Oakland Institute

Reframing the Debate Inspiring Action

Agroecology Case Studies

The thirty-three case studies shed light on the tremendous success of agroecological agriculture across the African continent. They demonstrate with facts and figures how an agricultural transformation respectful of the farmers and their environment can yield immense economic, social, and food security benefits while also fighting climate change and restoring soils and the environment.

Tanzanian farmer intercropping grains with legumes. Credit: Michael Farrelly.

Local Context, Long-Term Impact


While agroecology promotes low use of external inputs, it is a very knowledge-intensive system. Transmission of this knowledge, adaptation to local contexts, and appropriation by farmers and government technicians, are essential steps for farmers and communities to reap the benefits of agroecology. The case studies demonstrate how the expansion of agroecological practices will generate a rapid, fair and inclusive development, that can be sustained for future generations.

What is Agroecology?


Agroecology is the application of ecological science to agriculture and agroecosystems. It encompasses a wide-variety of practices, which are coherent with key principles of environment preservation, social fairness, and economic viability. Therefore, agroecology combines parameters of sound ecological management, like minimizing the use of toxics by using on-farm renewable resources and privileging endogenous solutions to manage pests and disease, with an approach that upholds and secures farmers' livelihoods.

Sweet potato harvest. Credit: Aminah Jasho, KHCP.

Benefits of Agroecology


Increased Agricultural Production and Productivity
Push-pull field in Kuria, Kenya. Credit: ICIPE

A large variety of techniques are used to increase yields in a sustainable way: plant diversification, intercropping, application of mulch, manure or compost for soil fertility, and natural management of pests and diseases. Often combined, these have been success stories all over the African continent. In Ethiopia, a low external input approach led to a doubling of Tigray's grain yield between 2003 and 2006, while fertilizer use decreased by 40%. In East Africa, over 96,000 farmers have adopted the Push-pull system that fights the parasitic Striga weed and stem borers invasion in maize fields, without any chemical insecticides and herbicides. Maize yields have increased three-fold as a result. Kenyan farmers who adopted the Grow Biointensive approach, using mainly compost, close spacing of plants, and intercropping, increased their yields by 2-4 times compared to conventional farming while using 70 to 90 % less water, and purchasing 50 to 100% fewer inputs.

Reducing Inputs Expenses and Diversifying Income Sources
Cocoa harvest in Sierra Leone. Credit: Mark Hulme, Darwin Initiative.

Increasing yields while precluding the purchase of expensive chemical inputs, agroecological practices increase farmers' income and prevent debt. Senegalese farmers using Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM) techniques saved on average $60 per hectare by using 3.2 fewer liters of pesticides per hectare. This resulted in a 61% increase in revenue, or $1,332 per hectare per year. Going organic with cocoa in Sierra Leone, pineapples in Tanzania, or cotton in West Africa, thousands of farmers have found new markets, diversified and increased their incomes while cutting down their expenses on agricultural inputs.

Stopping Environment Degradation and Fighting Climate Change
Mr. Phiri Maseko, pioneer of water harvesting in Zimbabwe. Credit: Ken Wilson.

Weather variability has increased in recent years due to climate change, causing severe environmental degradation and hampering farmers' activities. A number of agroecological methods are used to restore damaged ecosystems, and to replenish and manage natural resources such as water, forests, and soils. The Keita Project in Niger has restored deforested and degraded land through dunes reforestation, construction of water and wind management structures, and a variety of sustainable agriculture techniques. In addition to boosting agriculture and livestock production, the project has restored 45,000 hectares of woodland, and is credited for sequestering some 132,000 tons of CO2 per year. In Zimbabwe, Mr. Zephaniah Phiri Maseko has developed extraordinarily successful agroecological and water management techniques on his land. Dams, stone walls, plant diversification, and other techniques optimize the use of land and water, restoring soil fertility and stopping erosion. These techniques are now used by thousands of farmers across the country. Through the planting of fertilizer trees and shrubs, agroforestry projects in Mali, Malawi, and Cameroon increase nitrogen fixation in soils and reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers. Trees fertilize the soil, provide firewood, fruit, nuts, and medicine, preserve biodiversity and reduce forests degradation and stop erosion.

Improving Resilience
Fields in the Gamo Highlands.

Agroecological practices improve farmers' resilience by decreasing their dependence on single crops and on external inputs, and by reducing their vulnerabilities to droughts, floods, environment and soil degradation. Ethiopia's Gamo Highlands is a great example of high agro-biodiversity, sustaining more than 50 different plant species, over 100 enset varieties, and 40 barley varieties. After decades of focus on intensive cultivation of maize, a very water-demanding crop, Malawi and Zambia have worked with success to reintroduce diversity on farms and to increase access to improved varieties of cassava. Contrarily to maize, cassava can be harvested throughout the year and is very resistant to poor growing condition (low-quality soils, water stress). In Zimbabwe, RD Congo, and Uganda, the development of seed banks and seed fairs have boosted access to affordable seeds for local farmers, increasing resilience, food production and incomes.

Contributors


Primary Contributors
  • Sarah Hobson

    Executive Director, New Field Foundation
  • Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman

    Senior Scientist, Pesticide Action Network North America Regional Center (PANNA)
  • Dr. Roger Leakey

    Professor of Agroecology and Sustainable Development, and Vice Chairman, International Tree Foundation
  • Nathan McClintock, PhD

    Assistant Professor, Urban Studies & Planning
    Affiliate Assistant Professor, Geography Portland State University
  • Albie Miles, PhD

    Assistant Professor of Sustainable Community Food Systems, University of Hawai'i, West O'ahu
  • Anuradha Mittal

    Executive Director, The Oakland Institute
  • Frederic Mousseau

    Policy Director, The Oakland Institute
  • Silke Pietzsch

    Technical Director, Action Against Hunger, ACF-USA
  • Dr. Leah Samberg

    Global Landscapes Initiative, Institute on the Environment,
    University of Minnesota
  • Dr. William Settle

    Senior Technical Officer, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome
  • Dr. Tom van Mourik

    Project Scientist, Integrated Striga — soil fertility management, participatory research, ICRISAT-Bamako, Mali
  • Dr. Ir. Ndungo Vigheri

    Consultant, ACF DRC
  • Dr. Ken Wilson

    Former Executive Director, The Christensen Fund
Additional Contributors
  • Agazit Abate

    Intern Scholar, The Oakland Institute
  • Stephen Boustred

    OSOSEA Project Officer, Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement
  • Alden Braul

    Canadian Foodgrains Bank
  • Muriel Calo

    Action Against Hunger, ACF-USA
  • Lim Li Ching

    Senior Researcher, Third World Network (TWN)
  • Michael Farrelly

    Programme Coordinator, Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement
  • Zeyaur R. Khan, PhD

    Principal Scientist — Leader, Push-Pull Programme,
    International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE)
  • Iza Kruszewska

    Ecological Food — Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace International
  • Alice Martin-Prével

    Policy Analyst, The Oakland Institute
  • Nickolas Johnson

    Consultant
  • Dr. Pheneas Ntawuruhunga, PhD

    Cassava Program, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)
  • Nicodemus Nyongesa

    Director, Manor House Agricultural Centre
  • Michael Salomons

    Program Development Officer, Canadian Foodgrains Bank
  • Benjamin Strobridge, Hilary Hesse, Tessa Berman

    (PANNA)
  • Erika Styger, PhD

    Associate Director, SRI International Network and Resources Center (SRI-Rice)
  • Amanda Thorsteinsson

    Canadian Foodgrains Bank
  • Chris Woodring

    Consultant, Canadian Foodgrains Bank