The population of SADC which was estimated to be about 257.7 million (SADC 2012) is growing fast fueling the demand for food and other agricultural products. This trend which is common for most of the African continent, demands serious attention given the generally low production and productivity characterizing the agricultural sector in Africa. These challenges are further compounded by among others the effects of climate change whose impact predominantly affects the resource-poor small holder farmers who dominate the agricultural sector in much of Africa including the SADC region. The enormity of this challenge requires multi-stakeholder input.


To contribute towards addressing this challenge, in 2012, CCARDESA teamed-up with others as a 23 member consortium of different research and platform organizations from European and African countries called ProIntens Africa (ProIA). The consortium aimed at establishing long-term research and innovation partnership between Europe and Africa. ProIA examined how the improvement of the food and nutrition security and the livelihoods of African farmers could be tackled by exploring and exploiting the rich diversity of pathways leading to sustainable intensification of African agro-food systems, with support of the relevant policy environment. The rationale of this initiative is that there are a variety of pathways towards sustainable intensification of food systems in Africa. For example, there are high in-put systems which are different from the organic systems.


The ProIntens Africa consortium undertook the characterization of possible pathways of agricultural development in Africa based on their productive, environmental, economic and social parameters. This research identified four pathways for sustainable intensification in agriculture which are being implemented across Africa. These pathways are:

1. Conventional pathway: This pathway is characterised by high use of external inputs (such as improved varieties and breeds of crop and livestock, GMO, pesticides and mineral fertilizers) and extensive use of irrigation and mechanization. It typically refers to maximizing production as its goal in the short term.

2. Eco-technical pathway: The eco-technical pathway seeks to integrate indigenous knowledge and ecological services to ensure a sustainable intensive agriculture. It primarily seeks intensification through rational use of biotechnology (including GMO), modest external inputs, irrigation and mechanization in such a way that the ecological cycles are maintained.

3. Agro ecological pathway: The agro ecological pathway is based on a convergence of agronomy and ecology. Maximization of productivity or production is not the main goals of this pathway rather the optimization of outputs while the farm systems are retained in a healthy version. Intensification in this sense is subordinated to food sovereignty and justice, welfare development and autonomy of the production system and of the farm.


4. Organic pathway: The organic agriculture pathway refrains from the use of pesticides and mineral fertilizers and emulates ecological systems and cycles. Intensification for this pathway means a shift to better quality products and certification to get better prices for the produce.


From a database that was compiled on existing agricultural research projects on agricultural intensification in Africa, a mapping of intensification pathways and analysis of existing investment gaps was then undertaken. A preliminary analysis of 63 surveyed projects mainly from West and to some extend East Africa, revealed that stakeholders allocate the budget unequally to individual pathways. Data showed that pathways 2 and 3 are largely investigated attracting 75% of the budget, followed by pathway 1, while pathway 4 seems to be under-investigated. From the analysis it was revealed that no pathway is better than others and that the pursuit of a given pathway depends on the existing circumstances of a given country. Different projects could be seen to pursue different pathways in a given country depending on the local circumstances and opportunities at hand.


A full report of the EU supported ProIntens Africa initiative is accessible HERE…


Concerted effort is necessary to meet the spiralling demand for food through different interventions without affecting the environment. Coincidentally, CCARDESA d-groups e-discussions on drought drifted towards issues of sustainability and organic agriculture in particular. In relation to this matter and to the organic pathway, in August 2016, CCARDESA in partnership with the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) engaged SADC Directors of Agricultural Research and Deans of Faculties of Agriculture on the relevance of organic agriculture in the region. These stakeholders confirmed that organic agriculture is underfunded and recommended for more resources to be devoted to development of organic agriculture in the region. They called for the mainstreaming of ecological organic agriculture into the national research and development agenda to promote sustainability of agriculture in the long term.


While organic farming serves a growing niche market in an increasingly discerning market given its value to the environment, some detractors harbour fear that it would undermine the ability to produce sufficient food to feed Africa’s rapidly growing population in a continent where productivity and production is characteristically low. Since some regional countries have been talking about ecological production to match production of certain commodities to suitable environments, the question remains: which trajectory/ pathway should be emphasised in the region or a given country.

This article is by Golebaone Mmileng. Mmileng is an intern with the  CCARDESA Programmes Unit.  She can be contacted at gmmileng1@ccardesa.org


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