Agroecology builds sustainable food systems in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Amid the challenges of COVID-19, civil unrest, droughts, and flooding, agroecology has emerged as a powerful tool for building resilience in farming communities in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Biowatch, an NGO based in Durban and Mtubatuba, has been working with smallholder farmers to promote agroecological practices that draw on traditional knowledge and local cultural practices. Vanessa Black, Advocacy, Policy, and Research Coordinator at Biowatch, reviews a book they launched recently.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, along with other challenges such as civil unrest and extreme weather events, have revealed the vulnerabilities of our food and social systems. In KwaZulu-Natal, these challenges have been acute, with farmers facing multiple crises in quick succession. However, amidst the adversity, agroecology has emerged as a promising solution for building resilience in farming communities. Through diverse cropping, soil health management, water conservation, and seed diversity, farmers have been able to adapt and recover more quickly from extreme weather events, while also improving household food security and supporting their communities. Biowatch, an NGO that has been working with smallholder farmers in the region, has documented the stories of resilience in a new book titled Stories of Resilience Built Through Agroecology.
How agroecology empowers farmers in KwaZulu-Natal to thrive amidst crises
Biowatch has been collaborating with farmers in KwaZulu-Natal since 2003, advocating for agroecological practices that honour traditional knowledge and local cultural practices. Through farmer-to-farmer learning, farmers have been able to adapt their agricultural practices to be more sustainable and resilient. Agroecological practices encompass diverse cropping, nurturing living soil, water recycling and conservation, livestock integration, and pest management through healthy ecosystems. These practices are reinforced by innovative techniques such as fertility beds in household gardens, swales for soil and water conservation, and bio-inputs to enhance beneficial microbes.
During the challenging period of the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises, communication with agroecological farmers revealed that, overall, they were coping better compared to those using conventional practices. A survey conducted by Biowatch confirmed that agroecology had enabled farmers to improve household food security, support their families even with additional members at home during lockdowns, and find innovative ways to trade at the farm-gate when access to town markets was restricted. Farmers were also able to offer support to vulnerable neighbours through sharing their produce, showcasing the importance of community resilience in agroecological systems.
Furthermore, agroecological skills are transferable, enabling farmers to relocate to different areas and rebound quickly from adverse conditions. With the use of locally available resources, the primary investment in agroecology is labour, and sustained yields provide farmers with rewards for their efforts. Agroecology practitioners were largely unaffected by input shortages and price hikes, as they relied on their own seed varieties and diversified crops. Agroecological practices have also improved soil health and water management, enabling farmers to adapt and recover more quickly from variable and extreme weather events compared to those using conventional practices. Moreover, agroecology has helped farmers reconnect with their ancestral and cultural roots, providing spiritual solace during times of stress.
Unveiling resilient and sustainable food systems: Biowatch’s Book on Agroecology
Biowatch’s new book, Stories of Resilience Built Through Agroecology, showcases the positive impact of agroecology in creating sustainable food systems in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. As the world faces increasing challenges from climate change, biodiversity loss, and economic and political turbulence, agroecology emerges as a powerful tool for building resilience in farming communities. The stories shared in Biowatch’s book demonstrate how agroecological practices provide sustainable solutions for food production. These practices also offer a pathway for farmers to cope with adverse conditions and recover more quickly from extreme weather events, compared to conventional practices.
As we navigate the uncertain future, it is clear that agroecology can play a crucial role in creating sustainable and resilient food systems that benefit farmers, communities, and the environment. Biowatch’s work in KwaZulu-Natal serves as an inspiring example of how agroecology can foster resilience and bring about positive change. By drawing on traditional knowledge, local cultural practices, and innovative agroecological techniques, farmers can build resilience, improve food security, and support their communities even in the face of multiple challenges.
“Stories of Resilience Built Through Agroecology” is a testament to the power of agroecology and the positive impact it can have on farming communities. It is a call to action for policymakers, practitioners, and communities around the world to embrace agroecological practices as a sustainable and resilient approach to food production. Through agroecology, we can build a more resilient and sustainable future for our food systems and communities and ensure that our agricultural practices are in harmony with nature and traditional wisdom.
Biowatch, a strategic partner of ABN, is accompanying communities on their resilience journey in South Africa.
Read the inspiring stories in the book titled “Stories of Resilience Built Through Agroecology” through this link: