Agro-ecology in Africa
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CTA. 1989. Agro-ecology in Africa. Spore 20. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45028
seventh scientific conference of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements) Ouagadougou from January 2 to 5, 1989
One of the main features of the seventh scientific conference of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements) was the strength with which the developing countries entered into the agro-ecology debate. About half the 500 delegates who gathered at Ouagadougou from January 2 to 5 this year to consider <<Agricultural alternatives and selfsufficiency in food>> were African. Even so, scientific agriculture can still appear to be the domain solely of the North, which now has to deal with the problems of surplus production and the destruction of the environment by the over-intensive use of chemicals. But right at the start, the Burkina Faso Minister of Agriculture highlighted potential areas of North-South agreement where opinions currently differ: <<According to whether one lives in a developed country which is overburdened with surpluses, or in a developing country facing the problems of food shortage, the reasons for pushing for agrobiology will be very different. For the former the priority is to cut down the use of chemicals in agriculture, which is seen as both a polluter and producer of <<unnatural>> foodstuffs. For the latter the priority is to manage the water-soilplant relationship in the best way possible so as to extract sufficient food resources, and - at the same time - conserve, and even restore, the balance of the ecosystem. This is how it is in Burkina Faso. Agricultural crisis equals ecological crisis Africa's agricultural crisis is being seen more and more as inextricably linked with the ecological crisis. Thus the great principles of ago-ecology (maintaining the soil's organic fertility and natural crop protection) are eliciting considerable interest. For this reason Burkina Faso is concentrating largely on the development of organic manuring. The authorities have set up intensive information programmes on composting techniques and new a method of restoring eroded and encrusted soil is being taught countrywide (see news item in SPORE 20). The main obstacle to organic manuring in the Sahelian countries is the very small amount of biomass available. In Senegal, ASAP, a local association which promotes agriculture, has set about overcoming this by using urban waste from the town of Louga. In this <<rural agglomeration>>, as in many medium-sized African towns, the rubbish lends itself well to compost-making because of the very high level of organic material it contains Legumes are another category of fertilizing agents, which played a crucial part in traditional farming systems. Also, the role of <<agricultural trees>> has been highlighted by the Terre et Vie association: the Acacia albida, for example, both enriches the soil with nitrogen and protects it from dehydration in the dry season with the shade from its foliage. In every intertropical region farmers have learned to <<landscape>> the trees in their fields to act as windbreaks and to prevent erosion, to give shade or sunlight as necessary to adjacent plants, and finally to ensure a supply of leaf-mould humus. This peasant wisdom which embraces the whole range of plant relationships is often not recognized in <<modern>> agricultural practice. Using peasant practices The same goes for phytosanitary treatment. The blinkered and single-minded use of sprays has replaced the myriad traditional ways of combating pests. <<Industrial agriculture produces sick plants which then have to be showered with chemical remedies,>> as one participant at Ougadougou observed. For this reason, interest is increasingly centred on insecticidal plants, biological methods of control, and farming practices which would make plants less vulnerable. Intercropping is one of these techniques, though it has long been scorned by modern agronomists. However, the effectiveness of this form of disease and pest control is recognised, even in Europe. A German research worker presented the results of trial cultivation of barley and rye in alternating strips to the conference. There was a marked improvement in both disease and parasite resistance, as in the traditional mixed crop systems (wheat/rye and wheat/ barley/rye). The search for ecological alternatives to the predominating chemical-dependent agricultural system can thus lead to a rediscovery of the rationale behind peasant practices which have fallen out of favour or have been forgotten. In Africa traditional systems have often been destroyed by demographic, economic, and ecological developments. However, in them lies the way forward towards a <<reproducible>> agriculture - that is a productive rather than destructive farming system. The IFOAM conference imposed just one provision on this - that these systems should be studied and improved rather than made to fit into preconceived agricultural structures. One of the projects to emerge from the IFOAM conference was the setting up of an African agro-ecological network. This would permit valuable exchanges of experience and the training of a new generation of agronomists and technicians in an awareness of the need for a new approach to agricultural problems (see page 16 IFOAM, information sources). lFOAM, Oekozentrum Imsbach, D 66Tholey-Theley, GERMANY