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Environmental bodies champion the course of agroforestry through farmers training

By Obiabin Onukwugha

Environmental bodies, in addition to advocating for a healthy environment and improved livelihoods for citizens, have continued to play a key role in climate change mitigation and food security.

In doing this, these CSOs have been advocating for agroecological practices and the end to genetically modified organism (GMO) crops. By organising training-the-trainers programmes and campaigns in different local communities across Nigeria, these CSOs are increasingly becoming champions of eco entrepreneurship.

Recently, some CSOs, including the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, GMO-Free Nigeria Alliance and Be the Help Foundation, collaborated to provide practical training for CSOs and Trainers at the Agroforestry Farm in Kwali Area Council, Abuja.

The training comes on the heels of two major global crises—hunger and climate change—caused significantly by an agricultural model that sees/treats food as a mere commodity. This model generates hunger and encourages biodiversity loss, coupled with climate change impacts.

The training which brought together crucial 15 farmer group leaders/trainers from across the country, focused on agroforestry. Agro-forestry involves sustainable land use and economic empowerment for farmers through community groups, allowing them to plant native’s trees, fruit tree species and various crops.

The goals is to sustainably improve smallholder agricultural practices through improved productivity and market development, resulting in marketable surpluses that raise farm incomes and increase communities’ food security as well as safer practices of natural resource management.

During the training, farmers were exposed to the implication of GMOs and inorganic pesticides; practical production of organic pesticides and fertilisers; agroforestry including water, carbon and nutrient cycles, plant and soil health and reproduction; biodiversity improvement; and farm management.

Felling of trees to make room for agricultural activities was seriously discouraged. Trees are essential to the well being of the ecosystem. Rather, it was recommended that focus should be on the restoration of the soil using the agroforestry model, planting nitrogen fixing crops, and flowers to draw insects away from food crops.

Excessive harrowing was discouraged as as well, because this can increase soil erosion and encourage the growth of pests, while zero tillage was advised.

Some participants raised concern about how to get funding to set up an agroecology farm. It was suggested that communities or groups of people can initially start up the farm as a collective venture, develop and build knowledge and then it will be feasible for individuals to reproduce the system.

Participants further acknowledged that agroecology including agroforestry models of regenerative agriculture is the safest and most effective way of solving the food and climate change challenges in Nigeria while empowering local farmers/communities.

“We don’t have bad soils, but bad practices”, said one of the trainers as he explained that industrial agriculture categorised by heavy dependence on inorganic pesticides and fertilisers, mono cropping and excessive tillage/soil disturbance was a major cause of soil infertility.

“This system of agriculture – the industrial model contributes significantly – upto 40% – to the climate emergency. In Nigeria, efforts at increasing food productivity and adapting to the climate crisis have erroneously included the entrenchment of genetic engineering in agriculture and this is a false solution which further compounds the problems.

“Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have dire implications for biodiversity, human and environmental health and does not support local economies -rather they increase profit for just a handful of transnational corporations. The threats of biodiversity loss are compounded by the registration and use of highly hazardous pesticides,” the CSOs told participants.

Nigeria’s outlook on modern agricultural biotechnology as solution to current food system challenges/food insecurity is erroneous as this technology doesn’t align with her food system and doesn’t address fundamental agriculture related issues such as insecurity, poor access to land/credit, lack of proper infrastructure for processing and storage, poor extension service, poverty etc.

They noted that GMOs are not the answer to food insecurity in Nigeria. Key implications with the use of GMOs include contamination of local varieties; the need to continuously purchase seeds due to patent rights; lack of accountability, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation resulting from excessive use of herbicides; and health complications linked to consumption of GMOs.

“Agroecology, cuts down cost for the farmer, increases yield, and reduces crop loss, and soil death, while providing for the well-being of the farmer. Agroecology ensures pests and weeds are effectively managed using natural practices that help rejuvenate biodiversity and sustain life in the ecosystem.

“It also allows the farmer to systemically run his farm in a way that is profitable. With this model, autonomy and control of seeds is taken away from the hands of the corporations and handed back to the farmer.

“There is an existing knowledge gap as few farmers know about agroecology and its benefits. For this system to work effectively, farmers must be trained and equipped with the knowledge of the models to bridge the gap,” the trainers said.

The CSOs emphasised the need for land availability and crop rotational practices, saying, “This system of agriculture is designed specifically for the smallholder farmer. It involves crop rotation and multi-cropping, so the farmer needs to know the kinds of crops and trees, how they grow, and when they produce, so something is being harvested from the farm round the year.”

In the end, the training recommended, among other things, that the government, at the federal, state, and local levels, should do more to monitor the seeds and chemicals that farmers are given.

Proper examination of the root causes of food insecurity in Nigeria and direct measures to address them should also be undertaken.

Also, the government at all levels should increase support for farmers by providing the needed infrastructure and good roads to access markets and extension services.

The CSOs also recommended that the government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, should partner with groups like HOMEF and the BHF to set up agroecology demonstration farms in communities and extend the knowledge/practice of agroecology to more farmers/communities across the country.

As a follow up to the training, the trainers/CSOs will be organising a stepdown training in their various communities.


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