Agroecology, the dying but age-old sustainable farming system
Agroecology means an ecological approach to agriculture that views agricultural areas as
ecosystems and in concerned with the ecological impact of agricultural practices. It is a science
that is innovating on traditional farming knowledge that works with nature. Agroecology also
embodies a political approach, employed by small-scale food producers as a way of life, and as a
means to bring about social, economic and environmental justice.
Our grandmothers knew and practiced agroecology, though it is now known as a “new
innovation” in agriculture. It is an age-old practice- a reason why small holder farmers,
especially African women up to now, are the food producers for almost 70% of the food
consumed in Africa.
African women are the custodians of food, traditionally known as seed. The seed knowledge is
part of their bio culture that connects traditional communities with land, soil and nature. It is this
knowledge that has for ages, held a woman with respect and dignity in society.
Agroecology practices include, and is characterized by those methods of farming our
grandparents have used to ensure agricultural sustainability, ecological survival and biodiversity
growth. They include intercropping, use of on farm manure eg animal droppings like cows,
goats, chicken, pigs and rabbits. The urine of these animals which are kept by majority of these
households are rich in nutrients and effective in pests and disease control when mixed with other
Intercropping, unlike mono cropping, maximizes the small plots of land held by the African
small holder farmers and provides insurance for food security as the inter cropped plants provide
nutrients, shed, reduce incidence of pesticides and provide food at different times to the
The on-farm manure and fertilizers add more nutrients to the soil, provide habitat and favorable
environment for micro-organisms in the soil unlike the chemical fertilizers and pesticides which
are poisonous to the soil and biodiversity.
Small holder farmers who have maintained their indigenous seeds, testify how these are less
affected by pests and diseases. They show the multiple purposes indigenous seeds offer.
Indigenous seed varieties serve as medicine, they are highly nutritious, sweet, easy to cook and
are culturally significant. They are used in almost all traditional ceremonies and rituals; a reason
explaining why they are disappearing as traditional cultural practices diminish.
Ecologically, agroecology (traditional farming practices), have for so long supported the
existence of pollinators. You will be told that the steadily disappearance of important pollinators
like; bees, beetles, birds and other insects is attributed to the extensive use of chemicals in
agriculture. We cannot expect plant fertilization, (the transfer of pollen grains from plant to
plant) when these insects and birds are killed.
The failure of our soils by chemicals has led to poor yields of indigenous seeds and the
weakening ability to resist pests and diseases. The soil micro-organisms and the contribution of
other plants, weeds in and around gardens are always supportive to the growth of a crop.
Farming or crop growing is not an isolated practice. It is a combination of ecological and
biological factors that agroecology provides.
The revival of this practice in Buliisa and Kikarara (Rukungiri) where AFRICE works with
women small holders has led to regeneration of natural ecosystems. Because local granaries
where the local seeds are stored need materials from the swamps, the farmers now have seen the
need to protect these wetlands. When farmers realize that the grass from wetlands is important
for mulching, they don’t destroy wetlands. In Uganda, because of population pressure, it is still a
myth to think of using tractors and other modern farming/mechanized methods when land
available for farming is just on a tea spoon.
Small holder farmers must embrace agroecology and revive their seeds to reduce dependence on
commercial hybrid seeds (of course with their short comings) and increased use of poisons
(chemical fertilizers and pesticides)
Big agrochemical businesses are out there to exploit farmers. The improved seeds are marketed
with attached condition of a relevant chemical fertilizer and pesticide. Failure to buy both
concurrently (of course with high costs) the hybrid seeds will never yield for the second time.
The farmer has to go back to the sellers for yet another seed for the next season.
The women in Buliisa and Rukungiri (Kikarara) are now independent, seed sovereign and are
conserving their soils, biodiversity and enjoying all the benefits provided by indigenous seed
varieties. They know that market/hybrid seeds are neither friendly to their soils nor culturally
viable. Saving of these seeds multiplying and sharing with their community members has helped
them guard against food insecurity.
Agroecology and climate change
AFRICE is encouraging the traditional climate change prediction mechanisms where old women
are able to explain and interpret different weather changes. They are able to tell the meaning of
presence of certain birds, insects to the farming patterns. The age-old knowledge held by the
women helps them to interpret the appearance or the size of the moon, the direction of winds, the
sound of certain birds and insects to mean the beginning or end of a new planting season. The
presence of a certain type of grass, the color of the soil helps them determine which type of crop
is to be planted here or there.
AFRICE will work with these women to train young women and boys in this traditional but