Dr Sam Lunn-Rockliffe and Dr Matthew Davies
‘When led by farmers, Regenerative Agriculture offers the potential to create a new farming future for Africa that addresses multiple social and ecological challenges’
Agricultural systems across the African continent have recently come under unprecedented stress as climate extremes have contributed to recursive droughts, severe flash flooding and the worst desert locust outbreak for 70 years. Failed harvests and crop destruction, coupled with pandemic-related collapse of global market chains, present an unparalleled threat to local livelihoods and are raising serious concerns surrounding potential food shortages.
Dominant development narratives implicitly suggest that African farmers are highly vulnerable to these dynamics as they lack the adaptive capabilities to navigate these multiple emerging pressures. For decades, it has instead been argued that solutions for improving agricultural productivity and resilience in Africa stem not from indigenous farmers, but rather the transfer of knowledge, practice, skills, and technological inputs from specialists and institutions in the Global North. This approach is most recently reflected in calls for a new African Green Revolution that, in light of the uncertainties created by the ‘climate emergency’ and continued global population growth, aims to scale up agricultural production through processes of intensification and industrialisation.
Yet an increasing body of evidence is highlighting how these methods of farming are inherently unsustainable, contributing to approximately 24% of greenhouse gas emissions, 33% of global soil degradation and 60% of global terrestrial biodiversity loss. With evidence suggesting that recent locust outbreaks are intimately linked to climate extremes, it is a cruel reality that extant agricultural frameworks have fuelled the drivers of such climatic conditions whilst conterminously eroding key ecosystem services that may otherwise provide crucial resilience to the consequences.
It is thus clear that industrial agricultural paradigms have failed to deliver ecological wellbeing and sustainable prosperity for a majority of African farmers, suggesting that alternative frameworks are required (Moore 2018). Postcolonial and post-development literature underscores this point through its demonstration of how development frameworks are embedded in colonial ontologies of progress that only serve to marginalise indigenous knowledges and voices and fail to build locally crafted responses (Briggs and Sharp 2004; Escobar 2018).
In light of this, the imperative to create a new farming future designed and implemented by African farmers has never been greater. The radical transformation of agricultural systems does not simply aim to halt the negative effects of current food production models, but rather strives to actively reverse them by sequestering carbon, enhancing biodiversity, improving ecosystem services, extending dietary diversity and re-formulating markets and livelihoods. The positive impacts of this transformation will cascade across sectors and create new pathways to more prosperous, resilient and sustainable futures (Moore 2021).
Regenerative Agriculture offers the potential to create such a future for Africa. Yet whilst scientific research has validated the positives of regenerative techniques, there remain major challenges with formalising and scaling Regenerative Agriculture across the continent due to the context specific nature of regenerative agricultural practice.
The IGP’s new report, produced in collaboration with the Transforming Tomorrow Initiative, the African Assembly and the Downforce Trust, argues that what is needed is not a single formulation of Regenerative Agriculture to be imprinted upon diverse agricultural landscapes, but rather a replicable and scalable process for farmers to produce Regenerative Agriculture on their own terms with communities of practice and policymakers across ecosystems. This should take the form of a process of co-design where new economic systems, policies and technologies serve to encourage and reinforce farmers’ ability to augment regenerative practices on their own terms.
As history has so often shown, any attempt to design climatic and ecological actions without the broad consensus of those who dwell, know, manage and rely on such environments is likely to be doomed to failure and to reproduce longstanding patterns of marginalisation, inequality and degradation. At the Institute for Global Prosperity we are committed to working with farmers across Africa to help them re-gain the centre ground in the design and implementation of their own agricultural futures.
This report is a first step in this process and lays the foundations for a series of practical initiatives aimed at re-empowering farmers. These activities will centre first on Kenya and further collaborations with local farmer Citizen Science Research Teams, County Government policy makers in Elgeyo-Marakwet and Narok, and a cohort of innovative ‘digital’ farmers whose farms serve a blueprint for effective regenerative design.
Dr Lunn-Rockliffe is a Postdoctoral Research Assistant at the IGP working on the AHRC funded project ‘Prosperity and Innovation in the Past and Future of Agriculture in Eastern Africa’.
Dr Davies is Associate Professor at the Institute for Global Prosperity.
Briggs, J., Sharp, J., 2004. Indigenous knowledges and development: a postcolonial caution. Third World Quarterly 25(4), 661-676.
Escobar, A. 2018. Designs for the Pluriverse: Radical Interdependence, Autonomy, and the Making of Worlds. Durham: Duke University Press.
Moore, H.L. 2018. Prosperity in crisis and the longue durée in Africa. The Journal of Peasant Studies 45(7), 1501–1517.
Moore, H.L. 2021. What is Prosperity for Africa? Cambridge: Polity Press
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