When good agro-ecological practices in the Sahel serve as model

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A group photo of the students who took part in the summer school in agroecology at Université Laval. Photo: Université Laval
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May 22, 2017


Dansira Dembele, Robert Zougmoré (CCAFS West Africa)


The interdisciplinary summer school in agroecology of Laval University of Canada has been taking advantages of Sahelian agroecological experience during its last edition, held from April 30 to May 6, 2017. 

Globally, food security challenges are many in the context of climate change. The risks of famine are permanent (by 2050 food needs will increase - 60 to 70%). These risks of famine are greater in highly vulnerable areas such as the Sahel. In addition to that, agricultural and food models affect substantially on the ecological balance of the planet and generate deep social injustices. Therefore, it highlights the necessity to promote sustainable agricultural production systems, suitable to the context of each agro-ecological area. Agro-ecological proposition encourages us to think and act in favor of sustainable and resilient food systems.

Contributing to such a goal was Laval University of Canada objective while initiating interdisciplinary summer school in agroecology. This annual university event offered by the chair of International Development of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences, proposes an interdisciplinary reflection on this new field of research and action. The summer school aims to understand the possible transitions towards sustainable agricultural practices and food systems. This training is primarily targeting graduate students, all disciplines combined - but also accessible to various actors working in food systems from the North and the South. This vision is in line with the goal pursued by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which has developed many innovative technologies and practices to deal sustainably with climate and food risks. In the Sahel, the main users of these options are smallholder farmers. 

The Sahel is one of the areas with high attention due to its specific situation related to its geographical location (strip of land nestled between the Sahara and the Sudan-Sahel area) and the high climate variability that prevails there.

Given these unique Sahelian realities, the summer school of Laval University wanted to soak up the experiences and approaches of relevant agroecological systems for the Sahel.

Dr. Robert Zougmoré, Regional Program Leader of CCAFS West Africa, in his contribution to the session on practical transition, first of all portrayed to sixty participants, the Sahelian case characterized by major challenges such as climate variability (inter- and intra- seasonal), poor soils in carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen, which creates situation for soils depletion, lack of fertile soils, silting and depletion of watersheds, among others. He said the Sahelian farmers are faced with agro-climatic, agro-soil, and economic challenges, which interlock with each other, forming specific situations, which vary from areas and change over time.

Yet, good agroecological practices exist and can enhance the resilience of ecosystems and living beings in this difficult environment.

Dr. Zougmoré has indeed explained that despite the difficulties afflicting the Sahel, it is possible to reverse the trend with the objective to make the vulnerable communities more resilient.

Agroecology has gradually become a relevant answer to increase agricultural productivity of small farms and promote food and nutrition security, while preserving natural resources and improving the resilience to climate hazards

It is introducing and scaling up practices such as those improving soil, water and nutrients availability. Among those, contour stones bunds, grass strips, systems of zais and half-moons, techniques of protection and improvement of eroded soils fertility, FMNR (farmers managed natural regeneration), mulching, composting of crops residues or available biomass, use of nitrogen fixing and cover legumes. It is also the case of integrated production systems (trees-crops-animals) such as cattle parking in fields, integrated agro-pastoral production systems (bio-digestor based), transhumance systems, ecological farming of dry areas, Sahelian bocages, African vegetables gardening, agroforestry parklands.

It is clear that all these technologies and practices are in variable degrees, options for climate-smart agriculture in the Sahel, as demonstrated by some of them.

Find documentation on agroecology and sustainable agriculture

Indeed, climate-smart agriculture is an approach, if implemented, enables to define necessary steps to transform and redirect agricultural systems in order to support sustainable development of agriculture and to ensure food safety in a changing climate. Climate-smart agriculture seeks to accomplish three major objectives: sustainable productivity and farm incomes increased (food security); adaptation and strengthening resilience to climate change impact (adaptation); and reduction and/or elimination of greenhouse gases’ emissions (mitigation), if applicable (FAO definition).

When properly applied by farmers, the agroecological practices can transform the Sahel and ensure food security for vulnerable people in this context of climate change and variability"  said Dr. Zougmoré.

In Mali, food security also requires better supply of agricultural training

To solve these problems of food insecurity in a sustainable way in Mali and for Mali to reach its goal of becoming an agricultural power, Laval University of Canada through its Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences initiated the Food Security Agricultural Training Project in Mali (FASAM). This project aims to improve agricultural training and employment opportunities for young people through training of students from six higher, technical and professional agricultural training schools. The activity consists of updating and improving training programs, in connection with the main agricultural challenges in Mali.

In its third year of activity, the project organized in last January a forum on the issues of agricultural training in Mali. Upon invitation of FASAM managers, Dr. Zougmoré made an introductory presentation focused on major global and regional challenges of the agricultural sector with special attention to West Africa Sahel.

Forum focused on issues of agricultural training in Mali. Photo: Laval University

The CCAFS West Africa Regional Program Leader explained to the participants the challenges of food security, climate change adaptation and environment before providing ways to meet these challenges. The proposed solutions involve the implementation of the CSA approach, starting from the use of climate information to building institution and agricultural policies while focusing on gender and social inclusion.

Further reading on the work of CCAFS West Africa in the field of agroecology: