“We must cultivate our own garden” – Alliance for Agroecology in West Africa gathers in Dakar, ushers in new chapter for agroecology in region

A growing Alliance for Agroecology in West Africa has gathered in Senegal, joined by international agencies and donor organisations looking to take agroecology to the next level.

On 27-29 January, famers and peasant organisations from across West Africa joined forces with international development agencies and research centres to give impetus to a growing agroecological movement in the region.

The Alliance for Agroecology in West Africa (3AO) has more than 60 member organisations from West African countries, many of which represent small-holders and rural farming communities.

They met in Dakar to take stock of 3AO’s multiple initiatives in West Africa and finalise a comprehensive action plan that will see real progress for agroecology in the region.

For farming families across West Africa, there is a growing need for new ways of producing food and maintaining livelihoods. Agroecology is emerging as an effective answer to critical problems.

“We are fighting a crisis”

In a region where agriculture, livestock and fisheries employ more than 60% of the population (and account for 35% of GDP), multiple environmental and economic pressures have hit rural communities hard.

The expansion of industrial agriculture – that encourages chemical inputs and exports – has brought with it unprecedented pressure on farmers. Some 20% of West African soils have been degraded under the combined effects of agrochemical pollution, soil erosion and deforestation. This is compounded by the impacts of climate change that are disproportionate in the region – temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster than global averages. This means erratic rainfall patterns, and extreme rains followed by severe droughts.

“For us here, we care little if the U.S. administration pulled out of the Paris Agreement. We care little if certain COP summits don’t yield big results,” said Ibrahima Coulibaly of 3AO member ROPPA.

“Why? Because we are already fighting a crisis in our countries that public policies have not addressed. What investments have these authorities made in vulnerable families in our towns and villages? None. All the money is going into chemical inputs for industrial agriculture. We all know why,” he warned.

“Of course this is no longer climate change, but a climate crisis compounded by a food crisis,” added AFSA’s Famara Diédhiou.

“The solutions that have been proposed until now – agro-technologies – are far from ideal. The industrial model of food production is far from ideal. In fact it just doesn’t work. We are all convinced of the need to switch to an agroecological system.”

Changing paradigm, getting results

The growth of the 3AO Alliance has caught the attention of the international community and donor organisations. Only created in April 2018, the Alliance has started to give visibility to agricultural communities and collectives that now desperately need ways to feed families, increase productivity and protect ecosystems.

Agroecology makes this possible because of tried and tested farming techniques that respect local ecosystems, as well short supply chains and an economic model that generates employment without the chronic debt and pressures of export-driven agriculture.

A host of high-level institutions attended the Dakar meeting. Rome-based institutions such as the FAO and IFAD were joined by DG DEVCO of the European Commission. German development agency GIZ joined the French embassy in Burkina Faso, French development agency AFD and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Representatives from ECOWAS and the Ministry of Agriculture of Senegal also participated actively.

During the meeting, 3AO also discussed a number of potential partnership opportunities at the regional level: the ECOWAS Agroecology Programme, the FAO’s ‘Scaling Up Agroecology Initiative’, and GIZ’s Agroecology Knowledge Hub all caught the eye of conference-goers. The 3AO Alliance will also be closely monitoring the African Union’s ‘Initiative for Ecological and Organic Agriculture’.

“Over the course of this meeting, we’ve witnessed a real and growing commitment to the transition to agroecology,” said Emile Frison of IPES-Food.

“Whether funders or local collectives, all can contribute. And the urgency and gravity of the crisis is clear. It requires a change of paradigm and to completely rethink our models – not just switch some things around here and there.”

“We’re very much looking forward to seeing what is delivered (by 3AO),” added Christelle Huré of ACF. “The quality of the 3AO Action Plan is very encouraging, and whether it’s on advocacy or a technical level, we’re looking forward to what’s next.”

The path forward

The Dakar meeting was only the second such meeting of a growing Alliance, but already a comprehensive action plan is in place to set out the next steps for 3AO and for agroecology in West Africa – with both top-down and bottom-up approaches.

“Specifically, a lot has to happen at the national level in terms of advocacy,” noted ROPPA’s Ibrahima Coulibaly. “In fact the goal of 3AO is to ensure a portion of each national agriculture budget in West Africa goes towards the agroecological transition.”

Closing the meeting, Coulibaly added that results on the ground would nonetheless be the key to the agroecological transition in West African countries.

“Our task is to raise awareness among our members. We have to take care of our communities and the members of our Alliance. We must cultivate our own garden. We don’t just change the world form the top down. We also change it from the bottom up, with concrete, targeted initiatives in our villages.”

More information on the 3AO Alliance is available on the IPES-Food website at www.ipes-food.org