News / 30 september 2021

Agroecology in Kenya: fighting water pollution while securing food production

About 75% of Kenyans earn all or part of their income from the agriculture sector which accounts for 33% of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, agricultural productivity has stagnated in recent years. Various factors have contributed to low agricultural productivity, including an overall decline in soil fertility because of the continuous removal of nutrients by crops; poor farming practices; land degradation and overuse/misuse of synthetic fertilizers that acidify the soil. The solution against these problems is: agroecology.

Agroecology as a solution against water pollution

Violet Matiru from MCDI Kenya (Millennium Community Development Initiatives) explains that "chemicals that are known to be hazardous and critized heavily by many, are still legal in Kenya". These chemicals are problematic because they are "often being used next to rivers and other water sources, polluting those and making them dangerous for different water users."

Information is key

Violet adds that in the effort to create awareness among users, a consortium of Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Kenya, MCDI and Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) is organising sessions for farmers to inform them about the potential health issues these chemicals can cause, and what alternatives are available that can considerably reduce pollution risks. Farmers have been and will continue to be trained to use organic alternatives like the creation of compost, use of cattle manure and biological pest control (e.g. using "companion plants" next to crops that help keep away pests). Violet describes that "in the short term, farmers find it easier to use chemicals and when they change to organic production, their yields are likely to decrease in the beginning. But this project focuses on the long run and is meant to support farmers in transitioning to more environmentally sound production methods." The organisations are also supporting the farmers to establish organic farmers markets and shops.

What is agroecology?

Production methods like those described by Violet are also known as agroecology. It is a collective term used for agricultural practices that aim to reconcile agriculture and local communities with natural processes for the common benefit of nature and livelihoods. Agroecological practices provide a sustainable solution for family farms. This is done by trying to practise several elements which make agroecology effective. Some important elements are, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, diversification to ensure food security and nutrition, while protecting and enhancing natural resources. Furthermore it's important to share knowledge which can be co-created through participatory processes, as agricultural innovations can then respond better to local challenges. Another element is recycling, which means agricultural production with lower economic and environmental costs. These elements, amongst others, allow family farms to diversify their diet, increase food security and sell surplus products on the local market. At the same time, it enables them to apply better water and soil management practices, maintain biodiversity and increase resilience to climate change.

The difference between agroecology and non organic agriculture

Agroecology has shown to be unique in having a transformative vision, one that stresses the importance of inclusivity, equality and independence on all levels. Unlike climate-smart agriculture for example, agroecology has clearly stated what it does and does not stand for while challenging the power imbalances that currently exist within our food systems. Hence, it is an approach that aims to tackle the structural causes that hamper transformative change.

In Kenya, Both ENDS's partners ICE,-MCDI and PELUM work together to implement activities aimed at enhancing the communities' capacities in sustainable natural resource management, agroecology and water governance.

For more information on the importance of agroecology, click here.

Click here for a documentary on pesticides by local journalists.

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