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Fostering Economic Resilience, The Financial Benefits of Ecological Farming in Kenya and Malawi

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Faced with widespread hunger and the need to increase farm production to feed a growing population, many governments in Africa and elsewhere are spending vast amounts of money on getting chemical fertilisers and pesticides to farmers. Furthermore donors like the US and Britain, as well as private philanthropies like the Gates Foundation, are also pushing for increased use of chemicals as the solution to raising farm productivity in Africa.

Yet this strategy is grossly misplaced. The evidence in this report suggests that it is more profitable for smallscale farmers in Africa to practise ecological farming that uses no chemical pesticides or fertilisers than it is to use chemicals. Presenting the results of new fieldwork in Malawi and Kenya, this report shows that farmers practising agroforestry (involving the use of natural ‘fertiliser trees’ instead of chemical fertilisers) and ‘Push-Pull’ technology (which eliminates the need for chemical pesticides) achieve higher incomes and yields than those practising chemicalintensive agriculture.

Greenpeace is campaigning for ecological farming in East Africa. Governments and donors must re-focus their agriculture spending to support ecological farming since it is economically more beneficial for small-scale farmers. The time is ripe to do this given that 2014 has been designated the African Union Year of Agriculture and the International Year of Family Farming.

Comparing chemical-intensive and ecological farming Chemical-intensive agriculture involves a substantial use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, together with hybrid seeds. It is often associated with the production of cash crops for export and consolidates large areas of land under monocultures (the production of a single crop).

Nitrogen fertiliser use has grown by over 900 per cent since the 1960s and projections are for a further rise of 40-50 per cent in the next 40 years.3 The major beneficiaries of the model will continue to be the multinational corporations manufacturing the chemicals and seeds, not the small-scale farmers being encouraged to buy them.

Chemical-intensive farming is fraught with problems. It can be a massive cost for farmers and governments: Ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa are currently spending US$1.05 billion a year on fertiliser subsidy programmes, an average of 30 per cent of their agriculture budgets.4 Chemical-intensive farming also causes farmer and public health problems due to pesticide use: The UN Environment Programme has calculated that the cost of pesticide-related illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa, for governments and those affected, could reach $90 billion during 2005-20.5 The use of chemicals often damages soils, by acidification for example (now a widespread problem in many parts of Asia, after years of chemical fertiliser dependence).6 Overuse and inefficient use of chemical fertilisers is a major global problem: some 30-80 per cent of nitrogen applied to farmland as fertiliser escapes to contaminate water systems and the environment.7 Chemical-intensive farming is also a major contributor to climate change: agriculture accounts for as much as 32 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions (including the impact of deforestation caused by farming)8 and the manufacturing, transport, distribution and use of chemical fertilisers alone accounts for around 5 per cent of emissions .

By contrast, ecological (often called ‘agroecological’) farming ensures healthy farming and food by protecting soil, water and climate, promotes biodiversity and does not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs. Ecological farming is both a climate mitigation and adaptation strategy: mitigating climate change by eliminating dependence on fossil fuels, and also enhancing the resilience of poor communities in the face of climate shocks. Ecological farming also makes the best possible use of locally available inputs, thus keeping money in the local economy. Such farming practices include agroforestry, Push-Pull technology, sustainable land management, water harvesting and organic farming.

There is substantial evidence that farmers who start using ecological farming methods can increase yields significantly, particularly in Africa.10 Critically, and a key focus of this report, ecological farming entails lower production costs and thus often increases incomes for small-scale farmers in resource-poor communities.