agro-chemicals are used during production. Organic fertilisers and pest repellents are used instead.
The group criticises modern and improved farming practices including the use of heavy machinery like tractors, describing it as unsustainable.
Edwin Kweku Andoh Baffour of civil society group Food Sovereignty Ghana told the forum improved agriculture is damaging agricultural production and the planet.
“How many years are we going to do agriculture the way we are doing? The soil is being depleted, fertility is being depleted, the biodiversity is being lost because we don’t want to look at the long-term needs and introduce agroecology,” he said.
“The last United Nation’s sustainability report said the world needs to shift away from large scale commercial agriculture to adopt agroecology for the sake of the sustainability of the planet,” he told Joy News’ Joseph Opoku Gakpo in an interview.
A number of international aid organisations including ActionAid and Oxfam, as well as the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have promoted agroecology in some countries in Africa including Ethiopia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Senegal as the future of agricultural production.
Asked what advice he will give other African countries like Ghana where agroecology is being championed by activist groups for adoption by governments, Bambangi urged governments to allow farmers to make their own choice.
“We must not lose sight of the fact that we have to address the immediate food security needs of the people. Because once we are food insecure, diseases and war can set in. We have to create a very, very good balance between these ideals we are talking about.
“Farmers who want to practice agroecology can do it. You can’t sit on anybody’s rights. You can replant your own seeds. But we are also sensitizing farmers that improved seeds produce better yields. We as a government will get a very good mix of the two. We will not go solo on agroecology,” he told Joy News.
Irene Egyir, an associate professor at the agricultural economics department of the University of Ghana agrees the world cannot survive on agroecology alone. She criticizes the push for agroecology to be adopted across board, describing it as backward.
“We have moved from there. In the agricultural progression, that was the frontier and conservation model. This was in the 17th Century. So, we can depend on it as a niche. But not to be adopted as the only option,” she told Joy News in an interview.
“Saying Ghana’s own seed, soil, water, Ghana’s own everything, it may not be possible… When I was born, we were six million and now we are 30 million. And the mouths are becoming a lot. So, for me, it (agroecology alone) is not possible. African governments should pursue it as a parallel policy. It should be parallel with all the other farming systems so we can have food security,” Egyir added.
But Andoh of Food Sovereignty Ghana insists other forms of agriculture apart from agroecology will be damaging to the planet.
“The long-term cost is much more expensive than you thinking we should go side by side,” he claimed.
He dismisses concerns that with rising world population which is estimated to hit 9 billion by 2050, better technologies are needed to ensure a food secure world. “The reality about food and hunger is the politics of food distribution. That is why you have food mountains in some countries… and poverty in others. Ghana grows enough foods. It’s about the politics of where food ends up… We have arable lands that are not being used,” Andoh insisted.
The Ghana Alliance for Agroecology and Food Sovereignty on its website claims agroecology is cheaper for farmers because they are producing their own organic fertiliser rather than buying costly agro-chemicals.
But Dr. Egyir disagrees that agroecology is a cheaper way of food production. She insists the problem with agroecology is more about it lacking the capacity to produce enough to feed the world.
“They are even more expensive because it takes time. And a lot is dependent on labour. A lot of it is not using machinery. That is the challenge… You spend so much time managing and making sure pests won’t come up. It takes time and effort. People may die because it is slow and expensive,” she added.
Ugandan agriculturalist Nassib Mugwanya has argued the limitations of agroecology will make it difficult to scale it up across Africa. “Whatever the problems and limitations of modern agriculture may be, dogmatic adherence to a model based fundamentally on traditional farming is not the answer. African agriculture needs transformation,” he observes.
“Like the farmers themselves, we should stop fixating on practices and technologies and instead focus on goals and outcomes, both human and environmental.
“We should jettison the arbitrary distinction between traditional and modern — the only criterion that gives coherence to the practices that agroecology promotes and eschews — as one that carries little meaning or import for poor farmers themselves,” he noted.