Farmers must be involved in climate negotiations!

© Farm Africa

For a long time, African family farmers have been trusting in the knowledge of their ancestors in order to adapt to varying weather conditions.  By doing this they have been able to feed generations. Nevertheless, these farmers who have a key role in assuring food sovereignty and in fighting climate change are left out of the debate on climate change.  Indeed, at the last Doha Climate Change Conference agriculture was not generally thought to be a significant consideration in climate change, even though family farming has great potential for alleviating it[1].  What is more, donors are promoting a polluting agro-industrial model for Africa which will have negative consequences for food sovereignty!  Let us analyse the contradictions in these models .


The agro-industrial model: no solution for famine and climate warming


The western world has promoted several initiatives for African farming such as AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) and the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa. These programmes endorse public-private partnerships that include the big multi-nationals of the agro-industry.  The agro-industrial model implies the intensive use of chemical fertilisers and expensive seeds which has numerous disadvantages for Africa’s family farmers and others. Operation costs are too high and there are damaging impacts on food sovereignty and the local environment.



Firstly, the increase in costs forces some farmers to declare themselves bankrupt.  Family farmers make up the majority of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa and are vital if food sovereignty is to be achieved. By contrast, the agro-industrial businesses present in Africa produce food for export and their profits are often siphoned completely out of Africa. Moreover, their backing of GMO monocultures could end up by eliminating local varieties of seeds and crops that are vital for food sovereignty and for addressing climate change.  GMOs, on the other hand, can cause hunger and have not proved their resilience to changes in the climate.



Then there are the impacts on the environment of the intensive farming model that are clearly harmful: the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the exhaustion of water supplies and pollution of groundwater levels, the reduction in local biodiversity, the increase in pollution and soil erosion[2]. This model aims for short-term profits while exhausting the natural resources and soil of Africa.


Good examples of African family farming


Family farming has the potential to tackle both hunger and climate warming. Its sustainable practices generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions, improve access to food for local communities and are clearly better adapted to the real situation in Africa.



Indeed, by organising themselves into community groups and practising sustainable farming, the farmers in Kenya’s Nyando Basin managed to raise their income, food production and nutrition levels. The women, who account for 70-85% of the active members, have a key role in these groups which explore new ideas for subsistence that conserve the environment. They are improving soil and water management, introducing new crops (sweet potatoes, tomatoes, sorghum, water melons, peas, etc.), agroforestry (e.g. nurseries, fruit), raising small livestock and keeping bees which is very useful for women who have limited access to arable land.[3]



In Swaziland, the similar cooperatives, consisting chiefly of women, have devoted themselves to conservation agriculture by producing and distributing local pulse crop seeds. This has the advantage that it is possible to replant the seeds and pulse crops are more drought resistant than maize and help extend crop diversity. Before, pulses were a sideline to maize.[4]



In Burkina Faso, farmers have adapted to changing climatic conditions by conserving water through building dikes with filter stones and by using the Zaï method combined with lines of stones (even if the land is flat, see photo). Zaï involves digging little pits in the fields with enough space between them for the crops. Then the pits are filled with compost or dung and the fields are edged with lines of stones. This has brought about good results with the farmers having better harvests and the scarce water being conserved.[5] 



These examples show clearly that a model based on local knowledge both supports the family farmers and is good for the local communities - in terms of food production and coping with the climate. To make the most of this local expertise on climate change, farmers’ movements must be consulted at the next local and international climate change talks.



Gino Brunswijck

Policy Officer

[1] Morrison Rwakakamba, “Farmers must take part in the Fight against Climate Change”, Agency for Transformation, 2013, consulted at :

[2] Euractiv, « Intensive farming: Ecologically sustainable? July 2011,

[3] CGIAR, “Community Groups help themselves to tackle climate change”, May 2013,

[4] Inter Press Service,  “In Swaziland, Seeds Beat Drought”, June 2013,

[5] ABC Burkina, SEDELAN, « Changement climatique et adaptation (3) : Apprendre de la terre du Sahel », Burkina, SEDELAN, « Zaï »,;

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