Edward Mukiibi, president of Slow Food. Photo Credit: Slow Food

Chemical-free ecological gardens hand bees a lifeline

[rt_dropcap_style dropcap_letter=”B” dropcap_content=”Y 2050, the world population would balloon to around 9.7 billion people with Africa accounting for more than half of that growth, highlighting the need to increase agriculture productivity to meet food and nutritional security”]

As climate change impacts make it hard to grow more and healthy food sustainably, agroecology is dangling a solution. Agroecology discourages use of chemical fertilisers and advocates a shift from exploiting resources to regenerating them.

Promoters of agroecology say it offers an inclusive and complete path towards agriculture transformation because it links the social and environmental aspects of sustainability, addressing the food system. Slow Food, a global organisation promoting local food and traditional cooking and a proponent of agroecology, is promoting the protection of bees and highlighting the danger of their continued loss through the Gardens in Africa project.

The project educates communities and school populations on the importance of bees in our agriculture as well as how the bees are a big pillar in building Africa’s food sovereignty. Edward Mukiibi, president of Slow Food, says communities and schools are supported in establishing ecological gardens that produce vegetables and incorporate a rich diversity of African flowering plants from where bees can collect nectar.

These gardens do not use synthetic chemical products to control pests but rather ecological means of protecting plants like intercropping, crop rotation and timely planting. Insect pollinators — wasps, birds, butterflies, moths, flies and bees — are important in boosting crop yields.

They help about 80 percent of the world’s flowering plants to reproduce by transporting pollen grains as they move from spot to spot.

Bees are important pollinators without them agriculture productivity would be reduced and our food diversity even narrowed. Slow Food is also piloting the Slow Food Coffee Coalition project inUganda and Malawi to rebuild and fostering agroecological and agroforestry coffee production systems. This project supports coffee producing communities to integrate agroforestry trees in coffee fields.

Due to the absence of dangerous bee-killing chemicals in the agroforestry systems, many coffee farms now use the flowering agroforestry trees to keep bees for improved yields and livelihoods. “The loss of bees in Africa has greatly contributed to fall in crop yields in many farming communities,” says Mukiibi.

“Less bees during the bean growing season directly means less yields at the end of the season. This has also forced researchers to develop the socalled high yielding varieties to address the declining yields of local varieties without considering the fact that this decline in yields on many crops is connected to the loss of bees.

” This is also true for the loss of biodiversity. Many important crops whose reproduction greatly depend on pollination work of bees, especially vegetables like African Spider weed are steadily becoming scarce in our local food systems and diets due to the loss of bees. Slow Food works with communities to develop production systems that do not use harmful chemical products and to implement practices that restore nature.

Slow Food Chapters in Africa are also involved in advocacy campaigns against the use of harmful agrochemicals, including in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria. Pollinators contribute directly to food security. According to bee experts at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a third of the world’s food production depends on bees.

The FAO notes that bees and other pollinators are increasingly under threat from human activities. Bee populations have been declining globally over recent decades due to habitat loss, intensive farming practices, changes in weather patterns and the excessive use of agrochemicals such as pesticides.

FAO says agriculture in the 21st century faces multiple challenges: it has to produce more food and fibre to feed a growing population with a smaller rural labour force, more feedstocks for a potentially huge bioenergy market.

At the same time the sector has to contribute to overall development in the many agriculture-dependent developing countries, adopt more efficient and sustainable production methods and adapt to climate change. Food sovereignty is at the heart of agroecology principles enabling communities to produce their own healthy food. Despite Africa having vast uncultivated arable land and secure water resources is a major importer of food and civil society organisations are pushing for food sovereignty in Africa.

Africa imports more than 100 million tonnes of food annually spending more than $75 billion, according to the African Development Bank. African civil society organisations and people’s movements concerned about food and agriculture in Africa have highlighted historical imbalance in relations between Europe and Africa, citing that Africa’s food systems are increasingly under corporate control.

About 120 African civil society organisations are calling for a redesign of EU investment policies and public development finance to shift funding towards the agroecological transition, reducing Africa’s dependency on food and chemical imports.

Noting that smallholder farmers provide up to 80 percent of the food consumed in sub-Saharan Africa, they receive minimal support to better their production, the civil society organisations argue that almost 90 percent of the billions in global subsidies distributed to farmers each year contribute to harming people’s health, exacerbating the climate crisis, destroying nature, and driving gender inequality.

“African peoples’ movement and civil society organisations believe that by addressing the real needs and concerns of the African people, Africa can lead the transition to sustainable food systems through agroecology,” the civil society leaders said in a statement to the 5th AU-EU Agriculture Ministerial Conference in Rome in June 2023 Rome.

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