September 5, 2019

Environmental degradation is a major global issue since the 1970s, when the international community became aware of the negative consequences of over-exploitation of land and related resources.

Worldwide, agriculture contributes 80 percent of land degradation through deforestation, loss of biodiversity, loss of soil fertility, soil leaching, land and water pollution, leading to desertification, floods, drought and erosion.

In Africa, almost 65 percent of cropland, which produces more than 70 percent of the food, has for half a century been affected by land degradation driven by poor farming practices.

It is against this backdrop that the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) has entered into an MoU with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for the development of resilient agricultural systems that are based on sustainable environmental practices.

Michael Doane, the Managing Director for Food and Agriculture at TNC, says that the partnership will scale up sustainable land management and agro-biodiversity conservation in the continent, with the intention of supporting agricultural growth.

“We already know that the best way to increase agricultural productivity is to use good seed genetics and improved fertilisers. But soil health is coming up as new knowledge all over the world and it is upon us to ensure that we help manage the biological functions of soil for the benefit of African agriculture,” Mr. Doane said. 

AGRA President Dr. Agnes Kalibata recognized the expansion of farm lands as a major precursor of degradation.

“We are still seeing a lot of people moving to new land and this must stop because the land that currently under production is enough to feed a lot of people, except that it is not being optimised,” she said.

Following the MoU, a $964,000 budget was set aside to fund an Integrated Approach Pilot program (IAP) that fosters sustainability and resilience for food security in Africa.

The project will pursue investments in the integrated management of natural resources in smallholder agriculture to help farmers improve soil health, increase access to drought-tolerant seeds, maintain or increase diversity on their farms, and link them to functional markets.

Dr. Kalibata promised to support the training of farmers to pursue environmentally-conscious agricultural practices.

“We are happy to help in the perspective of intensification, encouraging farmers to plant trees on their land.”

Ultimately, Dr. Kalibata concluded, the failure to protect the environment will impact farmers the most, especially because agricultural enterprises in the continent depend heavily on natural resources like land and rain.