By Moses Hategeka*
On my return from a practical agricultural learning tour of various farms in Germany, that was concluded with a participation in a panel discussion on “Solutions for global Agriculture” held, at the university of Bonn, organized, by its center for Development Research (ZEF), a few months back, I went, to Isingiro district, Western Uganda, to get a firsthand account of prolonged draught climatic impact from residents. One elderly man, Mr. Patrick Barigye, on behalf of other on looking residents, from Kinoni Sub County, had this to say.
“The prolonged draught that have befallen our area for months now, have resulted into the drying of crops in the fields and thousands of deaths of our livestock, our natural water sources like springs, swamps, wetlands, and Rivers, have also dried up too, leaving us, famine and hunger prone, we are so severely starved and in need of emergency food aid.” Asked, by this writer, what he thinks, is the cause of this prolonged draught, his response was, “Thirty years back, the bare hills you are seeing, used to be covered by trees and thick green vegetation, but human activities fueled by ever increasing population, such as, overgrazing, charcoal burning,, wetland, swamps, and forests devastation, in search of more land for cultivation and grazing coupled with poor methods of farming, have resulted into massive environmental degradation, and thus, we no longer receive, the reliable and adequate rainfall, like we used to, thirty years back”
For the past three decades, deforestation, skyrocketing population, wetlands and swamps destruction, poor farming methods, and uncoordinated industrial development, in developing countries, and use of fertilizers and agrochemicals, accompanied, with heavy tillage practices, in developed countries, have led and are leading to severe global land degradation. In fact, according to the University of Bonn, Center for Development Research, report, titled, ‘’Economics of land degradation and improvement, A global assessment of sustainable development”, about 30% of the global land area, inhabited by 3.2 billion people, has experienced severe land degradation over the past three decades, causing an estimated annual cost of about 300 billion USD. The same report, goes on to say that, the returns to taking action against land degradation are very high, emphasizing that, each USD invested in the restoration of degraded lands now, yields five USD in return in the future, yet investments in restoring degraded lands remain very low especially in low income countries.
Globally, 25 per cent of crop lands, 33 per cent of grasslands, and 23, per cent forests lands, have for the past three decades, experienced degradation, which, ultimately has resulted into significant soil degradation, this in addition to global industrial pollution, have and are producing, catastrophic climate change impacts, that are today manifested into unpredictable weather patterns, leading to, prolonged draught, massive floods, and typhoons, which all impact livelihood negatively.
Soils are being depleted and famine and hunger are hitting global population harder than never before, with millions of poor people and small scale farmers, being the most hit, and global efforts, to scale up, integrated soil fertility management practices is still very minimal, millions of small scale farmers, especially in developing countries are stuck, and are not being helped and trained, on how to use organic matter, mineral fertilizers, and locally available soil amendments to replace lost soil nutrients
The matters are being made worse by the failure of the global world, including global organizations such as, Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO), to provide a clear global direction, of what sustainable agriculture entails, and what needs to be done to scale it up globally, the same blame goes to the, the global biotech multinationals, like Monsanto, ChemChina, Syngenta, Bayer, and others, for their failure, to clearly explain, the long term impact of their GMOs seeds, feeds, and agrochemicals, on soils, waters, and on entire ecological and biodiversity systems and on human lives. The organic farming versus GMOs powered farming, still remains a controversial one, with proponents of each, using, science to back up their arguments, with most of them, failing to clearly define sustainable agriculture.
In simple terms, sustainable agriculture, should be defined, as a system, that doesn’t take out of the environment more than it outputs, and for this to happen, the practice of sustainable agriculture, should, encompass, oxygen release, no pollutants, water conservation and reclamation, and protection of entire ecological and biodiversity systems, at all cost, without any excuse
Skyrocketing soil fertility depletion, should be of global concern, while, most small scale farmers in developing countries, are destroying soil fertility, through use of poor methods of farming, most large scale farmers in USA, and Europe, do not rotate crops, preferring to use pesticides and other agrochemicals, to keep on farming, a practice, that is not sustainable, as these pesticides and agrochemicals destroy topsoil overtime and do not allow soil, to fallow to all micronutrients from the soil to recharge, and they are using GMOs seeds, which studies, have shown that, damages internal organs overtime.
Right now, there is an ongoing research, being led, by Rice University Professor, Scott Egan, which recently received a grant of 1 million USD, from US department of agriculture, to detect, genetically modified organisms in the environment, using Light Transmission Spectrometer (LTS). This technology, is still being refined, but is currently able to detect, genetically modified DNA in water samples, this research will reveal more, the effects of GMOs powered farming on the ecological and biodiversity systems.
The way forward:
Both public and private investments in agricultural sector, should be strategically, invested more, in funding agricultural researches, that are majorly focused on producing, agricultural inventions and innovations, that will result into scaling up of agroforestry, and conservation agricultural practices, this should be, followed with governments, putting in place incentives, for land users, engaged, in sustainable land use and improvement practices, such as, payment for ecosystems conservation.
Climate smart agriculture, should be scaled up in all draught hit areas, to enable farmers navigate through and have food on a sustainable basis, this calls upon governments to set up communal soil fertility improvement demonstration centers, where small scale farmers, should massively be trained, in, integrated soil fertility management practices, in addition to setting up, both big and small irrigation infrastructure, which should be accompanied, with, distributing, draught tolerant and high yielding seeds to farmers at subsidized prices. Programs such as, Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA), under Global Maize Program of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), that has enabled four million farmers in thirteen sub-Saharan countries to improve and register double yields, despite drought, should be scaled up, through public- private partnerships, with governments, heavily funding, institutions, like, National agricultural research institutions, National and private seed companies, and International crops improvement centers such as International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), that have proven to be reliable, in production of draught resistant and high yielding seeds.
In sum, public and private expenditure in agricultural sector, should be growth- inducing, and focused on spurring agricultural inventions and innovations, that upshot sustainable land use and improvement management practices, which are, ecological and biodiversity systems protection, and restoration friendly. Land and soil are the basis of life on earth, and attainment of all Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), will depend on how well, the global world uses, and protects land and soil.
*Moses Hategeka, is a Ugandan based Independent Governance Researcher, Public Affairs Analyst, and Writer.He can be reached via email email@example.com