The African Continent has a large number of people who are food insecure. Government policies are mainly geared towards implementing agriculture methods that have over the years proven difficult for small holders. These families form the majority of people in East Africa.
Twenty (20) years now, SACDEP has been training thousands of small holders in Kenya. This is supported by the organization being a member of networks that employ environmentally sound and economically feasible methods of food and agro-income security. These networks are National, Regional and Global.
Based on its achievements on the farm, the organization has established that more would be achieved if a bigger number of technically qualified practitioners were available. Unfortunately, most institutions are still in the “mistaken” belief that Industrial/Chemical “modern” agriculture is the only way to development, despite the increasing millions going hungry.
At this point, SACDEP is making links with institutions of higher learning with direction to challenge the status quo. Those that would want to contribute towards producing graduates that will move out there and assist in the numbers of communities without adequate food; those that are nutrition insecure, have no employment in agriculture and whose lives continue to be under threat from Climate Change effects. Indeed graduates with technical skills to “Think Globally and Act Locally.”
A large diversity of authoritative studies has been published to show that Sub Sahara Africa has always continued to experience food shortages. A large number of inhabitants (est. 70%) live in rural areas where they practice small holder (SH) farming. They depend on land for food, nutrition and agro-income security.
Despite numerous efforts by Governments, Private sector and Development Agencies to reduce food shortages, the situation continues to worsen.
Significantly, agriculture supports the majority in terms of employment. Yet, as the population expands (3% per annum), so is the decrease in land sizes per capita. This means that capacity by agriculture to support employment opportunities continues to dwindle.
Meanwhile, Research, Training and Extension programmes continue to be expanded. This is in terms of financial, material and human resources deployed each year. The Maputo Declaration of July 2003 and Abuja Declaration of April 2001 all focus on how Governments should commit more financial support to Agriculture.
Therein lies the contradiction. More efforts ‘put in’ but the number of people with nutritional and cash shortages also increase. So, where is the missing link?
The Development, Training and Research Institutions have pursued agricultural development through the Green Revolution-based approaches. This is mainly pursuant to the use of High Cost External Inputs Conventional Agriculture (HEICA) also known as Industrial Modern Scientific or Commercial Agriculture.
The approach is generally not in thorough scrutiny of the Economic ability of the farmer. Environmental damage occasioned by the approach is also not considered as a cost to agricultural production.
In the end, farming communities dependant on purchased inputs using scarce family finances fail to obtain desired productivity. As they use the purchased inputs, farm influencing environments change for the worse. The outcome of using HEICA has been a major course of the reduction in farm productivity, now made worse by the Climate Change phenomenon.
Twenty (20) years ago, SACDEP was formed to try and assess the situation. This was with a view to establishing the main missing link between the good efforts of the HEICA and the declining food security. A decision was made that Low Cost External Input Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) has a strong and central part to play in the food security. So, programmes using this approach were started among thousands of farmers.
In the farmers’ words, their agriculture productivity improved dramatically after they shifted from HEICA to LEISA. So far, SACDEP has worked with more than 100,000 families whose food and agro-income security has been sustainably established. This means that LEISA is a viable alternative for East African Farmers.
In East African countries, several NGOs have come up over the years with the idea of promoting Sustainable Agriculture. Among them is Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), among others. They have made remarkable achievements in demystifying the notion that agriculture is only realized through Conventional methods.
The biggest percentage of Public and Private Institutions of higher learning (universities and middle level colleges) are in HEICA. Every year they produce thousands of HEICA trained graduates. While their joining in the agri-industry has made a contribution, this is not enough. Reason being, more and more families continue to experience endless challenges in food and agro-income security.
Meanwhile, NGOs have to contend with in-house training initiatives to orient personnel into LEISA. The fact that the numbers of professionals with clear understanding in this approach is small poses a big challenge. The area that suffers most is that of Research, Documentation, Training and Extension. This situation therefore, calls for the establishment of a formal training institute.
SACDEP’s efforts so far
Four years ago, SACDEP embarked on a mission to describe what it considered to be Sustainable Agriculture. This was developed using LEISA as the guiding beacon. Furthermore, experiences obtained over many years of farmer training were drawn upon. A Manual was therefore concluded with 21 Chapters agreed upon by experts as encompassing the Theories, Principles and Practices of SA in the East-African Context.
The idea of establishing a formal training programme was taken a notch higher. A Higher Diploma Curriculum was documented.
The institution (SACDEP-Kenya) has been going on with the establishment of the “Hardware”. Buildings and physical infrastructure are under construction scheduled to be completed by end of 2013.
This brief is aimed at sharing SACDEP’s historical background, its experience and future focus.
It is important to note that the concept is by and large designed to assume a Developmental idea more than an academic one. This means that the graduates will have to move out and solve problems that face communities today and tomorrow.
Certainly not to hold academic papers just for prestige, job hunting or title purposes!